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The Past Is a Foreign Country – Revisited


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  • Date Published: October 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521616850
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About the Authors
  • The past remains essential - and inescapable. A quarter-century after the publication of his classic account of man's attitudes to his past, David Lowenthal revisits how we celebrate, expunge, contest and domesticate the past to serve present needs. He shows how nostalgia and heritage now pervade every facet of public and popular culture. History embraces nature and the cosmos as well as humanity. The past is seen and touched and tasted and smelt as well as heard and read about. Empathy, re-enactment, memory and commemoration overwhelm traditional history. A unified past once certified by experts and reliant on written texts has become a fragmented, contested history forged by us all. New insights into history and memory, bias and objectivity, artefacts and monuments, identity and authenticity, and remorse and contrition, make this book once again the essential guide to the past that we inherit, reshape and bequeath to the future.

    • Examines mankind's relationship with his past
    • Draws on all the arts, the humanities and the social sciences, and on diverse sources such as science fiction and psychoanalysis, to show how rebellion against tradition has given rise to the modern cult of preservation and pervasive nostalgia
    • Incorporates new ways of seeing and engaging with the past from archaeology and museum display to re-enactments and The History Channel
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    • Winner, 2016 British Academy Medal

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Dazzling and wide-ranging … packed with vivid examples and a vast range of pithy quotations, and throughout expressed with verve and wit.' Robert Tombs, Evening Standard

    'The range is truly impressive and the understanding, indeed vision, at play in the presentation of past legacies makes for an enthralling read.' Standpoint

    'In giving a context to conservation work of any type, in providing insights into the ways the past is seen, has been seen, and how the past is analysed (and why), this book is invaluable. … This is a superb survey. Covering almost the whole field of what we as a species have made, good and bad, and how we deal with this making and its outputs (or indeed how we do not deal with them), this is a book of great range and richness and offers an intensely personal view that always informs and challenges. Lowenthal's sheer energy, his depth of coverage and his insights are accessible, fascinating and essential reading.' Graham Voce, News in Conversation: International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

    'Reader-friendly, with a light touch and a sharp sense of irony and paradox. Moves with ease from the psychology of memory to school textbooks,  science fiction, museums, forgeries, re-enactments, ephemera, apologies for actions taken long ago, the effects of ageing (on both artefacts and people), and, of course, heritage.' Peter Burke, History Today

    'A work of extraordinary breadth and depth by a scholar of stupendous erudition … essential reading for anyone interested in geography, history, and the nature of the human condition.' Alexander B. Murphy, AAG Review of Books

    'Magnificent book, indisputably a modern classic. Extraordinarily rich and endlessly fascinating meditation on the uses and abuses of the past in modern western culture … brilliant scholarship, sublimely elegant prose.' Michael Heffernan, AAG Review of Books

    'Of inestimable value to encounter and understand the world … Unrivalled scholarship, drawn from a lifetime of collecting and reflecting, upon a dizzying diversity of texts, comments and experiences of the past in the present … a great read.' David C. Harvey, AAG Review of Books

    'Master chronicler of our complexly shifting engagements with the past.' Dydia DeLyser, AAG Review of Books

    'An exemplary philosophical and historical guide on the increased importance of the Past … Evocative writing endowed with rigor, freshness and humor. Extraordinary power of synthesis, admirable wisdom and amazing lightness.' Luca Muscara, Revista Geográfica

    'Surely ranks among the best of the best.' Bruce Ryan, University of Cincinnati

    'A stunning work of scholarship, a staggering tour de force.' Stephen F. Brown, University of Ulster

    'Jaw-dropping interdisciplinarity and dazzling intellectual playfulness.' Simon Ditchfield, York University

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    28th Aug 2015 by GoodLucktoIris

    this is really an inspiring book. Yet it can be more concise.

    Review was not posted due to profanity


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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521616850
    • length: 676 pages
    • dimensions: 247 x 174 x 29 mm
    • weight: 1.32kg
    • contains: 108 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Wanting the Past:
    1. Nostalgia: dreams and nightmares
    2. Time travelling
    3. Benefits and burdens of the past
    Part II. Disputing the Past:
    4. Ancients vs moderns: tradition and innovation
    5. The look of age: aversion
    6. The look of age: affection
    Part III. Knowing the Past:
    7. Memory
    8. History
    9. Relics
    Part IV. Remaking the Past:
    10. Saving the past: preservation and replication
    11. Replacing the past: restoration and re-enactment
    12. Improving the past
    Epilogue: the past in the present.

  • Author

    David Lowenthal, University College London
    David Lowenthal is Emeritus Professor of Geography and Honorary Research Fellow at University College London. He is a gold medallist of the Royal Geographical, the Royal Scottish Geographical and the American Geographical Societies, a Fellow of the British Academy and honorary D.Litt. Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 2010 he was awarded the Forbes Lecture Prize by the International Institute for Conservation. His books include The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (1996), George Perkins Marsh, Prophet of Conservation (2000) and The Nature of Cultural Heritage and the Culture of National Heritage (2005).


    • Winner, 2016 British Academy Medal

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