Cover image for Sense of history : the place of the past in American life
Sense of history : the place of the past in American life
Glassberg, David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvii, 269 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E175.9 .G58 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The author of this work surveys the shifting boundaries between the personal, public, and professional uses of the past and explores their place in the broader cultural landscape. Each chapter investigates a specific encounter between Americans and their history.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

How is the past used? Who writes our history and what political ends do they try to accomplish by advocating one version of the American past rather than another? These are old questions, and University of Massachusetts at Amherst historian Glassberg provides tedious and predictable answers. He devotes an entire chapter, for example, to persuading readers of the obvious that war memorials may tell us more about the eras in which they were built than the wars they commemorate. In another essay, he explains how rituals in America's industrialized cities, like San Francisco's 1909 Portol  Festival, promoted the idea that the heterogeneous, polyglot immigrant populations of urban landscapes were one people. Glassberg also discusses Ken Burns's Civil War miniseries, noting that leading historians were dissatisfied with Burns's portrayal of African-Americans. The topic is interesting, but Glassberg's treatment adds little to Ken Burns's the Civil War: Historians Respond, edited by Robert Brent Toplin. Glassberg's discourse on New England towns is desultory and not obviously related to his overarching thesis about the construction of historical memory. Not that this is a book totally bereft of insight: in a prosaic chapter about the construction of historical meaning in California, Glassberg does make the fresh point that Californians, in their embrace of redwoods and sequoias, "named, labeled, and displayed" their trees "like historical relics." But the occasional thoughtful paragraph cannot rescue this book from its banality. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Glassberg (history, Univ. of Massachusetts) uses a series of loosely related essays on small, sometimes seemingly insignificant, topics as a way of meditating on a large, complex, and important matter: the differences and interrelationships between the "sense of history" among academic historians and the American people. Put another way, this is a study of the gaps between professional and public history, and of the ways "memory" is contested and shaped in American popular culture. After a brief general introduction, the first three essays examine the creation of an unusual antiwar WW I monument in a small New England town, ethnic and class tensions behind the development of the Portola Festival in early-20th-century San Francisco, and the "public" response to Ken Burns's Civil War television series, based on letters Burns received in response to the program. The second half of the book focuses on one major difference between the public and academic sense of history: the powerful role of "place" associated with public historical memory, with essays on place and placelessness, New England town character, and the creation of historic places in California. Both public and academic historians ought to find this readable work thought-provoking and rewarding. Upper-division undergraduate students and above. K. Blaser Wayne State College

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
1 Sense of Historyp. 1
2 Remembering a Warp. 23
3 Celebrating the Cityp. 59
4 Watching The Civil Warp. 87
5 Place and Placelessness in American Historyp. 109
6 Rethinking New England Town Characterp. 129
7 Making Places in Californiap. 165
Conclusion: Finding Our Placep. 203
Notesp. 213
Indexp. 263