The Invention of Tradition


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About this book

Many of the traditions which we think of as very ancient in their origins were not in fact sanctioned by long usage over the centuries, but were invented comparative recently. This book explores examples of this process of invention - the creation of Welsh Scottish 'national culture'; the elaboration of British royal rituals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the origins of imperial ritual in British India and Africa; and the attempts by radical movements to develop counter-traditions of their own. This book addresses the complex interaction of past and present, bringing together historicans and anthropologists in a fascinating study of ritual and symbolism which possess new questions for the understanding of our history.

Reader's Thoughts


Like a lot of collections of essays, this one was hit or miss. But the opener on Scottish "traditions" was great. You think "clan tartans" and "kilts" are "traditional"? Think again!

David Vine

A useful collection despite their age, and while very helpful for each subject the individual essays are on, still do not function as a cohesive whole. As others have mentioned, as a book, this subject would have even more value as a breakdown of the interrelations between the four nations of the British isles and their history, but focuses only on two, which makes contrasting or conclusions less possible. The imperial sections could also have been elaborated into a broader look at British establishment both at home and abroad rather than simply monarchy ritual and India. However, taken as seperate essays (as they were originally intended) this is a valuable resource.


Awesome studies. Really a great theoretical tool for the study of nationalism, especially Cannadine's recollection of the history of the British monarchy. His description of "the preservation of anachronism" was very lucid and especially insightful.

Hugh Coverly

The essays read as if they were written recently, but they are over 30 years old. I had read Hobsbawm's trilogy on the 19th century while in college, and read his take on the 20th century several years later. I'm surprised I missed this collection of essays back in the 80s. The best essays are those by Hugh Trevor-Roper, David Cannadine, and Eric Hobsbawm. However, Cannadine's essay on the survival of the British monarchy through it's invention of tradition is simply brilliant.


A very fine book, I expected nothing else of Hobsbawm and his colleagues. Now I have to live with the disappointment about Scottish culture since I know that the Cilt is an invention by an Englishman and not that old. ;-)

Liam O'Shiel

A fascinating group of papers on how "ancient traditions" are invented by societies that have, for one reason or another, lost touch with their true historical past. Without knowing it, of course, I have used this notion in "Eirelan," whose latter-day Celts imagine themselves closely connected to the ancient Celts but with many differences in outlook. They have "invented their traditions" over some ten centuries, and now (meaning "now" in 3953 AD) it is almost impossible to separate true historical traditions from the invented ones.Well worth reading. You will be startled by much of what you find in this book.Liam




should be subtitled to let you know upfront that it's essentially about british & british empire invention of tradition. super interesting articles and lots of great history about where various traditions - some that we think of as being quite old - really come from and when. a bit on the academic side, but not too jargony, so if you're interested in this sort of thing, i think it would be accessible to the non-specialist.


A mixed bunch of studies which seemed to get less and less penetrable as you go on.

Alexandra Rolo

vou escrever uma recensão crítica para a faculdade, depois meto cá a versão resumida xD


This is an intelligent pioneering study into the way traditions are formed and reformed in the present. More work has been done since then, but this still remains a useful starting point on the question.

Daniel Burton-Rose

A thought-provoking and widely influential collection.


A handful of pieces by Hobsbawm and his fellow travelers that read like well-written academic papers should: thought-provoking, and nearly free of any kind of grim jargon. What we get is a set of incisive analyses of how English traditions were invented, and how "local" traditions were invented to expand the imperial project and the ambitions of local petty lords in Scotland, Wales, India, and British Africa. The book finishes with an essay by Hobsbawm expanded the purview to the invention of tradition in America and continental Europe, hammering home the point that invented tradition is an almost universal tool to legitimate powerAnd hey, now I live in a tropical quasi-democratic state where invented tradition is still crassly used by the ruling class to enthrall a population held down by an appalling disparity of wealth. I would read a section of the book, have to stop moving on the subway as the national anthem played (really, guys?!) and think "welp, some shit never changes."


i read this for one reason: assignment.



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