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Space, Place, and Historylessness

August 6, 2014

Perhaps the most overlooked form of liberation promised by the gurus of modern emancipation comes in the form of historylessness. Human beings have usually had a “place” in history, the felt presence of ancestors, of inherited culture, a sense that as individuals and groups they played an appointed role in a story not of their making. But as the pace of technological, social, and cultural change accelerates, we increasingly experience our environment in a way that exposes no clear dependence on the distant or middle past. The ways of our grandparents are so hopelessly ill-suited to the contemporary environment that one might well consider knowledge of history a useless form of antiquarianism. The conquest of space is also the conquest of history, if not of time. No longer bound to our places of birth, we can more easily ignore the history attending any temporary places we might later inhabit. We have not only turned place into space but we have abandoned history for the ever-present now.

Ted V. McAllister, “Making American Places: Civic Engagement Rightly Understood,” in Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America, eds.  Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister (New York: New Atlantis Books, 2014), 190.


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