Imagining the Past
East Hampton Histories

T. H. Breen

A lively, award-winning meditation on our ties to the past and the power of collective memory

Reviews

"[Breen's] deductions are an interesting behind-the-scenes construction of how historians work. He is particularly adept at drawing broader applications from seemingly narrow issues."
New York Times Book Review

"An unusual analysis of the selective habits of collective memory."
Atlantic Monthly


"Engaging, controversial, and informative. Breen's journey into one of America's most appealing historical areas will interest everyone concerned about the politics and commerce of our ever-changing human community, the embattled splendor of our ever-endangered natural environment."
—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt

"Through Breen's eloquent writing, the past becomes the present, and readers learn that the stories we tell ourselves about the past are fluid and changeable. . . . Readers will learn insights into the soul of the historical profession itself."
Journal of American History

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Description
How we make history--and what we then make of it--is engagingly dramatized in T. H. Breen's portrait of a 350-year-old American community faced with the costs of its “progress.” In the particulars of one town's struggle to check development and save its natural environment, Breen shows how our sense of history reflects our ever-changing self-perceptions and hopes for the future.

Breen first went to East Hampton, the celebrated Long Island resort town, to write about the Mulford Farmstead, a picturesque saltbox dating from the 1680s. Through his research, he came across a fascinating cast of local characters, past and present, who contributed to, invented, and reinvented the town's history. Breen's work also drew him into contemporary local affairs: factionalism among residents, zoning disputes, and debates over resource management. Driving these heated issues, Breen found, were some dearly held notions about a harmonious, agrarian past that conflicted with what he had come to know about the divisiveness and opportunism of East Hampton's early days.

Imagining the Past is about the interplay between some of the East Hampton histories Breen encountered: the “official” histories of many generations, the myths and oral traditions, and the curious stories that Breen, as an outsider, discerned in the town's rich holdings of artifacts and documents. With a warm yet wry regard for human nature, Breen obliges us to confront our pasts in all their complexities and ironies, no matter how unsettling or inconvenient the experience.

Page count: 320 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.125

 



Paper
List price: $30.95
978-0-8203-1810-3
1996

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T. H. Breen is William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Tobacco Culture and Puritans and Adventurers.