The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life

Overview

Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen asked 1,500 Americans about their connection to the past and how it influences their daily lives and hopes for the future. The result is a surprisingly candid series of conversations and reflections on how the past infuses the present with meaning. While the past is omnipresent to Americans, "history" as it is usually defined in textbooks leaves many people cold. Rosenzweig and Thelen found that history as taught in school does not inspire a strong connection to the past. And they ...
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Overview

Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen asked 1,500 Americans about their connection to the past and how it influences their daily lives and hopes for the future. The result is a surprisingly candid series of conversations and reflections on how the past infuses the present with meaning. While the past is omnipresent to Americans, "history" as it is usually defined in textbooks leaves many people cold. Rosenzweig and Thelen found that history as taught in school does not inspire a strong connection to the past. And they reveal how race and ethnicity affect how Americans perceive the past.

Winner, 1998 Historic Preservation Book Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Richard White
Rosenzweig and Thelen have raised imaginative and important questions. They have written an important book that all historians should read and debate.
John Gillis
This is a book of stunning revelations with huge significance for all Americans. Rosenzweig and Thelen provide irrefutable survey evidence of how deeply ordinary people are engaged with the past, but at the same time are alienated from the history they have been taught in school and encounter in the media. Their findings pose an immense challenge to existing institutions, but also encourage us to imagine a cultural revolution in historical practice consistent with the best in our intellectual and democratic traditions.
Barbara Franco
The quotes from actual survey interviews set to rest the myth that Americans are not interested in history. Instead, the Americans they surveyed challenge educators, museums, authors, and filmmakers to present history in authentic and experiential ways that engage them as active participants.
Journal of Popular Culture
This book has less to do with history than popular sociology— and seems to have begun with a thesis and then proved it.
Booknews
Two history professors analyze the provocative results drawn from a survey in which 1,500 Americans were interviewed about their connection to the past and its continuing influence on their present lives and hopes for the future. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Journal of American History - Richard White

Rosenzweig and Thelen have raised imaginative and important questions. They have written an important book that all historians should read and debate.

Journal of American History
Rosenzweig and Thelen have raised imaginative and important questions. They have written an important book that all historians should read and debate.

— Richard White, Stanford University

Journal of Popular Culture

This book has less to do with history than popular sociology-- and seems to have begun with a thesis and then proved it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231111485
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 10/19/1998
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

ROY ROSENZWEIG is professor of history and Director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. He is the author of several books including The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (with Elizabeth Blackmar). He is also the coauthor of Who Built America?, a two-volume multimedia CD-ROM.DAVID THELEN is professor of history at Indiana University and editor of the Journal of American History. He is also the editor of Discovering America: Essays on the Search for an Identity, and the author of several books including Becoming Citizens in the Age of Television.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Scenes from a Survey 1
1 The Presence of the Past: Patterns of Popular Historymaking 15
2 Using the Past to Live in the Present: Relationships, Identity, Immortality 37
3 Using the Past to Shape the Future: Building Narratives, Taking Responsibility 63
4 "Experience Is the Best Teacher": Participation, Mediation, Authority, Trust 89
5 Beyond the Intimate Past: Americans and Their Collective Pasts 115
6 History in Black and Red: African Americans and American Indians and Their Collective Pasts 147
Everyone a Historian 177
A Participatory Historical Culture 190
App. 1 How We Did the Survey 209
App. 2: Tables 233
Notes 261
Index 285
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