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Learning One’s Native Tongue: Citizenship, Contestation, and Conflict in America, Tracy B. Strong

Reviewed by Chloé Bakalar

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Citizenship, as a concept, is inherently difficult to define. T.H. Marshall’s seminal 1950 essay “Citizenship and Social Class” described citizenship in terms of three categories of rights—civil, political, and social—that evolved throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, respectively. But citizenship is not only an accumulation of rights or entitlements; it is also an identity, a marker of recognition, a feeling of belonging, an assertion of difference, a set of responsibilities, and potentially much more.

In Learning Ones Native Tongue, Tracy B. Strong introduces his inquiry into citizenship by distinguishing between what it means to be American from being an American citizen (p. 8). One can be an American citizen without identifying as American; historically, many Americans lacked (full) status as citizens. Strong grapples with this seeming contradiction by tracing the development of American citizenship, from the Puritans through the Cold War, in an effort to better understand its meaning and power.

Strong’s interdisciplinary approach, interpreting the history of American institutions and sentiments through a political theory lens, enables an account of American citizenship that embraces the complexities, conflicts, and inconsistencies of the Unit

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