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Geography / Wisconsin / Folklore / Ethnic Studies


Heritage on Stage
The Invention of Ethnic Place in America's Little Switzerland
Steven D. Hoelscher

"A remarkable achievement. By focusing on New Glarus, Steven Hoelscher gives us not only one Wisconsin town in all its self-inventing, self-dramatizing power, but also suggests how aspiring towns and cities all over the world may now have to theatricalize their past to reach the twin goals of group pride and prosperity." –Yi-Fu Tuan, J. K. Wright and Vilas Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin–Madison

"Hoelscher's work brings together rich and diverse data that permit us to see the changing actors, motivations, and representations in New Glarus' complex history of fashioning its ethnic heritage. Heritage on Stage is at once a case study and a far more broadly applicable reading of the confluence of place, politics, and the market in ethnic histories."—Regina Bendix, Department of Folklore and Folklife, University of Pennsylvania and author of In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies

"In this ambitious and interdisciplinary study, Steven Hoelscher shows how place and memory come together for the performance of ethnic identity. The book explores issues about irony and authenticity through participant observation and critical reflection. This is a tour de force which will excite the fields of ethnic studies and the new cultural geography alike."—Gerry Kearns, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

The southwestern Wisconsin town of New Glarus—known internationally for its annual Wilhelm Tell festival, and for decades a favorite cultural destination of tourists and visitors to Wisconsin—comes vividly into focus in Steven D. Hoelscher's many-layered examination of the invention of ethnic place in "America's Little Switzerland."

Drawing on sociology, social history, ethnic studies, performance studies, geography, and history, Hoelscher opens up a timely, richly informative and provocative discussion of the ways in which landscape, heritage, and the search for authenticity create identity in a unique ethnic American community. The questions Hoelscher raises about the politics of culture, the role of memory, and the willful manipulation of the past will fascinate historians, geographers, and scholars of stage performance and cultural studies, and are sure to stimulate and challenge all readers interested in Wisconsin history.

Both a sensitive portrait of a living community's special identity and a probing exploration of the ways this identity is invented, presented for the public, and sustained, Heritage on Stage is a ground-breaking work and a significant contribution toward the understanding of our nation's perception of itself and its ethnicity.

Steven D. Hoelscher is assistant professor of American studies and geography at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an author of the Cultural Map of Wisconsin and a contributor to Wisconsin Land and Life, both published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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cover of Heritage features a photo of a Swiss group with mountain horns

December 1998

348 pp. 6 x 9
84 b/w illus.

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