The simple, physical presence of historic objects can be both inspiring and overwhelming as a means of direct contact with the past. You can touch the very things that historic people did (if you’re allowed), or at least gaze on the forms and spaces that were familiar to them, and loose your imagination by being in the presence of something that has been then and still is now. Humans come and go, but some kinds of material things last forever (or for a very long time) and thus contain the special quality of witnessing the past to the present. But the sheer presence of the antique is not self-explanatory. Modern people know the past in a multitude of ways — through sentiment or awe, as education or entertainment — but we can never know it as did the people who lived ‘back then’. The human way of perceiving the physical world is grounded in such a multitude of conscious and unconscious phenomena that we can hope only to grasp elements of it. Nonetheless, to encounter the past is a challenge that enchants many people.


Nineteenth Century Middle Class Material Culture Historic Object Modern People 
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  1. 2.
    See Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behaviour (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1983) pp. 7–8.Google Scholar

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© Linda Young 2003

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  • Linda Young

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