The history of our national anthem and whether it still unites us
Americans have often turned to symbols to push against the worst parts of America’s politics, according to University of Michigan musicology professor, Mark Clague.
From our statues and flags to our national anthem, Americans remain deeply divided over our symbols. It is not uncommon to debate what kinds of stories and heroes we should be dignifying in our public squares.
But U.S. symbols — both in past and present — are always in flux. Many of the things that we’ve come to cherish have already been altered throughout history.
“The anthem means many things and it means different things and it’s how we use it, how we bring it to life in American history that I think is the critical question.” — Mark Clague, professor and author
Listen: The history of America’s national anthem.
Mark Clague is a University of Michigan professor of musicology and author of “O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’” He says there were abolitionists who wrote lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner to recontextualize it, arguing against slavery.
“That’s really what, I guess, my book tries to bring out, is this living aspect that the anthem means many things and it means different things and it’s how we use it, how we bring it to life in American history that I think is the critical question,” says Clague.
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