In a recent review of the series, historian Christopher Szabla wonders: “why is the past we have experienced up to the present point, with its private miseries and public genocides, invasions, and plagues, worth preserving, and with it our far-from-perfect present?” The answer, he believes, which may apply more generally to the preservationist drive in the interest of particular persons and places, is that, for better or worse, it is “our” past. “[T]he past must be preserved both to underscore the triumphs it has led to and the ongoing problems and lost possibilities that point toward revision.”
In his 1945 essay “The War Has Taken Place,” French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wondered how to think about particular human losses. “We claim that [history] must not be forgotten,” he wrote,
[Yet] there will come a moment when what we wish to preserve of the friends who were tortured and shot is not our last image of them . . . but a timeless memory in which the things they did mingle with what they might have done, given the direction of their lives. We have not of course gotten to this point, but . . . should we not go beyond our feelings to find what they may contain of durable truth?