Heritage and the Existential Need for History

Maud Webster

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"A rewarding exploration of the strategies we devise to make sense of the past, a sphere that Webster sees as simultaneously behind yet amongst us. In considering scenarios from antiquity to the present, this study reveals the very human desire to acknowledge time itself, and our need to construct ways to stand to it."—Andrea M. Berlin, James R. Wiseman Chair in Classical Archaeology, Boston University
“Webster offers a thoroughly researched and engaging analysis of why archaeologists and historians today study and interpret evidence from the past. She interrogates what we often assume to be established, shared knowledge, pulls it apart, and reassembles it in a new analysis of our yearning for history, making use of everything from ancient texts to archaeological sites to the writings of modern philosophers.”—Phyllis Mauch Messenger, coeditor of History and Approaches to Heritage Studies  
“An important contribution to scholarship, clearly and concisely written, that melds concepts and examples from across the humanities, resulting in a persuasive and eminently readable work about the need for history.”—Susan Benton, coeditor of The Futures of Our Pasts: Ethical Implications of Collecting Antiquities in the Twenty-First Century  
In a sweeping survey of archaeological sites spanning thousands of years, Heritage and the Existential Need for History asks fundamental questions about the place of cultural heritage in Western society. What is history? Why do we write about the events of yesterday and set up memorials for them? Why do we visit places where momentous things have happened?            
Maud Webster takes readers on a journey from Bronze Age Mycenae through the Greek Dark Ages, from Medieval Rome through the Italian Renaissance, and from Viking Sweden to Restoration-period England and Civil War America. Combining archaeology, history, and psychology, Webster explores themes including literacy and text, monumentality and spoliation, and death and identity. She traces the human need for history at two levels—the collective, here shown through archaeological evidence, and the individual, shown through written records and the behavior they document.            
Webster’s robust cross-examination of artifacts and texts, and the illustrations drawn from this methodology, attest that locating our history helps us anchor ourselves, for multiple purposes and from varying perspectives, and that the drive to write and build histories is an enduring part of the human experience.  
Maud Webster is an independent scholar based in Athens, Greece. She is the author or coauthor of several books, including Punctuated Insularity: The Archaeology of 4th and 3rd Millennium Sardinia.
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