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The Past is a Foreign Country [Paperback]

David Lowenthal
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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The Past is a Foreign Country - Revisited The Past is a Foreign Country - Revisited
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Book Description

January 29, 1999 0521294800 978-0521294805 0
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 its legacy in line with current needs. Drawing on all the arts, the humanities and the social sciences, the author uses sources as diverse as science fiction and psychoanalysis to examine how rebellion against inherited tradition has given rise to the modern cult of preservation and pervasive nostalgia. Profusely illustrated, The Past is a Foreign Country shows that although the past has ceased to be a sanction for inherited power or privilege, as a focus of personal and national identity and as a bulwark against massive and distressing change it remains as potent a force as ever in human affairs.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The past reassures us and helps us to avoid mistakes. It also saps present purposes; tradition is a brake on progress. How we respond to the past, for better or worse, is the theme of this highly original, erudite survey by an American scholar based in London. We are incapable of leaving the past alone, Lowenthal maintains; nostalgia motivates youthful Elvis Presley impersonators and inspires a reverence for Art Deco. On the other hand, monuments may have only the slightest resemblance to the events or people they are meant to enshrine. Just as Lord Elgin dismantled the Parthenon, so today we uproot prehistoric relics; replicas and imitations color the aura of antiquity. A Midwestern laundromat sports a Viking warrior's face to conjure up ties to a mythic past. Over 100 photographs of buildings and objects, plus reproductions of paintings and sketches, illustrate artifacts from everyday life and history. In the Space Age, asserts Lowenthal, we're scarcely aware of the past at all, and that attitude may cancel our future. This imaginative book dislodges deeply held assumptions. February
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This book is splendid on nostalgia, too, and marvelous on those little bits and pieces from the vanished past which serve to legitimate and celebrate. Best of all to my mind, in an amazing array of illustrations, is the tacked-up timber Grecian pediment presiding over the shack which houses a branch of the Security Marine Bank of Madison, Wisconsin. It is, as you will see, a book which you will enjoy, if you know that the past attracts you, or if you think you are immune to its spell..." Washington Post Book World

"David Lowenthal gives us a new understanding of a univeral human experience by imaginatively refashioning the remains and records of the past in England and America from the Reanaissance to our own time...a significant milestone in the history of thought and culture." Merle Curti, University of Wisconsin

Product Details

  • Paperback: 489 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (January 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521294800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521294805
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 3.7 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For anyone interested in how we look upon the past September 23, 2003
Almost encyclopedical in his treatment of Western cultures' relations to their past, Lowenthal gives the reader a roller-coster ride, from time travel fantasies to Viking logos in Minnesota. Lowenthal is more into exploring our relation to the past than debunking myths, thus being more open to the manifold ways we use the past than in his later book "The Heritage Crusade." One problem remains: Lowenthal's idea about the foreign-ness of the past, that we today have a different way of understanding the passing of time than our medieval ancestors, could have benefitted from more elaboration. Still, this is a masterpiece.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good in small doses November 9, 2009
By Almelle
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 much focus on the past, and just how we can know 'the past' (through collective history, individual memory, and tangible relics). Chapter 6 is one of the most interesting, as it emphasizes how we change the past (understood as a mental object we've created) through using it and twisting it to serve our purposes.

If you're running short on time, his table of contents and chapter headings are fairly extensive, so it's possible to get a good sense of the book by looking at it's skeleton. Plus, do make time to read at least ten pages or so to get a feel for his writing! If you're a literature sort of person, it's enjoyable and fluid in small doses. :-D
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One terrific book September 6, 1999
By A Customer
This book is a unique of study on how to understand history. I found it almost impossible to put down, and my reference point for touring historical sites and watching movies and televisons shows has been foreever altered. Highly recommended for its readability and fabulous bibliography and footnotes. A must read for anyone interested in history.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Past is our Remembrance and Imagination of it March 22, 2006
This is an ambitious effort. It is a comprehensive effort to understand how Humanity relates to, and makes use of the Past. And a central focus is that Past which is in cultural monuments and great creations.

I admit that reading this book I felt overwhelmed and confused by the multiplicity of categories and uses, by the variety of learning and connections. I seemed to lose my inner checkposts, my way of measuring whether what was being said was true to my experience, or not.

And here I felt the strong distinction between the 'public memory' which as I understand it is by and large the subject of the work, and the kind of private individual memory through which we interpret and give meaning to our own lives.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book is a tough read, but a very informative look into why we view history in the way we do.
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