The Invention of Tradition

Eric Hobsbawm + Terence Ranger (editors)

Cambridge University Press 1992
A book review by Danny Yee © 1995
Many practices which are considered traditional are in fact quite recent inventions, often deliberately constructed to serve particular ideological ends. The Invention of Tradition is a collection of articles on the construction of symbolic and ceremonial traditions over the last couple of centuries, particularly by the British. Most of the included pieces are around fifty pages long, allowing for quite expansive treatment of their subject. They are all of high quality and The Invention of Tradition is an important collection of work, which will interest both historians and those interested in the history of ideas.

Hugh Trevor-Roper describes the creation of the Scottish "Highland" tradition — I was astounded to discover that the kilt was invented by an Englishman in 1730, while the so called "clan tartans" are a nineteenth century invention! In a similar vein (though without any revelations quite so surprising), Prys Morgan traces the development of Welsh national traditions during the Romantic period. David Cannadine's piece is quite topical, given the move towards a republic in Australia: he explains how most of the ceremonial associated with the British monarchy, which is often assumed to be of great antiquity, has in fact been constructed since 1870.

Moving away from Britain itself to British imperialism and colonialism, Bernard Cohn writes about the creation of new forms of authority in India, with special attention on the Imperial Assemblage of 1876, and Terence Ranger about the transplantation of Western traditions and the creation of entirely new "native" ones by colonial authorities in Africa (and the later re-use of these traditions by ethnic and nationalist movements). The final chapter, by Hobsbawm himself, surveys the development of mass traditions in Europe up to the First World War — the festivals, holidays, monuments, stamps, sports and schools associated with nationalism, the labour movement, and the rising middle classes.

August 1995

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%T The Invention of Tradition
%E Hobsbawm, Eric
%E Ranger, Terence
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1992 [1983]
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN 0521437733
%P vi,322pp