History, According To My Brother

I think the Presence of the Past survey from the University of Indiana does a good job of revealing the subject’s general view of history and their frequency of interactions with it. To my brother, history was very personal with “someone who was there” receiving the highest marks for trustworthiness at a nine. Whereas to him history teachers were considered the least reliable, along with TV shows, at a 5. To him history is also material, with his most extensive contact with history being collecting “knives, guns, coin, and records” because they are to him fun and “preserve a piece of the past.” This is probably representative of many young professionals like him who in our materialistic society see ownership and consumption as the best means to interact with history. Additionally, the prizing of eye witness testimony illustrates the general ignorance of the public’s ability effectively evaluate bias in historical sources. His interview further shows the continuation of Americans wanting a history where they can take the lessons “America can do anything it puts it mind to” while critiquing museums for having a “tilt.” Not much has changed since the Enola Gay exhibit in 1995.

Informative Article: The Rise of American Consumerism – heiditerra

Overall, I think this is a good survey, but suffers from being almost thirty years old. There are no questions about the internet, the greatest opportunity and challenge to public history in our current age. Today most individuals would have more interactions with historical content online than many of the sources listed in the survey. Historians are now vying for space in an age of increasing information overload with the public looking to history as a source of fun, individualistic consumerism, when they consider history at all.

One Comment

  1. I take your point, but isn’t consumerism and obsession with it a very old thing now? Do you think it’s a changing nature of consumerist society (i.e. a newly obsessive acquisitional culture) or just the impacts of an older pattern?

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