Monday, June 17, 2013

England Old

One of my favorite things to do when walking through an old graveyard is to look at the dates on the tombstones. I have a little game I play of trying to find the "oldest" person on site. This might have started when I was little and used to play hide and seek in a graveyard with my grandfather… I digress. Generally speaking, when one is in America the dates (especially on the West Coast) do not really range farther back than 1860/ 1900s. On the East Coast you have the chance of seeing a lot more 1800s some 1700s. As expected, this is not what it is like over here in England. The other day I was standing over a grave with the year of 1688. As if it was no big deal…

As a group, this has actually been an ongoing discussion about what constitutes the term "old". The American term for old or ancient is nowhere close to what the English understand it to be. The amount of "old" over here is ridiculous. Every day it is like, "this castle was built in 1056" or "Back in the 16th century the family of the current family bought this castle.." (By the way, make sure you say this in your best British accent) It is just so commonplace over here. It definitely makes me feel lame as an American, though we have an excuse since our country was not even close to being founded back then. Let alone, I cannot trace my family back 700 plus years and they definitely did not own a castle.

Another interesting aspect of this was brought up by one of the other students Kim. She asked one of our guest lecturers what the definition of "ancient" means to people over here. While she was asking in more of an academic context, I still think the answer has relevance. His response was that when people first started protecting and preserving monuments and buildings they considered the term "ancient" to categorize the prehistory age; i.e. Stonehenge. However, nowadays the term has started to include things that are medieval as well. While this is one interpretation of the term, I think it has been confirmed with the many sites we have seen.

As an outsider, everything we have been seeing would easily fall into the category of ancient, yet it is not the same for England, since the country has been around forever. To us in America, medieval was always a given ancient. But then. I guess there comes a point when you have to differentiate in some fashion and that is supposedly how they have done it. I am still having trouble acknowledging that 18th and 19th century buildings are "newly old" but it has provided a new way for me to view sites and places. I think before I was biased and misguided in the idea that something is super old, therefore, we must preserve it. Now with this abundance of ancientness constantly around me, I have begun to understand that just because something is old it does not necessarily mean we must preserve it, rather we need to look to additional criteria like cultural significance, aesthetic value, its history, etc. Seems like my experiences and participation over here are having an affect after all.

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