Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"The Past is a Foreign Country"

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."

So begins an article by Paul Ford that appeared in the Feb 2014 issue of Wired magazine. The quote is from L.P. Hartley who wrote it in 1953.  The article itself is called "The End of Then" and subtitled "Past? Present? Online, It All Runs Together" and it has got me wondering about the past and the present and maybe the future.  As is often the case, I think about these things through a local Bethlehem history lens.

Ford points out that in our digital era "the past is now present and all around us."  If you doubt that, take yourself over to Archive.org or Google books and take a look around.

One local history reference is Howell & Tenney's History of Albany County.  Deep in the boxes of the town's archive is a fragile looking edition of this essential local history book.  But, low and behold, it is available digitally on both of the above sites.  On line looking for Bethlehem Civil War veterans I found a digital copy of The Heroes of Albany* which I can easily search for Bethlehem names. Census records? Browse them on line. High school year books? Browse Bethlehem Centrals from 1929 to 1986 at the Bethlehem Public Library's website. Check out the Albany group at Flickr for lots and lots of old Albany photos with quite a few Bethlehem ones mixed in. 

You can drown in all the history floating around the internet.  As Ford notes "suddenly we find ourselves living in an online realm where the old is just as easy to consume as the  new."

In the interest of not drowning in digital history, I suggest dipping your toes in actual physical history.
Engage all of your senses. How can you touch, smell, hear, see and taste history?

In the ultimate irony - I had a hard time finding a digital copy of the entire article even at wired.com.  So, here's a jpeg copy.

*In that foreign country of 1866 Albany, they really knew how to write a book title: The Heroes of Albany. A memorial of the patriot-martyrs of the city and county of Albany, who sacrificed their lives during the late war in defense of our nation 1861-1865, with a view of what was done in the county to sustain the United States government; and also brief histories o the Albany regiments.

1 comment:

  1. "in defense of our nation" is of course what the victors would say when in fact, the north attacked the south which simply, as patrck henry had warned, wanted to peacefully go it's own way just as the colonies had done only a few decades before. However, Lincoln had dreams of Empire and Empire can only be extended from a large base (similar to a united German, etc, as related in the book "Lincoln's Marxists" - that was a surprise to discover along with the works of Thomas Dilorenzo), not with, as he thought, half a country. The South was right to resist the mercantilist and authoritarian ways growing in the North which we are all experiencing the results of today as we buckle under the weight of the new Leviathan. Since the War of Northern Aggression, the US (no longer the "Union") has engaged in foreign war after foreign war, sending our boys and a few girls off to be maimed and die to no good purpose as we later discovered and as we continued to be sold out by our corrupt politicians in service to the powerful oligarchs such as Morgan, Vanderbilt, Aldrich, Pierpont, Rockefeller, etc., who, once they had accumulated wealth either through honest labor or cronyism, used the power of government force of law to extend their control and thus their wealth. But at such cost, a price we continue to pay today.