Sumter National Monument
ON THE PRESERVATION OF PLACE
I like it or not, whether I recognize it or not, what I am is in key
part what I inherit.
philosopher, quoted in Lowenthal, Possessed by the Past, p. 33.
and history both derive and gain emphasis from physical remains. Tangible
survivals provide a vivid immediacy that helps to assure us there really
was a past. Physical remains have their limitations as informants, to
be sure; they are themselves mute, requiring interpretation; their continual
but differential erosion and demolition skews the record; and their
substantial survival conjures up a past more static than could have
been the case. But however depleted by time and use, relics remain essential
bridges between then and now. They confirm or deny what we think of
it, symbolize or memorialize communal links over time, and provide archaeological
metaphors that illumine the processes of history and memory.
Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (1985), p.xxiii.
many preservation leaders seem to have lost sight of the motives which
once fueled their movement and have become preoccupied with how preserve,
either politically, economically, or technically, with little or no
discrimination as to what they are preserving and why.
H. Murtagh, Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in
America (1993), p. 167.
- For the
historically evolved urban fabric offers a critically important life-support
system to everyone who is sheltered there --whether temporarily as the
tourist or permanently as the resident. This support is complex and
multi-form. It is first of all supremely physical--indeed physiological.
But it goes beyond that to offer psychic shelter as well. The city has
been correctly defined as the theater of memory: that is, as the cumulative
scene of past actions.
Marston Fitch, Historic Preservation: Curatorial Management of the Built
World (1990), p. xi.
have argued that we must treat city centers as valuable artifacts. But
unless they address the pressures that make it difficult or impossible
to do so, their chances of success are not high. I am suggesting that
if we enhance popular control over the production and distribution of
goods, including housing, provide shelter for those who need it, and
make resources available to want to fix up their own neighborhoods,
people would be more than willing to honor collective memories. Only
when citizens are not confronted with the choice between a preserved
past and a squalid present can preservationism have a secure future.
Wallace, "Reflections on the History of Historic Preservation,"
in Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public, ed. by Susan
Porter Bloom, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, (1986), p. 199.
- To preserve
effectively, we must know for what the past is being retained and for
whom. The management of change and the active use of remains for present
and future purpose are preferable to an inflexible reverence for a sacrosanct
past. The past must be chosen and changed, made in the present. Choosing
a past helps us to construct a future.
Lynch, What Time is This Place?, (1972), p. 64.
now, for instance, the question that we--scholars and citizens alike--are
asking of our past is how we can develop a historical understanding
that accommodates greatly expanded definitions of a multicultural society.
That means we tend to look at a "George Washington" site,
likely to have been developed in the late nineteenth century or first
third of the twentieth century, wanting to know about the rest of the
cast--women, blacks, soldiers, children--who may have been present as
well. The next question is whether that particular site can shoulder
the weight of our contemporary concerns. What historical ideas can we
explore with fidelity to the site? How can we refer visitors to other
sites of the same vintage that tell different portions of the story?
How can we use the history of historic preservation and collections
to explain still other parts of our story in visitor programs? All our
sites and collections are partial in some sense. We can use that to
Blatti, Past Meets Present: Essays About Historic Interpretation and
Public Audiences (1987), p. 4.
- At their
worst, they [historical museums] make evil in the past seem romantic
and inequality in the present seem inevitable. At their best, museums
[and historic sites] help people to understand the rifts that separate
us from one another. The time has come to stop adjusting the furniture
and begin reforming our essential presentations of the past.
A. Chappell, "Social Responsibility and the American History Museum,"
Wintherthur Portfolio, 24 (Winter 1989), p. 265.
- To interpret
something means ultimately to evaluate it, thoughtfully and critically.
This means museums have to step outside their own culture and its prevailing
wisdom to discover and evaluate the ramifications of whatever topics
they study. It means they have to take an informed stand based on responsible
and extensive analysis. Putting it in different terms, interpreting
means demonstrating why something matters, how it has made a difference.
Ideally, interpretation helps us gain not just knowledge but that rarer
and more precious commodity, wisdom. Interpretation does not just inform
us but pushes us to a deeper and more subtle understanding of some aspect
of the world around us.
Ames, "Finding Common Threads," in Ideas and Images: Developing
Interpretive History Exhibits, ed. by Kenneth Ames, Barbara Franco,
L. Thomas Frye (1992), p. 314.
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