Heritage v. History: Short Commentary

I found this passage on heritage and history over at J. L. Bell’s Boston 1775:

History—the events of the past, or the study of them—is often in conflict with our society’s need for heritage—a way of looking at or recreating the past that serves current cultural or psychological needs. Heritage might tell us that, say, our group is special or that our current customs are deeply rooted in the past. David Lowenthal’s essay Fabricating Memory” explores this distinction further:

Heritage uses historical traces and tells historical tales. But these tales and traces are stitched into fables closed to critical scrutiny. Heritage is immune to criticism because it is not erudition but catechism—not checkable fact but credulous allegiance. Heritage is not a testable or even plausible version of our past; it is a declaration of faith in that past. . . .

…heritage restricts messages to an elect group whose private property it is. History tells all who will listen what has happened and how things came to be as they are. Heritage passes on exclusive myths of origin and endurance, endowing us alone with prestige and purpose. It benefits us by being withheld from others.

Heritage is defined, controlled, and ultimately taken on faith. History continues to flop about, to seep into corners and bubble up where it’s not wanted. Heritage often comes to us in neat stories. History just keeps coming.

That "bubbling" and "flopping" about is what happens when one asks questions.  Very nice.

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