IN THE PAST LANE: Historical Perspectives on American Culture by Michael Kammen

IN THE PAST LANE: Historical Perspectives on American Culture

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In a scattershot group of insightful essays, Pulitzer Prize--winner Kammen (History/Cornell; The Lively Arts, 1996, etc.) offers varied perspectives not so much on American history as on its uses and effects. Kammen's outlooks range from the personal to the broadly cultural. In a long essay, he challenges the notion of historical objectivity, demonstrating the manner in which personal issues often drive historians in choice and treatment of subject matter. He also sympathetically examines the approaches of academic and nonacademic historians to their craft, exploring problems ranging from relationships with students to coping with professional criticism. Kammen divides his remaining essays into two thematic groups: those exploring perceptions of culture and public life, and those examining changing perceptions of the past. In the first, he discusses such diverse issues as the history of government support for cultural programs, the development of courthouse architecture and its meaning for our evolving views of justice and the legal profession, and the exploitation of historical and cultural images in advertising. In the second, Kammen emphasizes our self-conscious reshaping of the past in historical art (often laden with cultural values) the problem of American exceptionalism, and the ""practice"" of historical amnesia by political leaders in order to create cohesive national myths. Finally, Kammen explores the workings of our notion of ""heritage""--""those aspects of history we cherish and affirm""--in the operation of selective historical memory. While a sense of heritage can lead to false history, the author calls heritage in its best sense ""an enticement . . . that could conceivably bring us to history as enchantment, as mental exercise, and as a source of self-knowledge that points toward enlightenment if not wisdom."" A perceptive look at the practice of history, by one of its leading practitioners.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 019513091X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.