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Archibald, Robert R. A Place To Remember: Using History To Build Community. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1999 (224 pp.). Archibald is a long-time history museum director, who uses the occasion of a trip to his boyhood town in upstate Michigan to reminisce not only about his upbringing in this small village – and what has happened to the place since his departure decades ago – but to reflect on the meanings and uses of history in creating community in our modern world. As such, the book is both a personal memoir of Archibald’s growth as a historian, as well as a comment on the changing nature of community in America. The title of the book is somewhat deceptive, in that historians or museum directors looking for step-by-step practices that will help them use history "to build community" will not find that here; rather, what they will find is even better – an eloquent case for the value of history in sustaining and building community. Like other social critics, Archibald bemoans the destruction of historic places, the rapid homogenization of most towns, and the loss of personal connections in most people’s lives. He maintains that history – of people, of place, of buildings – is one way to prevent our sense of community from slipping away, and his lyrical prose (a bit too precious at times) makes a strong case for the value of history. His history, however, is not just practiced by trained academics like himself, but by the entire community; a good portion of the book, in fact, is an argument to museums that they need to be more inclusive of other stories – in their programs, their staffing, and their board structure. How can museums connect to the community, he argues, if they do not reflect it? For that reason, this would be a good book for students in public history programs, for example; Archibald traces his own career as a "professional" historian, through several museum appointments, to his position as director of the Missouri Historical Society, where his ideas about a more expansive and democratic brand of history began to form. Many would label him, no doubt, an activist historian, in that he believes public historians in particular cannot sit on the sidelines, collecting and analyzing the past. He encourages museum staffs to get involved in the life of their community, and help fight against the forces that threaten to tear many places apart: racism, the sprawling automobile culture, the erosion of Main Street as big-box retailers invade a community, the destruction of the environment, and an excessive consumer culture that is not socially or ecologically sustainable. Archibald maintains that valuing and understanding our various pasts, personal and communal, is one of the strongest ways to build community, which is needed if we are to reverse the assault on towns, the land, and one another. In his view, past, present, and future are a whole, and today’s citizens can use the past to better appreciate their responsibilities to future generations.


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