Cover image for A time to every purpose : the four seasons in American culture
A time to every purpose : the four seasons in American culture
Kammen, Michael G.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
336 pages, 48 pages of color plates : illustrations (some color) ; 27 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E169.1 .K295 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In artworks from a mosaic by Marc Chagall to schoolchildren's paintings, in writings from Susan Fenimore Cooper to Annie Dillard, and in diverse print sources from family genealogical registers to seed catalogs, the four seasons appear and reappear as a theme in American culture.

In this richly illustrated book, Michael Kammen traces the appeal of the four seasons motif in American popular culture and fine arts from the seventeenth century to the present. Its symbolism has evolved through the years, Kammen explains, serving as a metaphor for the human life cycle or religious faith, expressing nostalgia for rural life, and sometimes praising seasonal beauty in the diverse American landscape as the most spectacular in the world. Kammen also highlights artists' and writers' shift in attention from the glories of seasonal peaks to the dynamics of seasonal transitions as American life continued to accelerate and change through the twentieth century.

Few symbols have been as pervasive, meaningful, and symptomatic in the human experience as the four seasons, and as Kammen shows, in its American context the annual cycle has been an abundant and abiding source of inspiration in the nation's cultural history.

Author Notes

Michael Gedaliah Kammen was born in Rochester, New York on October 25, 1936. He received a bachelor's degree in history from George Washington University and master's and doctoral degrees in history from Harvard University. He was a professor of American history and culture at Cornell University since 1965. He wrote numerous books including A Season of Youth, A Machine That Would Go of Itself, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, Visual Shock, and Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials. He received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for history for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization. He died on November 29, 2013 at the age of 77.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

A book about the four seasons of the year and its meaning in US culture is an ambitious topic. Kammen (American history and culture, Cornell Univ.) ranges far and wide in just over 300 pages of text, beginning in antiquity and ending in contemporary US culture. Moralists, naturalists, and writers of various persuasions have all looked to the natural cycle as an apt metaphor for human behavior. Hopefulness and growth in spring, flowering in summer, harvesting in fall, and decline in winter have all been used to connect the natural order with the human order. What each interpretation means at a point in time and space is much harder to determine. The usual suspects are included in this discussion, with Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Norman Rockwell among the most prominently treated subjects. There is little effort to tie Rockwell's work to the time in which he was most popular, or to consider Thoreau in light of mid-19th-century American Romanticism. In his concluding remarks, Kammen notes that science is taking seasonality into a wholly new direction, with research into how climate and the Sun's movements affect human fertility. Another departure. ^BSumming Up: Somewhat recommended. Most levels. J. Sochen Northeastern Illinois University