Possessed by the past: the heritage crusade and the spoils of history

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Free Press, 1996 - History - 338 pages
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Heritage is a most compelling modern cause. In the last quarter century it has expanded from a small elite pastime to a major popular crusade - a crusade to save and celebrate anything and all that we inherit from the past. Everything - from Euro-Disney to the Holocaust Museum, from Balkan enmities to the Northern Irish troubles, from Elvis memorabilia to the Elgin marbles - bears the marks of the cult of heritage. Heritage attachments pervade politics and education and form our views on such diverse realms as heredity, environment, racism, and tourism. Enthralled by the past, we deploy it for present benefits of every kind. A goodly heritage persuades us we belong to a community of like-minded folk and act within a tradition sanctified by age-old experience. Heritage is all the more valued in a world where turbulent change and global fears make the present seem frightful and the future fearsome. Yet the very zeal with which heritage is pursued leads to countless abuses of the treasured past. Roots and relics become weapons to foment hatred of others, to warp historical truth, to deform our own legacy, to further some class or cause. Despite new recognition that the world's diverse legacies belong to and require the care of all mankind, heritage passions remain animated largely by self-regarding chauvinism. In Possessed by the Past, David Lowenthal explains the rise of this new obsession with the past and shows its power for both good and evil. He probes the passions that generate a need to find or invent a prideful past - or to mourn a grievous one - and shows how they are similar the world over. He demonstrates why and how relics, ancestry, and memory today, more than ever, become asource of both pride and peril.

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Heritage Ascendant
Personal Legacies
Collective Legacies

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About the author (1996)

Lowenthal, a native of Brooklyn, New York, is professor emeritus of political science at Boston College. He holds undergraduate degrees from Brooklyn College and New York University and a Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research, where he studied under Leo Strauss.

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