Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fear of Losinig Our Past

A speaker I heard recently spoke about FLOP as a concept which shapes our lives, identifies, and conceptions of history.  The popularity of the FLOP acronym is debatable. But the concept behind the acronym is an interesting one and closely relates to constructions of the past.  Fear of Losing Our Past (FLOP) can impact what is saved, how things are remembered, commemoration, and history generally.

On a personal history level, fear and an overwhelming desire to preserve family history and personally important historical moments can contribute to nostalgia and myth making. I'm inclined to say that fear of losing the past can result in people acting like pack-rats or hoarders.  This hoarding might root from a fear that something important is going to be forgotten or that you can't throw something out because it will result in the destruction of the past. Most archivists and heritage professionals will attest to the fact that it's not practical to keep everything and not everything is worth keeping.

More importantly, the idea of FLOP brought to mind the idea of how historical narratives are created.  Our conception of history isn't perfect.  Memory is fallible and often what we know of the past is limited by what has been saved and what sources are available.  National histories, heroic battles, and heart warming local history moments are all written, constructed, and created by somebody.  Good histories are balanced and look at the past from multiple vantage points. But, how history is presented can change and interpretations of the past are not enshrined in stone.  Just look at how the discipline of social history has developed and many narratives have moved away from the once standard history of great white men.

Does the average museum visitor or average consumer of popular history realize the process that goes into presenting the past for consumption?  I hope so, but I'm not so sure.  Even if the museum exhibit or book is factual and well rounded, it is impossible to present every historical detail in any work.  Historical narratives are made through selection and by selection's very nature things are left out.  No matter how accurate record keeping and oral history accounts are, our conceptions of the past are often imperfect and how we view the past is constantly evolving.

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