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Presenting The Past : Essays on History and…
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Presenting The Past : Essays on History and the Public

by Susan Porter Benson (Editor), Stephen Brier (Editor), Roy Rosenzweig (Editor)

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I had misgivings about starting to read Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public. I learned about the book from a reading list for graduate studies in public history. Scholarly essays are often less than enjoyable reading even if they are enlightening but that is not the case here, I found them to be both enjoyable and enlightening. The book was published in 1986 so the essays would be older than that and I have often been disappointed reading dated history. I was very pleasantly surprised. Only two of the eighteen articles were disappointments, most were actually fun to read. The editors selected essays to illustrate three different facets of public history, commercial uses of history, scholarly professionals in public history and political applications of history.

In the first section we get to learn about Howard Fast, author of historical fiction, the origins of American Heritage magazine, and movie director John Ford’s historical vision. The section on professionals gives us a look at the development of American history museums and the origins of historic preservation efforts such as Greenfield Village, Historic Williamsburg, and Indiana’s Conner Prairie. The third, political, section has very interesting on feminist history, GLBT history, and African-American history. The fact that their stories all ended in the 1980s seldom mattered although I had to wonder if American Heritage magazine was still being published. (It is.) The GLBT essay was in fact more interesting being twenty plus years out of date. By discussing the conditions up to the 1980s it vividly illustrated how quickly the world has been changing.

Presenting the Past offers several detailed looks at the history of American history. It also raises several interesting questions. One article looking at professional historians working for businesses and unions questions how unbiased these can be. After all, the article argues, they are dependent on the approval of the organizations for their livelihood and the historians self select their employers. The article is more wary of cooperate historians than of those working for unions however it never questions possible bias from feminist, GLBT, or African-American historians although the same factors apply. The historians self select the field they study and they depend on staying in the good graces of their employers and co-workers. A later article on African-American history does draw a distinction between scholarly and amateur historians, accusing the amateurs of narrowly focusing on heroes at the expense of analyses.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in history outside of the classroom. Roy Rosenzweig was also a founder of the on line Center for History in the New Media, a project in cooperation with George Mason University that promotes digital history. In addition to making history more widely available the website offers tools for research and to produce historical exhibits online. After Dr. Rosenzweig passed away the Center was renamed in his honor. ( )
  TLCrawford | Jan 30, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Benson, Susan PorterEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brier, StephenEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosenzweig, RoyEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0877224137, Paperback)

In recent years, history has been increasingly popularized through television docudramas, history museums, paperback historical novels, grassroots community history projects, and other public representations of historical knowledge. This collection of lively and accessible essays is the first examination of the rapidly growing field called 'public history'. Based in part on articles written for the "Radical History Review", these eighteen original essays take a sometimes irreverent look at how history is presented to the public in such diverse settings as children's books, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Statue of Liberty, "Presenting the Past" is organized into three areas which consider the role of mass media ('Packaging the Past'), the affects of applied history ('Professionalizing the Past') and the importance of grassroots efforts to shape historical consciousness ('Politicizing the Past').The first section examines the large-scale production and dissemination of popular history by mass culture. The contributors criticize many of these Hollywood and Madison Avenue productions that promote historical amnesia or affirm dominant values and institutions. In 'Professionalizing the Past', the authors show how non-university based professional historians have also affected popular historical consciousness through their work in museums, historic preservation, corporations, and government agencies.Finally, the book considers what has been labeled 'people's history' oral history projects, slide shows, films, and local exhibits and assesses its attempts to reach such diverse constituents as workers, ethnic groups, women, and gays. Of essential interest to students of history, "Presenting the Past" also explains to the general reader how Americans have come to view themselves, their ancestors, and their heritage through the influence of mass media, popular culture, and 'public history'.Susan Porter Benson is Associate Professor and Chair of History at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts. Stephen Brier is Director of the American Social History Project and Senior Research Scholar at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Roy Rosenzweig is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Oral History Program at George Mason University in Virginia.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:21 -0400)

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