Invented tradition and Academic convention in geographical thought about New England
- Cite this article as:
- Bowden, M.J. GeoJournal (1992) 26: 187. doi:10.1007/BF00241216
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In the histories of colonial (pre-revolutionary) New England environment and landscape a three-stage process is recapitulated. An image of the past was formed which was factitious, but for reasons largely of self-glorification of the settlers the image was raised to the level of myth, memory of the actuality completely erased in one generation. Finally the myth became universally accepted by the populace — an invented tradition — the academy eventually giving it the stamp of (uncritical) approval and making it an established convention. Seven invented traditions/conventions are described: 1) The native American as Ignoble Savage living off the land but with no right to it, 2) the environment as a Desart Wildernesse, later transposed in the nineteenth century to an image of 3) the impenetrable primeval forest, 4) the culture shock of this primordial world stripping the settlers of English regional/cultural differences and making them instant “Americans”, or generalized (Puritan) New Englanders, 5) the colonial agricultural village as universal settlement pattern for colonists of this wilderness, 6) the fabled colonial green as characteristic of these villages, defensive base for conquest of the surrounding dark forest, and 7) the colonial New Englander as prosperous yeoman in a Jeffersonian garden. The reality and actuality that can be reconstructed belies the invention and convention on every count. In the cases of all seven invented traditions one can discern a period of image formation of variable length, a period of myth creation of about 25 years in which memory of the actual past was erased — usually periods of stress and self-doubt — and then a period when one invented a better and simpler past.