Abusing the Past, The Gilded Age Edition

2009 October 27
by Leah Yale Potter

Normally I applaud it when popular culture attempts a historical allusion, however imperfect, especially if its to one of our lesser known historical eras.  True, these references can be simplistic or misinformed, but rarely do they miss the mark as much as the posting in yesterday’s Daily Candy for a “Gilded Age Road Trip.” (For those of you uninitiated into the femi-urban consumer orgy that is Daily Candy, think of it as the antithesis of Craigslist designed for aspirants to the Sex in the City lifestyle.)  The article entices readers to “make out like a robber baron” and head to the Berkshires for a sumptuous weekend filled with golf, “Vanderbilt-worthy victuals,” and pampering (including “results-orientated treatments like the Monticelli mud wrap”).  History buffs can head to the Gilded Age Museum to see the exhibit, 200 Years of Berkshire Brides!

Lately, our professional development programs have featured a framework for history education called Thinking Like a Historian.  The authors, Nikki Mandell and Bobbie Malone, identify several categories of historical thinking including “Using the Past,” which they define in the form of a question: “How does the past help us make sense of the present.”  Alas, this is not the answer they had in mind.

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