Book Project

The book is based upon my dissertation, American Holidays, A Natural History  and examines the meanings and materiality of Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas trees, Fourth of July picnics, and Easter rabbits.  Employing tools from cultural and environmental history, it uses these holiday artifacts and performances to bridge the two subfields.  The result is a fuller look at how American family life navigates and shapes public culture and the environment.

The project grew from the observation that American holidays and American landscapes transformed simultaneously in the nineteenth century.  The former changed from public, carnivalesque celebrations into private, domestic rituals.  The latter witnessed the expansion and intensification of agriculture, with all its myriad ecological effects.  In reading the historiographies of both United States cultural and environmental history, it became clear that historians in both subfields often looked to the same grand processes to explain these changes: the Market and Industrial Revolutions.  What relationship between holidays and nature, I wondered, lurked underneath the surface?

I began thinking more and more about the place of nature in American holidays.  Why a turkey for Thanksgiving and a tree for Christmas? Why do so many Fourth of July celebrations take Americans to the lake? And how did rabbits start laying eggs?  Answers these questions, my friends and family told me, were easy: Ben Franklin; Martin Luther; fireworks need to land in water; and German immigrants.  Of course, I wanted to know more.  In particular, I wanted answers that made sense of nature’s materiality and reflected the country’s rich cultural changes, too.

I researched holidays as popular culture, using lenses of “imagined communities” and “invented traditions,” among others, and sources in archives known for their collections in American culture, such as the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, American Antiquarian Society, Winterthur Museum, Clements Library at University of Michigan, and the Huntington Library.  I also pursued turkeys, rabbits, trees, and lakes as part of agroecological landscapes by researching them at the National Agricultural Library, Forest History Society, and Cornell’s Mann Library, among other archives.

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