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Born in the U.S.A.

Birth, Commemoration, and American Public Memory

Scores of birthplace monuments and historic childhood homes dot the American landscape. These special places, many dating to the early years of the last century, have enshrined nativity alongside patriotism and valor among the key pillars of the nation's popular historical imagination. The essays in this volume suggest that the way Americans have celebrated famous births reflects evolving expectations of citizenship as well as a willingness to edit the past when those hopes go unfulfilled. The contributors also demonstrate that the reinvention of origin myths at birthplace monuments still factors in American political culture and the search for meaning in an ever-shifting global order.

Beyond asking why it is that Americans care about birthplaces and how they choose which ones to commemorate, Born in the U.S.A. offers insights from historians, curators, interpretive specialists, and others whose experience speaks directly to the challenges of managing historical sites. Each essay points to new ways of telling old stories at these mainstays of American memory. The case of the modern house museum receives special attention in a provocative concluding essay by Patricia West.

In addition to West and the editor, contributors include Christine Arato, Dan Currie, Keith A. Erekson, David Glassberg, Anna Thompson Hajdik, Zachary J. Lechner, Paul Lewis, Hilary Iris Lowe, Cynthia Miller, Laura Lawfer Orr, Robert Paynter, Angela Phelps, and Paul Reber.

About the Author

Seth C. Bruggeman is assistant professor of history and American studies and public history coordinator at Temple University. He is author of Here, George Washington Was Born: Memory, Material Culture, and the Public History of a National Monument.


"Born in the U.S.A. will appeal to almost anyone interested in public history. The scholarship is exceptional. The work will be valuable to students in American studies, public history, and museum studies as well as to historic site administrators and their staffs."—Kenneth C. Turino, Historic New England

"Ever since he set his sights on the White House, President Obama has been plagued by allegations from some that he wasn't born in the United States. That's the starting point for this collection of essays by history professors, public historians, museum curators and others on why Americans place importance on birthplaces when it comes to famous people, and how the move to commemorate historic birthplaces first began in the 19th century."—Hampshire Life

"This enterprising inquiry deserves readers, and not only public historians. It's very engaging."—The Public Historian

"Readers of Seth C. Bruggeman's excellent anthology of essays on American birthplace commemorations are sure to see [these sites] in a new and more critical light. . . . One of the strengths of this anthology is its ability to illuminate how and why these sites are physically and/or intellectually constructed and, over generations, reconstructed."—The Journal of American History

"The essays very much succeed in capturing the stakes and claimants of birthplace commemoration."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Born in the U.S.A. makes a significant and worthwhile contribution to public history scholarship and reveals a great deal about the complexity of place in historical memory."—Journal of Southern History

"Brief summaries barely do justice to this rich collection. . . . The Essays in Born in the U.S.A. tell [human] stories—of the literal and figurative construction, and the limits of often-untapped potential, of these sites."—Indiana Magazine of History
University of Massachusetts Press
Public History in Historical Perspective

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