Collection of Quotes on History and Historic Preservation


“A shared history is a large part of what binds individuals into a community and imbues a group with a distinct identity. A history with a narrative thread also helps people understand what is happening around them. ‘The present,’ according to the historian and philosopher David Carr, ‘gets its sense from the background of comparable events to which it belongs….Discovering or rediscovering the story, picking up the thread, reminding ourselves where we stand, where we have been and where we are going—these are as important for groups as for individuals.’ Knowing the history of a group to which we belong, in other words, can help us see events, and ourselves, as part of a still unfolding story and of something larger than ourselves.” – by John T. Seaman Jr. and George David Smith, “Your Company’s History as a Leadership Tool,” Harvard Business Review (December 2012).

“I feel different when I experience things directly rather than virtually.” – Oliver Whang, “When Virtual Life Turns Into Quarantine,” National Geographic (August 2020). [This is as true for connecting with our history and culture just as it is for connecting with people during Coronavirus quarantining. We can read about people and places, but when we can stand where they stood, see and touch what they saw and touched, it connects us to our history and our culture more deeply. When we can physically interact with historic places, we are able to learn different things than when we learn about history through books or reenactments in video.]

“It is wise occasionally to recur to the sentiments and to the character of those from whom we are descended. Men who are regardless of their ancestry and of their posterity, are very apt to be regardless of themselves. The man who does not feel himself to be a link in the great chain to transmit life and being, intellectual and moral existence, from his ancestry to his posterity, does not justly appreciate the relations that belong to him. The contemplation of our ancestors and of our descendants ought to be within the grasp of our thoughts and affections. The past belongs to us by affectionate retrospect, and the future belongs to us no less by affectionate anticipation of those who are to come after us. And then only do we do ourselves justice, when we are true to the blood we inherit, and true to those to who we have been the means of transmitting that blood.” – Daniel Webster

“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough

“There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.” – Douglas Adams

“… it’s not the remembered past, it’s the forgotten past that enslaves us.” – C. S. Lewis, from a talk he gave on November 29, 1954.

“Historic districts support stability and economic vitality, giving local stakeholders the ability to control inappropriate development, prevent demolition, and even limit the use of cookie-cutter architectural design that has left so many places in America looking like any other place in America.” – Paul Pedmondson, Nathan Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation: The magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Winter 2022, p. 4.

“Too many places today are devoid of the uniqueness that lends itself to memory because we have failed as a society to thoughtfully preserve the places that we have inherited and to create new ones that resonate emotionally.” – Richard H. Driehaus, Preservation: The magazine for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Fall 2021, p. 35.

“The work of the historian is not the work of the critic or of the moralist; it is the work of the sleuth and the storyteller, the philosopher and the scientist, the keeper of tales, the sayer of sooth, the teller of truth. . . . Between reverence and worship, on the one side, and irreverence and contempt, on the other, lies an uneasy path, away from false pieties and petty triumphs over people who lived and died and committed both their acts of courage and their sins and errors long before we committed ours. . . . The past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden. It can’t be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There’s nothing for it but to get to know it.” – Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States.

”If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” -Rudyard Kipling

“Cultural heritage sites are a nonrenewable resource. When they disappear, they’re gone forever, a loss akin to the extinction of species.” – Susan Goldberg, “Deciding What to Preserve and How,” National Geographic.

We’re shaped by the stories we’re not told as well as the stories we are told. (Did I hear that somewhere, or come up with it on my own?)

“I can do without a lot of things, the only thing I can’t do without is the past.” – Margarita Pogrebitskaya as quoted in Svetlana Alexievich’s book, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. (Page 103.)

“I love my memories because everyone is alive in them.” – Maria Voiteshonok, as quoted in Svetlana Alexievich’s book, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. (Page 231.)

“It is right that all men give the greatest thanks to those that have laboured at universal histories, because they have endeavoured to benefit our common life by their individual labours… the understanding of others’ failures and successes that comes through history offers an education without experience of misfortunes.

“We recognise that the experience that comes from history surpasses individual experience in the same measure as history itself is superior by the abundance of events that it embraces. And so one would consider that a knowledge of history is most useful in all life’s circumstances.

“History gives the young the understanding of the old, whilst for the old it multiplies the experience they already have; it makes private citizens worthy to command, and it incites commanders to attempt the fairest of deeds through its promise of renown; it also makes soldiers more prepared to undergo dangers for their country because of the praises they will receive after death, and it dissuades wicked men from attempting evil by the fear of eternal condemnation.

“In general because history commemorates that which is noble, some have been inspired to found cities, others to introduce laws which encircle our common life with safety, and many others have endeavoured to investigate the sciences and arts for the benefit of mankind. We must think of history as the guardian of good men’s virtue, witness of evil men’s wickedness, benefactor of the common life of mankind.” – Diodorus Siculus (100-30 BC) via The Cultural Tutor, Areopagus Volume XXXII, January 20, 2023.

Image at top of page: Loveland Farmers Mill and Elevator as illustrated in the January 1, 1894 Fort Collins Express.