Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Why the Past, and Remembering the Past, Matter

"Although most people usually take it for granted and devote little time to studying or thinking about it, in fact the past is responsible for everything we are. It is the core of our humanity. The past is the world out of which we have come, the multitude of events and experiences that have shaped our conscious selves and the social worlds we inhabit. To understand how and why we live as we do, we cannot avoid appealing to the past to explain how and why we got to be this way.

"But it is not the past alone that plays this crucial role in shaping our identities. No less important is the act of remembering the past, the backward reflective gaze in which we self-consciously seek to recall the world we have lost, the vanished landscape of our former selves and lives, in order to gather the signposts by which we find our way and keep ourselves from becoming lost. If the past is the place from which we have come, then memory and history are the tools we use for recollecting that place so we can know who and where we are."

William Cronon, "Why the Past Matters," Wisconsin Magazine of History 84, no. 1 (Autumn 2000), 4.

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