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223 Con­ clu­ sion Once and Fu­ ture ­ Truths When we ven­ ture into the past we en­ gage in a sort of time ­ travel. One of the sa­ cred myths of sci­ ence fic­ tion is that time travel­ ers can alter the­ course of his­ tory, in un­ pre­ dict­ able ways. When we ven­ ture into the past ­ through “au­ then­ tic” his­ tor­ i­ cal dra­ mas such as Cav­ al­ cade of Amer­ ica or visit the “real” his­ tor­ i­ cal ob­ jects dis­ played at the Mu­ seum of ­ American His­ tory, the point is ­ rather dif­ fer­ ent. We can in these cases ­ travel ­ through time, but we never risk al­ ter­ ing the ap­ par­ ently nat­ u­ ral flow of ­ American his­ tory—not be­ cause we are im­ per­ cept­ ible, but be­ cause no al­ ter­ na­ tive his­ tory seems pos­ sible. Every de­ tail—the dress, the but­ tons, the ­ clocks, the ri­ fles—is pre­ cisely cor­ rect, leav­ ing lit­ tle space for im­ a­ gin­ ing al­ ter­ nate pasts or inter­ pre­ ta­ tions. As David Low­ en­ thal­ argues, the “ver­ i­ si­ mil­ i­ tude” is also used to con­ ceal “major bias.”1 In ad­ di­ tion, un­ less one is will­ ing and able to dis­ card this past, im­ a­ gin­ ing al­ ter­ na­ tives in the­ present be­ comes more dif­ fi­ cult. From this per­ spec­ tive the past dif­ fers sty­ lis­ ti­ cally from the ­ present, but peo­ ple, in­ sti­ tu­ tions, and struc­ tures are fun­ da­ men­ tally the same ­ across the cen­ tu­ ries, and what once was true is ­ equally true now and for­ ever. The sup­ po­ si­ tion that key ­ truths never ­ change yokes pop­ u­ lar his­ tory with its mean­ ing; the power to de­ fine the past ­ clearly ­ amounts to the power to de­ fine the ­ present be­ cause the two are por­ trayed as sub­ stan­ tially anal­ o­ gous. Thus the need in the 1960s for a break with this lim­ ited past: a rup­ ture from the nar­ rowly de­ fined her­ i­ tage that ex­ cluded pos­ sibil­ ities for in­ sti­ tu­ tional ­ change. 224 E Conclusion As for “au­ then­ tic­ ity,” at­ ten­ tion to de­ tail, and the in­ sis­ tence on “facts”—­ things that elic­ ited crit­ i­ cal ­ praise for rep­ re­ sent­ ing ex­ cel­ lent his­ tory on Cav­ al­ cade and You Are There—in the end they are ­ merely the means by which we see how easy it is to com­ mune with the past. On the other hand, his­ tor­ i­ cal dis­ tance and con­ texts are ex­ tremely dif­ fi­ cult to im­ a­ gine, es­ pe­ cially when our ­ senses are con­ fronted with “au­ then­ tic” ­ re-creations that ren­ der the ­ foreign fa­ mil­ iar. Dan­ gers ­ abound when his­ tory ap­ pears to be both ob­ vi­ ous and au­ thor­ i­ ta­ tive. Lack of crit­ i­ cal dis­ tance is one kind of prob­ lem; high­ light­ ing only the ­ events or sub­ jects that sup­ port one’s ar­ gu­ ment is an­ other. When Ho­ ward Green cri­ tiqued the emerg­ ing field of pub­ lic his­ tory for its ap­ par­ ent ser­ vice to ­ sponsors’ inter­ ests in 1981, he made much the same point about the sub­ or­ di­ na­ tion of his­ tor­ i­ cal work to ad­ ver­ tis­ ing or pub­ lic re­ la­ tions goals.2 Abra­ ham Po­ lon­ sky later said of his work on You Are There, “We were mak­ ing his­ tory com­ pre­ hen­ sible in terms of what we ­ thought was sig­ nif­i­ cant at that time—with­ out dis­ tort­ ing his­ tory to do it!” He fur­ ther de­ fended the se­ ries, ex­ plain­ ing, “The show was de­ lib­ er­ ately po­ lit­ i­ cal—but it was not po­ lit­ i­ cal prop­ a­ ganda. . . . In prop­ a­ ganda you de­ lib­ er­ ately and con­ sciously have a mes­ sage that you want peo­ ple to under­ stand and for which you find il­ lus­ tra­ tions. What we did was po­ lit­ i­ cal inter­ pre­ ta­ tion. And in the inter­ pre­ ta­ tion you...


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