Who were the first people to inhabit North America? Does the West Bank belong to the Arabs or the Jews? Why are racists so obsessed with origins? Is a seventh cousin still a cousin? Why do some societies name their children after dead ancestors?
As Eviatar Zerubavel demonstrates in Time Maps, we cannot answer burning questions such as these without a deeper understanding of how we envision the past. In a pioneering attempt to map the structure of our collective memory, Zerubavel considers the cognitive patterns we use to organize the past in our minds and the mental strategies that help us string together unrelated events into coherent and meaningful narratives, as well as the social grammar of battles over conflicting interpretations of history. Drawing on fascinating examples that range from Hiroshima to the Holocaust, from Columbus to Lucy, and from ancient Egypt to the former Yugoslavia, Zerubavel shows how we construct historical origins; how we tie discontinuous events together into stories; how we link families and entire nations through genealogies; and how we separate distinct historical periods from one another through watersheds, such as the invention of fire or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Most people think the Roman Empire ended in 476, even though it lasted another 977 years in Byzantium. Challenging such conventional wisdom, Time Maps will be must reading for anyone interested in how the history of our world takes shape.
Why is the term "openly gay" so widely used but "openly straight" is not? What are the unspoken assumptions behind terms like "male nurse," "working mom," and "white trash"? Offering a revealing and provocative look at the word choices we make every day without even realizing it, Taken for Granted exposes the subtly encoded ways we talk about race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, social status, and more.
In this engaging and insightful book, Eviatar Zerubavel describes how the words we use--such as when we mark "the best female basketball player" but leave her male counterpart unmarked—provide telling clues about the things many of us take for granted. By marking "women's history" or "Black History Month," we are also reinforcing the apparent normality of the history of white men. When we mark something as being special or somehow noticeable, that which goes unmarked—such as maleness, whiteness, straightness, and able-bodiedness—is assumed to be ordinary by default. Zerubavel shows how this tacit normalizing of certain identities, practices, and ideas helps to maintain their cultural dominance—including the power to dictate what others take for granted.
A little book about a very big idea, Taken for Granted draws our attention to what we implicitly assume to be normal—and in the process unsettles the very notion of normality.