thinking with pictures

Seeing through the present, reaching for past or future

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approaching the old castle at St. Augustine, FL (early March 2015)

approaching the old castle at St. Augustine, FL (early March 2015)

Modern life and the ruts of familiar schedules and seasons add up to a state of mind very often distracted; the proportion of signal (the part you seek or express) to noise (the part you best want to avoid) seems to grow fainter with each new product or service that urgently attracts your attention away from the deeper and more lasting things in one’s life. To cut through the noise surrounding one’s daily living there are a few ways to refocus or reframe the push and pull; to turn down the noise and turn up the signal.
Using a lens of historical or archaeological vision is one way to see through the current layers of life to discover traces of people’s lives and decisions during other times on in other places. Taking a specialist interest (cobblers viewing the world in terms of shoes; nurses in terms of health needs; bankers in terms of opportunities to lend or collect potential depositors, and so on) is another way to foreground sometime other than advertisers’ hype or the worldview carried in accustomed habits of shopping, using and disposing of things. A third way is the fall back on the distinction the ancient Greeks made between interpretations (nomos; culture/society) and brute facts (physis). By foregrounding the physical side of events the clamor of cultural meanings and intentionality fades to the background, which results in a refreshing release from those nominal interpretations or assumptions about an event or a practice.
This photo from early spring in north Florida (St. Augustine, then celebrating 500 years since European inroads to the New World began on their beach) shows a history reenactor (lower right) talking to a visitor while many others are filing into or away from the old structure of San Marco castle. The ticket and tourist information station is in the middle background, staffed by the US National Park Service. The relationships that people develop between past and present; and between past and envisioned futures will vary by generation, gender, ethnicity, level of education and income, not to mention temperament or personal interest. For some it is appealing to visit the past (David Lowenthal’s book, The Past is a Foreign Country). For others it is engaging to raise one’s awareness of the past when viewing the landscape; to be sensitive to traces of things from long ago that persist today as silent witnesses to those long-ago times. Still others may consider historical settings as a charming and non-dangerous backdrop to one’s own life story. But no matter the motivation and depth of interest, there is value in seeing things hearkening to the past that most people haven’t much sensitivity toward.


Author: gpwitteveen

Better Outreach is my aim. See to know more.

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