The Past Is a Foreign Country - Revisited by David Lowenthal

By David Lowenthal

The prior continues to be crucial - and inescapable. A quarter-century after the e-book of his vintage account of man's attitudes to his previous, David Lowenthal revisits how we rejoice, expunge, contest and cultivate the earlier to serve current wishes. He exhibits how nostalgia and historical past now pervade each part of public and pop culture. historical past embraces nature and the cosmos in addition to humanity. The previous is obvious and touched and tasted and smelt in addition to heard and browse approximately. Empathy, re-enactment, reminiscence and commemoration weigh down conventional heritage. A unified earlier as soon as qualified by way of specialists and reliant on written texts has develop into a fragmented, contested historical past cast by means of us all. New insights into background and reminiscence, bias and objectivity, artefacts and monuments, identification and authenticity, and regret and contrition, make this publication once more the fundamental advisor to the previous that we inherit, reshape and bequeath to the longer term.

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The past itself is gone – all that survives are our memories, accounts by its denizens, and a small fraction of its material residues. Such evidence can tell us nothing with absolute certainty. For the past’s survivals on the ground, in texts, and in our heads are selectively preserved from the start and continually altered by the passage of time. These remnants conform too well with one another and with the known present to be denied all validity, yet the past’s reality remains in doubt. There can be no certainty that the past ever existed, let alone in the form we now conceive it.

Just as the past lengthens, so it expands in locale, in content, and in controversy. Once commonly confined to ‘Western Civilization’, history now at least sketchily includes all cultures everywhere. Once limited to the annals of kingship and conquest and the deeds of great men, it now dwells on the everyday lives and aspirations of ‘people without history’ – previously unsung women, children, workers, the poor, the enslaved, the unlettered. Every facet of life is now historicized: a vast panoply of players, a multiform narrative embracing annals of child-rearing, cookery, commemorating, tattooing, funerary practices, music-making.

It could no longer flog us Henry VIII duvet covers, Black Death vitamin pills and King Canute Lilos . . ’ Whereas Americans adore everything retro. ’ To us, Downton Abbey is old news. It’s so 2011. We’re over it . . Downton was, of course, popular here too. But we watched it giggling. We knew it was a nonsensical confection of invented past. We knew its tale of happy, cap-doffing plebs, slimy middle classes and angelic toffs . . was a Henry VIII duvet cover of a programme . . 11 6 7 8 9 10 11 Ben Macintyre, ‘007’s latest mission: restoring Britain’s pride’, Times, 2 Nov.

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