The presence of the past: popular uses of history in American life




Author: Roy Rosenzweig, David Thelen
Type: eBook
Date Released: 1998
Format: pdf
Language: English
Page Count: 305
Isbn10 Code: 0231111487
Isbn13 Code: 9780231111485


Amazon.com Review While the historical profession and its critics have pointed to a vast ignorance among the American people about the past, historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen argue that it's the commentators who have much to learn. Conducting a phone survey of 1,453 Americans from a variety of backgrounds, the authors soon discovered that their professional training had left them unprepared for how people actually thought about the past. A surprising number of Americans feel unconnected to the nation-centered version of history taught in classrooms, searching instead for an intimate encounter with the past through family histories, the collection of memorabilia, and museum excursions. But these examples of "popular historymaking" are more than just anachronistic remembrances, and Rosenzweig and Thelen recount the ways that Americans use their historical imaginations to live in the present and shape the future. A profound reconsideration of what counts as historical thinking, The Presence of the Past exposes some misconceptions at the heart of the so-called history wars. Historical professionals like Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn who argue (in ) that academic standards must reflect the rich ethnic mixture of the nation miss the fact that most students are alienated from the classrooms that have made them regurgitate volumes of facts. Cultural conservatives like Lynne Cheney and William Bennett, who insist on a triumphant version of the national past, fail to recognize that most Americans do not see their lives as connected to purported heroes like George Washington. A wonderful and refreshing book, The Presence of the Past points toward a democratization of historical consciousness by tenderly exploring how ordinary people remember. --James Highfill From It is customary for professional historians as well as some members of our "chatting classes" to dismiss ordinary Americans as historical illiterates. Not so, according to Rosenzweig and Thelen, both professors of history. After surveying 1,500 Americans regarding their attitudes toward the past, they offer some surprising conclusions. Of course, in a narrow sense, many Americans are deficient in their knowledge of history; that is, for example, they are unable to describe the causes of the War of 1812. But in a broader sense, the authors conclude that most Americans have a strong awareness of their historical heritage. Furthermore, they tend to integrate that heritage into their personal lives rather than viewing it as a distant, sterile, and irrelevant series of facts. In what is regarded as a race-obsessed culture, it is striking that many of the respondents to the survey seem to shy away from "identity politics," preferring to interpret the past in terms of their individual experiences. Jay Freeman

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