Mosse, the Cultural Turn, and the Cruces of Modern Historiography

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George Mosse passed away just 13 years ago. It seems like just yesterday that he was here with us—that we read and listened to his papers and presentations and reflected on the new horizons for research that they revealed. Every day the absolute importance of Mosse for historians becomes more and more evident. Just a decade later, not only does today’s research on themes dear to Mosse—nationalism, racism, the experience of war, the religion of politics, consensus under totalitarian regimes, the experience of modern Jews, models of masculinity, iconographic sources—follow his lead, but it seems impossible to carry out such research without the foundations he put in place.

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... Despite their common interests, neither scholar mentioned the other in their autobiographies. 20 The law was a subject calling out for analysis in terms of ritual and theatre. Executions were viewed as a 'theatre of fear' by the German historian Richard van Du¨lmen, while the rituals, performances and dramas of American courtrooms were studied by Rhys Isaac, Anthony Roeber and Robert St George. ...
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George L. Mosse took a ‘cultural turn’ in the latter part of his career, but still early enough to make a pioneering contribution to the study of political culture and in particular what he called political ‘liturgy’, including marches, processions, and practices of commemoration. He adapted to the study of nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the approach to the history of ritual developed by historians of medieval and early modern Europe, among them his friend Ernst Kantorowicz. More recently, the concept of ritual, whether religious or secular, has been criticized by some cultural historians on the grounds that it implies a fixed ‘script’ in situations that were actually marked by fluidity and improvisation. In this respect cultural historians have been part of a wider trend that includes sociologists and anthropologists as well as theatre scholars and has been institutionalized as Performance Studies. Some recent studies of contemporary nationalism in Tanzania, Venezuela and elsewhere have adopted this perspective, emphasizing that the same performance may have different meanings for different sections of the audience. It is only to be regretted that Mosse did not live long enough to respond to these studies and that their authors seem unaware of his work.
Nothing appears more ancient, and linked to an immemorial past, than the pageantry which surrounds British monarchy in its public ceremonial manifestations. Yet, as a chapter in this book establishes, in its modern form it is the product of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. ‘Traditions’ which appear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented. Anyone familiar with the colleges of ancient British universities will be able to think of the institution of such ‘traditions’ on a local scale, though some - like the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve - may become generalized through the modern mass medium of radio. This observation formed the starting-point of a conference organized by the historical journal Past & Present, which in turn forms the basis of the present book. The term ‘invented tradition’ is used in a broad, but not imprecise sense. It includes both ‘ traditions’ actually invented, constructed and formally instituted and those emerging in a less easily traceable manner within a brief and dateable period - a matter of a few years perhaps - and establishing themselves with great rapidity. The royal Christmas broadcast in Britain (instituted in 1932) is an example of the first; the appearance and development of the practices associated with the Cup Final in British Association Football, of the second. It is evident that not all of them are equally permanent, but it is their appearance and establishment rather than their chances of survival which are our primary concern. © E. J. Hobsbawm, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Prys Morgan, David Cannadine, Bernard S. Cohn, Terence Ranger. 1983.
Confronting History: A Memoir
  • L George
  • Mosse
Storia e interpretazione
  • Emilio Gentile
  • Fascismo