Reconnecting with Treasures of our American Past

Part VI of our series on “Killer Stuff and Tons of Money” – Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America

The sixth part of our interview series with Maureen Stanton:

“Why do you think there is a growing (unfortunate) disconnect between the younger generations and the treasures of our past?”

This is pure speculation, but this generation (the college students I now teach) grew up with the whiz-bang of technology, electronics, and a hyper-visual culture. (They have a hard time maintaining the stillness, concentration and focus to read classic literature in book form, which seems “slow” to them.) Much of their time is occupied in the virtual world. (Professors everywhere struggle with getting students to turn off smart phones and tablets during class.) So it’s difficult for them to focus on something like an antique—an unmoving, old, crusty, useless, outdated object. They don’t know the story behind a blanket chest, which can make the object romantic and intriguing and important. On the surface, a blanket chest looks like a few pieces of wood nailed together, crooked and warped. How does an important cobalt decorated 19th century jug compete with Angry Birds or the latest Facebook or Tumblr post? It’s a challenge to grab the attention of these young adults.

Also, I’m not sure if history is taught in schools through “material culture,” as opposed to a recital of a litany of names, dates, wars, etc. And with the emphasis on testing in schools for math and science, some of the social sciences and arts—where aesthetics and “stories” are the focus—these subjects maybe be getting short shrift.

Then there are the oceans of cheap goods at IKEA and Wal-mart and Target or Homegoods. You can get a piece of furniture that looks sophisticated and contemporary for a fairly low price. (The true cost of cheap stuff is not reflected in the sales tag, i.e., the environmental cost of manufacturing in and shipping from China, or the cost in human exploitation for cheap labor. Those costs are hidden.)

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