- Campus Traditions: Folklore from the Old-Time College to the Modern Mega-University by Simon J. Bronner
College—an integral time in life, a unique experience, and a special place for an increasing number of Americans. The college experience strikes a chord with so many and is often regarded as the best years of life. Campus Traditions brings back to life the college years through detailed descriptions and thorough explanations of some of the most popular (and more obscure) traditions, stories, and behaviors related to campus life.
The book starts with a section entitled “Orientation” and concludes with “Graduation,” including in between everything a college student would experience before getting a diploma. As is common with orientations, Bronner quickly brings the reader up to speed on the history and development of higher education. In a geographic sense, he establishes a place for college. He describes the campus as unique, “an unconventional place away from home,” while also surveying regional characteristics of universities across the country like highlighting the South and its higher proportion of smaller colleges. Continuing, Bronner covers the parts of college that are key to student retention, such as making the grade and understanding the professors. These particular chapters entertain by including fascinating stories of cheating schemes (both successful and thwarted) and insight into the lives of the proverbial quirky professor or the demanding coach.
Once the student has adjusted to the rigor of academic life, the fun can begin. For the remainder of the book, Bronner discusses topics from Greek life and ghost stories to pranks and college spirit. One example of his attention to detail is a section explicating fight song lyrics for several schools, including the inception and development into today’s use. Something as straightforward as sports is even explained as having meaning to the development of students. Relating stories and traditions back to student development and maturity adds legitimacy to his work. Near the end, Bronner again emphasizes setting campus apart as a unique landscape with traditions that would be completely abnormal outside the gates. [End Page 495]
Bronner’s work is detailed and includes numerous examples of folklore and traditions. It is deep and he very clearly has done his homework. One of the best things about the book is that he assumes nothing when explaining and takes an almost naïve position. His approach is like that of someone from another country who is unfamiliar with American campus traditions. Either when participating in a tradition or telling a folklore story, many details are taken for granted. With folklore, many people assume what is going on now is how it has always been, but Bronner investigates beyond that. He explains by using multiple sources and angles to paint an informed picture. Though many of these tales and traditions are familiar to anyone who has been to college, he doesn’t take the details for granted. Not only does he probe the tradition, but he places it within a context of the greater picture of what is occurring in the student’s life and how they are growing up on this unique landscape.
Campus Traditions is a wealth of information covering an array of traditions and stories and it is the definitive guide for folklore on campus. It is an invaluable and bountiful resource for historians and researchers alike. Chances are, the answer to a question about a strange act on campus is covered in the work. Occasionally, Bronner ventures too deep and reads further into traditions than is sensible. In multiple instances, he needs to reconsider his audience and ask to whom the stories and traditions are actually symbolic, if anyone at all. Consequently, the interpretation of symbolic meanings, which vary from person to person and over space, would best be done using other resources. There is much to be said for revealing an underlying meaning, but if ordinary people aren’t thinking about a deep, obscure...