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History Comes Alive

Public History and Popular Culture in the 1970s

By M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska

258 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3386-2
    Published: November 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3385-5
    Published: November 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3387-9
    Published: October 2017

Studies in United States Culture

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During the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, millions of Americans engaged with the past in brand-new ways. They became absorbed by historical miniseries like Roots, visited museums with new exhibits that immersed them in the past, propelled works of historical fiction onto the bestseller list, and participated in living history events across the nation. While many of these activities were sparked by the Bicentennial, M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska shows that, in fact, they were symptomatic of a fundamental shift in Americans’ relationship to history during the 1960s and 1970s.

For the majority of the twentieth century, Americans thought of the past as foundational to, but separate from, the present, and they learned and thought about history in informational terms. But Rymsza-Pawlowska argues that the popular culture of the 1970s reflected an emerging desire to engage and enact the past on a more emotional level: to consider the feelings and motivations of historic individuals and, most importantly, to use this in reevaluating both the past and the present. This thought-provoking book charts the era’s shifting feeling for history, and explores how it serves as a foundation for the experience and practice of history making today.

About the Author

M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska is assistant professor of history and associate director of the graduate program in public history at American University.
For more information about M. J. Rymsza-Pawlowska, visit the Author Page.


“An essential tool for the teaching of public history at both the graduate and undergraduate level.”--Choice

"History Comes Alive is an original and thought-provoking exploration of popular historical consciousness in 1970s America. Through deft readings of TV mini-series, reenactments, museum exhibits, and multimedia installations, Rymsza-Pawlowska shows powerfully how Americans embraced a new relationship with the past."--Benjamin Filene, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

"History Comes Alive is a brilliant and fresh excavation of a cultural moment in the 1970s when the way Americans relate to their past was radically transformed. But it is more. Rymsza-Pawlowska pioneers a superb method of analysis--befitting a world of mass media, changing technologies, and a constant rebalancing of public- vs. private-sector responsibilities for cultural activity--that can be applied as well to the 1920s and to our own day. No historian before has seen history-making so broadly and creatively."--Richard Rabinowitz, author of Curating America