The Usable Past, the Comfortable Past, and the Civic Past: Memory in Contemporary America

Essay Excerpt

The discovery that Sioux Indians and, especially, African Americans "connect their narratives much more explicitly to the American national story than most white Americans do" is of the most profound significance (Rosenzweig and Thelen 1998:146). If there are any honest participants left in the history wars, it is time for themto admit that this finding explodes the entiretedious debate as it has been conducted until now. For conservatives in search of a reinvigorated nationalist memory, for liberals fearful that histories of racial-ethnic difference will "disunite" their country, for those on the Left who advocate a decentered, "transnational" American past composed of independent diasporic histories, it ought to come as a genuine shock to discover that African Americans are the primary keepers and interpreters of this country's civic memory. With all due respect to Handler and Gable, there are moments when new evidence must force interpreters to rethink their positions, and this is one of them.  (Blake, 434)

About the Author

Casey Nelson Blake is a professor in the Department of History. He specializes in modern U.S. intellectual and cultural history and American studies, with an emphasis on topics at the intersection of modernist art and politics in the twentieth century.

He is the author of several works including The Arts of Democracy: Art, Public Culture, and the State and the forthcoming Public Art and the Civic Imagination in Modernist America and Crisis of Confidence: Politics, Culture and Social Thought in the 1970s.

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