U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Quote for Thursday

In honor of David Sehat’s sign-off, I’m going to offer something in the tradition of his “Quotes for Tuesday.”

“Unwilling or unable to incorporate the legacy of the past into our own creative acts, [today] we concentrate instead on saving its remaining vestiges. The less integral the role of the past in our lives, the more imperative the urge to preserve its relics. Because we seldom understand what those relics meant, what part they played, what aspirations they reflected, what values they embodied in the active life of the past, we do little more than simply save them. They no longer belong to our actual world; they no longer stimulate artists and architects to create anew; they no longer form part of a living past, however much we respect their survival or yearn to adapt them to modern uses. Because earlier modes of response to the past are now closed to us, because much of what survives is now foreign to us, preservation has become the principal, often the exclusive, way of deriving sustenance from our heritage.”

David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 384.