Friday, December 10, 2010

Is it history or is it all clean and shiny?

Tony Judt is writing here about England, but I'm pretty sure we can all recognize parts of our own local histories and genealogies in the US:

In England's West Midland potteries district, tourists and local schoolchildren were encouraged to learn how Josiah Wedgwood, the eighteenth-century ceramics manufacturer, fashioned his famous wares. But they would search in vain for evidence of how the pottery workers lived or why the region was called the Black Country ([In his book The Road to Wigan Pier, George] Orwell described how even the snow turned black from the belching smoke of a hundred chimneys.) . . .

Industry, poverty, and class conflict have been officially forgotten and paved over. Deep social contrasts are denied or homogenized. And even the most recent and contested past is available only in nostalgic plastic reproduction.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Press, 2005), pp. 772, 773

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