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The Past is a Foreign Country
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The Past is a Foreign Country

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  106 ratings  ·  12 reviews
In this remarkably wide-ranging book Professor Lowenthal analyses the ever-changing role of the past in shaping our lives. A heritage at once nurturing and burdensome, the past allows us to make sense of the present whilst imposing powerful constraints upon the way that present develops. Some aspects of the past are celebrated, others expunged, as each generation reshapes ...more
Paperback, 752 pages
Published November 14th 1985 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1985)
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Daniel
An amazing interdisciplinary look at our relationship with the past. Nostalgia, progress, and anachronism all play a part in the (lengthy) multimedia show.

It is exhaustively detailed - the kind of book you'd be grateful for on a desert island. It would make a good 6-disc Ken Burns-style documentary. Come to think of it, why hasn't anyone made this into a documentary yet? It's practically begging to be turned into a mini-series.
Elizabeth
This book is both physically and symbolically massive. Lowenthal sets out to chronicle attitudes toward "the past" (in the broadest possible terms) from antiquity to present (albeit, his present is the 1980s). He paints his conclusions in pretty broad strokes, but does not insist that his generalizations be taken as truth. Rather, he aims to explore three primary themes: (1) how the past enriches or impoverishes us, and why we choose to embrace or shun it, (2) how our recollections and surroundi ...more
Celia
[Review from 2009] I'm a grad student reading this for a class on 'heritage tourism.' I've enjoyed the flow of his sentences and the interesting images, but I agree with Kenneth (an earlier reviewer): when a hundred-page chapter can be summarized in one page, I've tended to skim quite a bit.

In our class we've read chapters 1,2,5, and 6, and that's made the book a lot more manageable! These chapters have focused on how modern people use the past for present needs, the issues that come with too mu
...more
John
Full disclosure here: I skimmed the hell out of this book because I checked it out of the Smith college library in, like, June, and then forgot about it for months of summertime, until I finally checked my UMass email and realized it was way overdue.
I kinda wish I had it on my shelf now. I should have bought it when Lowenthal came to UMass to talk last year. It isn't all that focused, but in essence it is a really long, interesting discussion of how people think about the past, study the past,
...more
Kate
I skimmed this book, and may want to return to it. Lowenthal's approach is so multidisciplinary that it is often scattershot, but his attempt at a unifying historiography is valuable. I've been thinking recently about the nineteenth-century creation of my own historical discipline, and Lowenthal's analysis of that era is nicely done. Although he really tries to do too much in one work, this synthetic book offers a good introduction to the notion of the invention of history.
Julie
I read this in grad school for a historic preservation class. Many of my classmates complained bitterly about reading Lowenthal, but I was intrigued by the depth of his knowledge. It warmed the cockles of my geekish heart to read so many references to classical literature AND to science fiction...which made me think my education in the classics and love of sci-fi wasn't such a waste after all :)
Jack
This was the first required book I read for the very first course I took in grad school, 21 years ago. At this point the only thing I remember about it is that the author quotes a line from the "Dennis the Menace" comic strip! :)
Ryan Speer
This isn't as busy as Michael Kammen's "Mystic Chords of Memory" (a good companion piece). Is dense and impressionistic the only way to write about this topic?
Michael
Very informative and a great taxonomic approach to the effects and uses of the past and memory, but kinda dry and I couldn't get into it much.
Tom Mackie
I am using the work a other related works on heritage and memory to give me a background on Lincoln and Public History.
Cathy
Intriguing ideas but became too repetitive.
Holly
Essays on memory, the past, nostalgia.
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