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The Past of the Future: From the Foreign to the Undiscovered Country

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David Lowenthal argues that in recent years there has been a retreat from engagement with many aspects of the past. He suggests that, in turn, this points to an unwillingness to contend with the future.

'The past is a foreign country’, begins L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953); ‘they do things differently there’. The dawning awareness of that difference some two centuries ago and its subsequent import have engrossed many historians.  Less explored than shifting views on the past are foci on the future. What seems to lie ahead stems from, mirrors, or transmutes reactions to previous times. Both past and future have notably expanded in Western consciousness since about 1750. Over the next two centuries, the collective annals of memory and anticipation lengthened exponentially, grew more copious and capacious, and resembled the present ever less.

 


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