In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture / Edition 1

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Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his People of Paradox (1973), and the Francis Parkman Prize for A Machine That Would Go of Itself (1987), Michael Kammen is widely regarded as one of our most important, and most diversely talented, cultural historians. David Brion Davis has said of him that "no other historian of Michael's generation has such a broad and concrete grasp 'American culture' in all its manifestions from constitutional law to formal painting and popular culture." Now, In the Past Lane brings together writings from more than a decade, covering the broad spectrum of Kammen's recent interests, including the social role of the historian, the relationship between culture and the State, uses of tradition in American commercial culture, American historical art, memory distortion in American history, the contested uses of history in American education, and much more.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this book, Professor Kammen addresses three specific current concerns among American historians: the nature and dynamics of collective memory in national life, the contested role of cultural programs in the civic order, and the complex linking between the personal and the professional in the writing of history. More deeply, it is a book about art--about representations of reality by artists in the form of words and in the form of objects. Michael Kammen is passionate about art in both of these forms. He appreciates the primal fact that America is most usefully seen as one culture among the myriad cultures of the earth. His work as a scholar is powered by a passion for context: cultural context, the context of personal experience, all past time, and global geography. Widely aware, carefully thought-out, superbly written, In The Past Lane offers us here insights and understandings that are uniquely valuable."--Joel Williamson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"Michael Kammen is a genial observer and friendly critic of his own profession, with a unique capacity to encompass every phase of the history business in his thinking. He brings to our attention not just historians but architects, government agencies, museums, commercial entrepreneurs in the 'heritage' trade, and the ways ordinary people are their own historians, remembering, restoring, and distorting the past."--Michael Schudson, Professor of Communication, University of California, San Diego

"These essays are both penetrating and original. I was partiuclarly struck by the originality of the first essay on personal identity and historians, and by the penetrating insights to be found in his reevaluation of American exceptionalism. Yet, for all Kammen's appreciation of the American past, he never confuses heritage and history. These essays offer, once again, a fine example of Kammen's persistent effort to connect a needed past to an empty present."--Carl Degler, Professor of History, Stanford University

"In his splendid scholarly career Michael Kammen has distinguished himself time after time, as teacher, historian, writer, master observer of culture and human nature. In print, as in person, he is ever wise, lively, provocative, clear-thinking, and fair-minded. And witty. Now in this spirited new look at history and its practitioners he shines again. It is a delightful book."--David McCullough, author of Truman

"To the insistent question how is history relevant, Michael Kammen offers compelling answers. In this absolutely fascinating book he brilliantly demonstrates how historians reconstruct the past out of the urgencies of the present."--William E. Leuchtenburg, Department of History, University of North Carolina

Kirkus Reviews
In a scattershot group of insightful essays, Pulitzer Prizewinner Kammen (History/Cornell; The Lively Arts, 1996, etc.) offers varied perspectives not so much on American history as on its uses and effects.

Kammen's outlooks range from the personal to the broadly cultural. In a long essay, he challenges the notion of historical objectivity, demonstrating the manner in which personal issues often drive historians in choice and treatment of subject matter. He also sympathetically examines the approaches of academic and nonacademic historians to their craft, exploring problems ranging from relationships with students to coping with professional criticism. Kammen divides his remaining essays into two thematic groups: those exploring perceptions of culture and public life, and those examining changing perceptions of the past. In the first, he discusses such diverse issues as the history of government support for cultural programs, the development of courthouse architecture and its meaning for our evolving views of justice and the legal profession, and the exploitation of historical and cultural images in advertising. In the second, Kammen emphasizes our self-conscious reshaping of the past in historical art (often laden with cultural values) the problem of American exceptionalism, and the "practice" of historical amnesia by political leaders in order to create cohesive national myths. Finally, Kammen explores the workings of our notion of "heritage"—"those aspects of history we cherish and affirm"—in the operation of selective historical memory. While a sense of heritage can lead to false history, the author calls heritage in its best sense "an enticement . . . that could conceivably bring us to history as enchantment, as mental exercise, and as a source of self-knowledge that points toward enlightenment if not wisdom."

A perceptive look at the practice of history, by one of its leading practitioners.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195130911
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Kammen is the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture at Cornell University. He won the Pulitzer Prize for People of Paradox and the Francis Parkman Prize for A Machine That Would Go of Itself.

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Table of Contents

I. The Personal and the Professional
1. Personal Identity and the Historian's Vocation
II. Perceptions of Culture and Public Life
2. Culture and the State of America
3. Temples of Justice: The Iconography of Judgement and American Culture
4. "Our Idealism is Practical": Emerging Uses of Tradition in American Commercial Culture, 1889-1936
5. The Enduring Challenges and Changing Role of Cultural Institutions
III. Changing Perceptions of the Past
6. Myth, Memory, and Amnesia in American Historical Art
7. The Problem of American Exceptionalism: A Reconsideration
8. Some Patterns and Meanings of Memory Distortion in American History
9. History Is Our Heritage: The Past in Contemporary American Culture

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