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

3.49 of 5 stars 3.49  ·  rating details  ·  98 ratings  ·  11 reviews
Some people make photo albums, collect antiques, or visit historic battlefields. Others keep diaries, plan annual family gatherings, or stitch together patchwork quilts in a tradition learned from grandparents. Each of us has ways of communing with the past, and our reasons for doing so are as varied as our memories. In a sweeping survey, Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen as ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 30th 2000 by Columbia University Press (first published January 1st 1998)
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This book ended up depressing me, sad to say. The authors did a study of how Americans relate to the past, using a phone survey. This was back in the early 90s, when everyone was talking about how people in this country don't know their own history, and our students aren't learning anything, and crisis crisis. So this phone survey was supposed to show that people were actually very connected with the past after all. But what it actually seems to show is that people are fine with history as long ...more
Ginger Smith
Wow. This book gave very good insight into how Americans viewed the concept of "History" and the Past. I was not surprised to learn as a genealogist that most Americans valued the beliefs and oral history of family members over books, TV, and "experts," especially around National events. They believed family members who had "been there" and "seen firsthand" what happened during these events were the most credible sources. This is a recurring theme in the genealogy world.

A very surprising theme,
Main Argument: People like to learn about their own past.

Boring. Repetitive. Very PC in that they try to talk to "diverse" people. I kept waiting for some deeper insight about how people USED history. Apparently, they don't.
Luke warm on this one. I like the conclusion that the general public feels museums are one of the most reliable sources of history. However, overall the book left me feeling a bit nauseous from its less-than-methodical telephone survey (BTW would you spend 30+ minutes on the phone with a stranger discussing your views on the past?) to its generous idea that anyone collecting coins or scrapbooking, for example, are engaged in history. An interesting piece of work but did not live up to my expecta ...more
Brenda  Britton
Mar 14, 2012 Brenda Britton is currently reading it
I haven't yet rated this book because I need to finish reading it. For those who are genealogy enthusiasts, or those interested in learning about their ancestors, I recomend this book that happens to be one of my school text books. There are a group of investigators who tour the country to find out what people in all walks of life understand about history and it is interesting to read the responses.
A foundational book for public historians, which explores the myriad ways in which "ordinary" Americans engage, consume, and mediate the past and their reasons for so doing. One of the most intellectually and professionally inspiring books I read in grad school.
Interesting but somewhat repetitive. Agree with a lot of the book, that most people are interested in history, their history or how historical events relate to them. I wish gave it less stars because only it was respective.
Aug 05, 2007 Donnie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who like History, historical memory, and poetry
Shelves: collectivememory
This is an interesting book about how Americans view the past. I think its arguments have some merit, but I think the methodology is very questionable and therefore I was forced to remain skeptical through the entire work.
For graduate-level Public History class to supplement my Div III. I would love to see how this survey would translate, 15 years later, in a post-9/11, internet-saturated US. Also, with accurate sampling.
As others have noted - important as this study is, it's already dated. It would be great to run it again, but ideal to simply run it every twenty years, given the pace of change in our nation and world.
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