Wild, Wild West and David Lowenthal.

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The Past is a Foreign Country

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In this hard-to-read, wide-ranging book, The Past is a Foreign Country, Professor Lowenthal analyzes the ever-changing role of the past in shaping our lives. A heritage at once battling nature vs. nurture, the past allows us to make sense of the present while imposing constraints on how the way the present develops. Some aspects of the past are celebrated, others forgotten, as each generation reshapes its legacy in line with the present. Using the arts, the humanities and the social sciences, the author uses sources such as science fiction to examine how we rebel against inherited tradition that has risen to the modern cult of preservation. The Past is a Foreign Country shows that although the past has ceased to be a restriction for inherited power or privilege, as a focus of national identity, it remains as potent a force as ever in human affairs.

He explains that in essence we look at the past much like we perceive distant foreign countries. There are three major themes that inform the text as a whole and organize its contents.

The first major theme of Lowenthal's book is, it considers how the past both deepen and/or diminish our sense of the present and why different people (at different times) variously take in or withdraw from perception of the past. The second section examines more specifically how the surroundings we live by and recollections or people, events or places help make human beings aware of the past. The final two chapters describe how we preserve, restructure and conserve the past that we know, through relics, monuments, commemorations, exhibits and so on. Lowenthal's concern in this book is how...