For most of the development of human society the past has posed no problem or threat to the present. There has been no need for a special class of experts to investigate it, to probe into its trajectories, contours and hidden depths. Archaeology and a scientific history are preoccupa tions of a recent date. This sense of the past, cumulatively building on itself since the Renaissance, marks a new consciousness in which humanity becomes both object and subject of knowledge. It has led to an unparalleled enquiry by the west into its own genesis through detailed examination of empirical culture sequences to reconstruct the past of individual nation states. More recently in Britain and other European nation states this is increasingly being ideologically channelled through university courses and in more popular discourses to create a notion of a distinctive ‘European’ past. It is important to remember that both archaeology and history are impositions which only become structurally necessary in certain types of society such as our own. This imposition is part of the project of modernity which I take to both subsume and account for much contemporary discussion as regards the emergence of so called post-modernism, often conflated with post-structuralism. Post modernity, however we may choose to define it, remains entrenched in modernity, it forms part and parcel of the same project, although its forms may be defined as different. Following Berman (1983) I want to refer to modernity in a very general sense as involving a definite experience of the world, a quality of contemporary life inducing:
- a break with tradition, a feeling of novelty and sensitivity to the ephemeral, fleeting, and contingent nature of the present
- a making sense of the experience of life in urban spaces and in a consumer culture
- awareness of continual change exemplified in Marx’s comment, that ‘all that is solid melts into air’
- a sense of possibility: that the world can be changed, turned upside down
- a constant force of dynamism that both spurs creativity and crushes and destroys us
- contradictory forces informing our lives: desire to be rooted in a stable and coherent personal and social past and desire for growth in experience, knowledge, sensibilities, growth that destroys physical and social landscapes of our past.