As Americans enter the new century, their interest in the past has never been greater. In record numbers they visit museums and historic sites, attend commemorative ceremonies and festivals, watch historically based films, and reconstruct family genealogies. The question is, Why? What are Americans looking for when they engage with the past? And how is it different from what scholars call "history"?
In this book, David Glassberg surveys the shifting boundaries between the personal, public, and professional uses of the past and explores their place in the broader cultural landscape. Each chapter investigates a specific encounter between Americans and their history: the building of a pacifist war memorial in a rural Massachusetts town; the politics behind the creation of a new historical festival in San Francisco; the letters Ken Burns received in response to his film series on the Civil War; the differing perceptions among black and white residents as to what makes an urban neighborhood historic; and the efforts to identify certain places in California as worthy of commemoration. Along the way, Glassberg reflects not only on how Americans understand and use the past, but on the role of professional historians in that enterprise.
Combining the latest research on American memory with insights gained from Glassberg's more than twenty years of personal experience in a variety of public history projects, Sense of History offers stimulating reading for all who care about the future of history in America.
About the Author:
David Glassberg is professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century.
Glassberg uses a series of loosely related essays on small, sometimes seemingly insignificant, topics as a way of meditating on a large, complex, and important matter: the differences and interrelationships between the 'sense of history' among academic historians and the American people. Both public and academic historians ought to find this readable work thought-provoking and rewarding.
- Publisher's Weekly
How is the past used? Who writes our history and what political ends do they try to accomplish by advocating one version of the American past rather than another? These are old questions, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst historian Glassberg provides tedious and predictable answers. He devotes an entire chapter, for example, to persuading readers of the obvious that war memorials may tell us more about the eras in which they were built than the wars they commemorate. In another essay, he explains how rituals in America's industrialized cities, like San Francisco's 1909 Portol Festival, promoted the idea that the heterogeneous, polyglot immigrant populations of urban landscapes were one people. Glassberg also discusses Ken Burns's Civil War miniseries, noting that leading historians were dissatisfied with Burns's portrayal of African-Americans. The topic is interesting, but Glassberg's treatment adds little to Ken Burns's the Civil War: Historians Respond, edited by Robert Brent Toplin. Glassberg's discourse on New England towns is desultory and not obviously related to his overarching thesis about the construction of historical memory. Not that this is a book totally bereft of insight: in a prosaic chapter about the construction of historical meaning in California, Glassberg does make the fresh point that Californians, in their embrace of redwoods and sequoias, "named, labeled, and displayed" their trees "like historical relics." But the occasional thoughtful paragraph cannot rescue this book from its banality. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In seven essays composed and revised over the course of a decade, Glassberg (public history, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst) explores the various ways Americans have understood and used the past during the 20th century. For a population of rootless immigrants, he contends, the sites of great events or vanished lifestyles, become the most valuable and tangible manifestations of history. He points out how New England villages, Civil War battlefields in Virginia, and gold rush towns in California anchor personal and family identities. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)