The Spirit of 1976: Commerce, Community, and the Politics of Commemoration

Tammy Gordon (Director of Public History, University of North Carolina, Wilmington)
20 February 2013

In the United States in the 1970s, social historians and marketers created an environment that demonstrated the value of public history training in academia. By making the history of common people a viable topic for professional historians, social historians promoted the idea that everyone's history was valuable. Marketers and retailers challenged the sanctity of American revolutionary history by putting founding myths and symbols on such common items as paper plates and grocery bags. Consumerism and social history together had suddenly made the past seem closer, more personal. And in the seventies, the personal became political, and the American public entered into a lively debate on the commemoration and the role of revolutionary history in contemporary life. This mass search for the "spirit" of the revolution established the historical commemoration as more politically powerful than ever before. The situation ably demonstrated the need for public history training in the United States, for as trained historians and facilitators, public historians could help navigate the diversity of meaning that could emerge in times of commemoration.

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