On a recent drive through the town of Orangeville, Ontario, I noticed the town’s motto on the town’s nameplate as you enter the environs of Orangeville: “Historic charm, dynamic future.” Due to its proximity to Toronto—Orangeville is located less than an hour’s drive northwest of the metropolis of Toronto—there is no doubt of the dynamism latent in the future of Orangeville: it is increasingly a place where families whose parents work in Toronto have chosen to make their homes. And even a casual saunter through the town reveals the historic charm of the older buildings. As I thought about the motto, though, it became increasingly apparent to me that both the adjectives and nouns chosen reflect North American cultural mores. Try reversing the adjectives like this: “Dynamic past, charming future” or “Dynamic history, futuristic charm.” The latter alternate mottos convey an entirely different message: a tremendous past, but a somewhat innocuous future, even somniferous! No: our culture is confident of having a dynamic future, one that is exciting and fast-paced and brimming with ever new discoveries to enhance our well-being. And the past: well, at its best, it is charming, like a cute teddy-bear or toy from yesteryear.
But as every historian worth his or her salt knows: the past is dynamic for it has shaped and ordered our present-day.