To Become an American
Immigrants and Americanization Campaigns of the Early 20th Century
Michigan State University Press 2017
On this episode of the New Books Network, Lee Pierce (she/they)–Assistant Professor, Dept. of Communication at SUNY Geneseo–interviews Dr. Leslie Hahner–Associate Professor, Dept. of Communication at Baylor University–on a spectacular new work of rhetorical history: To Become an American: Immigrants and Americanization Campaigns of the Early Twentieth Century from the Michigan State University Press’ Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series (2017). To Become an American connects the Americanization campaigns at the turn of the century to contemporary political issues surrounding who counts as a “real” American and how we know. The book looks at a variety of practices–with an interesting focus on the visual–through which Americans were made (or not made) at the turn of the century: flag day parades, Girl Scout outreach, textbooks, classroom lessons, housing campaigns, and more. Each chapter looks not only at specific campaigns of Americanization but also the rhetorical tropes through which those campaigns attempted to secure an individual and group’s emotional attachment to certain spectacles and displays as synonymous with being a “real” American. Of course, those campaigns were both successful and not successful because visual symbols, no matter how ardently displayed, can never guarantee that how one acts is how one truly feels. That is the rhetorical lesson of this book that is taught over and again throughout the various chapters and that gives context for anyone interested in finding alternate logics of patriotism in the contemporary political moment. In the words of Cara Finnegan: “From flags, posters, and photographs to architecture, public rituals, and parades, the early twentieth century United States was dominated by visual rhetorics of patriotism. This historically grounded, conceptually rich book will be welcomed by scholars across the humanities interested in exploring the often problematic ways that institutions seek to teach us who we are and what we should value as citizens.” Join Lee and Leslie on this episode of the NBN as they discuss this important book with passing reference to Obama’s flag pin controversy, the Thunder Girls from Bob’s Burgers, and what Dazed and Confused teaches us about why and how we celebrate the 4th of July.