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

3.6  ·  Rating details ·  164 Ratings  ·  17 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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Sep 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: div-iii
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.
Sep 19, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Aug 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
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.
Billy Marino
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Might be inching towards a 4.5, hard to say. Either way, while this book is certainly dated in some ways, ahem "CD-ROMS and the World Wide Web," it is also unfortunately relevant. Many of the insights found in their study show that people do connect with the past, just not in the way professional historians make sense of the past. The conclusion is that historians, as the professionals, need to be aware of how people engage the past and help bridge the gap between public and professional history ...more
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Two historians put together a massive research project to learn how everyday Americans relate to the past. This book presents the results of that study. It's not a dry recitation of facts. they personalize the findings quite well. I don't completely agree with the premise and some of the methodology, but it's very interesting to see how Americans learn about history and who they trust to tell them the straight facts. The study also compares differences between ethnic groups. As expected, America ...more
Mike Hankins
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-history
This book revolves around a massive survey given to Americans about how they think about and interact with history and historical sources. It’s a counter to the typical jeremiad that Americans don’t care about history. Instead it shows that they very much do care, but they interact with it and think about it in ways that are not necessarily the same as (or encouraged by) historians. The caveat to keep in mind here is that its conclusions are limited: the survey was done in the mid-1990s, and it ...more
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: historiography
Overall, this book is intriguing. It details the results of a national survey that asked people how they use the past and history. The results are interesting! Its nice to know that people are more involved with history (or as they view it, the past) than what some professionals may lead us to believe. However, I have a lot of issues with some of the language the authors used as well as some of their methods. Why did they choose one Native American reservation when trying to understand how Nativ ...more
Ginger Smith
Oct 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, genealogy
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,
May 06, 2010 rated it liked it
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 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.
Hannah Givens
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Starting to get out of date, although I fully understand the challenge of trying to update it with another nationwide survey! Even if it's getting dated, it's fascinating for a public historian and helps approach the topic from the public's perspective with actual facts, not just the way we imagine the public to be. A vital contribution to the field.
Apr 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: text-book
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.
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Intriguing and very useful book. I think some of the chapter distinctions are arbitrary, and this book maybe would have been more effective as an article, but the interviews are very interesting and each authors' summary analysis at the end are excellent.
Nov 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Aug 05, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 13, 2016 added it
This was a good read for the second week. Great discussions on one of the only and must influential studies of public history and how people identify their history. It was short so not so bad
Christi Britten
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Oct 02, 2016
Jeremy Britten
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Aug 31, 2016
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Jan 06, 2011
Charlie Hersh
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Aug 14, 2016
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Feb 09, 2013
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Sep 12, 2007
Caitlyn Parker
rated it it was amazing
Mar 11, 2013
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Oct 14, 2011
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Apr 06, 2008
Mike Seaman
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Nov 16, 2017
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Jan 02, 2013
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Nov 28, 2014
Michael Vernon
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Mar 05, 2017
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