History Wars

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.

CICERO, Pro Publio Sestio

The only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.

HENRY FORD, Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1916

There has been a war for years over the value of history – sometimes those who cherish the past and use its precedents to live by win and sometimes those who, echoing Henry Ford, think history is bunk and strive for a future where the new is embraced and the future is open to all possibilities.

Often times it is the poorest societies that are the most eager to cast off the old, identifying poverty and hard economic trials with history – and history is most often linked with architecture so it often must be replaced.

History is filled with pain, misery, suffering & war.    The Future can be embraced so much more eagerly without the dark shadow of bad memories.     You can also control and shape a populace that has no cultural roots and feed them what YOU want them to believe so it is very appealing to those in positions of power to get rid of history.

Those who embrace History understand that a community’s culture is secured and enriched by standing on a common foundation based on shared values and experiences.   It also allows a society to avoid making errors over and over again by learning the lessons of the past so that we are not doomed to repeat our mistakes.     It also prevents alien philosophies that are bent on destroying our society from having a free hand, therefore protecting our ideals.

Those who know history and the ideals and standards of a society are less likely to be fooled by conmen wishing to deceive with lies and misinformation.      Standing with giants like Franklin and Jefferson and Washington; and locally Cushing, Morrill, Parsons & Whitefield, puts a halt to those determined to impose tyranny.

Thus, we have a conflict that we actually can see being played out recently in the LHD debate.     Those who cherish our architecture as part of America’s National Heritage and love to immerse themselves in the lessons of the past versus a group that identifies the old buildings with the poor economic misery that was present at one time in Newburyport.    As demonstrated by our partially demolished waterfront, the mood that prevailed in the sixties and seventies was to ‘sweep away’ the old painful memories and embrace the newest thing.  

Adding fuel to the fire is the slogan, “New is better”, often embraced by the average American and has been fueled by America’s thrust for technological advances.      This fascination with ‘shiny things’ though will remake our city into something that we will not recognize in the near future, replacing authentic history with Fauxstalgia. (Fake new things that ‘look’ historic.)

This drama is being played out right here in the Newbury’s – the question is will we cast off the past or preserve the past?

Sad as it may be to have a single issue be in control but future city councilors in next year’s election (or in a special election if Councilor Ives wins) will be decided on their positions on the local historic district ordinance.       

This is why this ‘hot potato’ before the city council will not go away if the local historic district ordinance is defeated or passed.

This is about our future and the fighting will get fierce.

-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Architecture, Education, Heritage Tourism, History, Local Historic Districts (LHD), News and politics, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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