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Book Rt.>lJtetvs 149 Book Reviews John Seelye. Memory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Pp. xv + 699 and bibliography , illustrations, and index. A nation knows itself by the monuments it makes holy. Bunker Hill and Independence Hall; Fort McHenry and the Alamo; Gettysburg and Appomattox Courthouse; Seneca Falls and Haymarket Square; Pearl Harbor and Normandy: these places etch America into the souls of its citizens. Historians can only use language and logic to dress up the essence of history in the mundane garb of reality. Americans, as do all peoples, experience their history best by feeling it. What mere book can teach as much history to an immigrant's grandchild as sailing to Ellis Island? To an African-American as retracing the march from Selma to Montgomery? To a son or daughter staring at a never-known father's name on the Vietnam War Memorial? At these moments words get in the way of knowledge. But, whenever we historians are tempted to abandon our craft to become poets, some plain truths about monuments should call us back to the library and lectern. Patriotic icons do not magically appear and announce themselves as heralds of the past; they are created through an ambiguous, ill-defined, confusing combination of events, politics, cultural lobbying, accident, and market forces. Presidents and congresses select specific events to memorialize ; novelists and poets set the emotional thermostat that heats or cools intellectual climates; tourist bureaus and civicorganizations devise campaigns to further their own self-interested views of the past; and, of course, historians play their role by attributing significance to some past moments and irrelevance to others. The public, too, has a function in all of this and not just as passive recipients of a popular history learned through osmosis. The public makes its wishes known in the same way it buys beer and hires politiciansby the invisible hand of marketplace voting in a swirling world of conscious decision making, media manipulation, and subconscious evocation. Thus, some battlegrounds, some artifacts, some buildings, and some events become privileged over others (to employ the overused but accurate term of post- 150 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue ca11adtenne d etudes americaines modernists). These icons may have better advocates than other ones or be the darling of a powerful group or capture the mood of the moment. Given this inherent subjectivity it is not surprising that monuments wax and wane in public esteem and usually occupy contested territory. What Italian American or North-American native can view a statue of Columbus and feel similar emotions? Plymouth Rock is not as manifestly controversial as icons of the Columbiad, but the boulder in the harbour where folk culture says the Pilgrims made "The Landing" in 1620 has had an extraordinary career in American political and intellectual life. In a New England famed for granite mountains, Plymouth Rock is a pebble-not "worth at the outside more than thirty-five cents"-Samuel Clemens told the New England Society of Philadelphia in 1881; but strength not size gives the Rock its enduring role. The 101 Pilgrims that came ashore that day-either December 21 or 22 depending on the calendar one chooses to use-made up a pretty small invading force. Their glory, too, lay in strength not size, and the boulder that still sits in Plymouth harbour is a fitting symbol for their enterprise. Thus, the Rock's history has become the Pilgrims' history and it has at last found its memorialist. John Seelye' sMemory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rockbrilliantly recounts the way this granite artifact has been metaphorically and literally chipped, reshaped, moved, elevated, worshipped-even urinated on-in American history. No monument will likely ever find a better Boswell. No other book tells us more about the relationship between Puritanism and New England on one hand and American national identity on the other. The meaning of the Rock-as a proxy for the meaning of the Puritans-has been central to the battles for the meaning of America. Before Americans celebrated their Puritan heritage by stuffing themselves silly with turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, they...


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