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Keywords:

  • conservative theory;
  • masculinity;
  • narrative;
  • south;
  • symbolism

Concepts of place, narrative, tradition, and identity are employed in a conservative reading of the Texas A&M Bonfire. Texas A&M embodied regional narratives of a dual Southern commitment to economic and technological development and conservation of traditional cultural. Institutionalized at Texas A&M in the late nineteenth century, these narratives made a paradoxical place. Bonfire expressed and obscured this paradox. In line with the narrative of tradition, Texas A&M was an all-male military school until 1965. The students were uniform, isolated, and regimented. This social structure engendered intense feelings of loyalty and community. These social emotions were further aroused at events like yell practice, and projected onto Bonfire. After the Second World War the commitment of university administrators to economic and technological progress increasingly threatened the narrative of tradition and the cultivation of manliness. Student veneration of Bonfire intensified. After 1965 mandatory military drill was discontinued, women were enrolled, and the student body was enlarged. Social pluralism fragmented the meaning of Bonfire; conflict and disorderly behavior ensued. By the 1990s the university had partly rationalized Bonfire as a corporate symbol; however, this trend was tragically terminated in 1999 when the cumulative errors of the oral tradition caused Bonfire to collapse, killing twelve students.