David Lowenthal

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David Lowenthal

Born(1923-04-26)26 April 1923
Died15 September 2018(2018-09-15) (aged 95)
London, England
Years active1950–2018
Known forHeritage and spatial concepts of the past and future
  • Jane
  • Mary Alice Lamberty
    (m. 1970)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisGeorge Perkins Marsh (1953)
Doctoral advisorMerle Curti
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity College, London
Notable worksThe Past Is a Foreign Country (1985)

David Lowenthal FBA (26 April 1923 – 15 September 2018) was an American historian and geographer, renowned for his work on heritage. He is credited with having made heritage studies a discipline in its own right.[1]


David Lowenthal was born on 26 April 1923 in New York City to Max Lowenthal and Eleanor Mack[2] (daughter of Julian Mack),[citation needed] and was also the brother of John Lowenthal[3] and Betty Levin.

Lowenthal graduated from the Lincoln School in New York, which encouraged interdisciplinary investigation.[4] He went to Harvard University during the Second World War, studying across several disciplines but graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in history in 1944. He returned to study for a Master of Arts degree in geography at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1950.[5] At Berkeley his research was on the Guianas, working with Carl Sauer. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree in history from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, for a study of the life of George Perkins Marsh, an early geographer and conservationist.

Lowenthal was inducted into the US Army infantry in May 1943 and deployed in September 1944, three months after D-Day. He left active service with trench foot, and it was while recuperating in Somerset that his long association with England, later to become his adopted country, began. In December 1944, he was reassigned to Army Intelligence and embarked on a mission to count toilets in German castles to ascertain how well each might support the occupation forces. While taking part in the Intelligence Photographic Documentation Project – a never-completed mission to survey and catalogue the whole of western Europe's terrain and built environment – Lowenthal fell from his truck and fractured his wrist, which resulted in his being recalled to Washington in September 1945.


Lowenthal served as a research analyst for the US Department of State from 1945 to 1946. From 1952 to 1956, he was an assistant professor of history at Vassar College. He then undertook several postings, between the US, Caribbean, and the UK. From 1956 to 1970 at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, he was a history lecturer, research associate, and a consultant to the Vice Chancellor. From 1958 to 1972, he was also a research associate at the American Geographical Society. Between 1961 and 1972 he worked at the Institute of Race Relations in London. He was a professor of geography at University College London (UCL) 1972 to 1985 and remained an emeritus professor there until his death. In October 2017 he gave the inaugural lecture in an annual series for UCL's new Centre for Critical Heritage Studies.[6]

Lowenthal died in London on 15 September 2018, having celebrated his 95th birthday with friends earlier in the year, in both London and San Francisco.[7]

He and his family lived in Harrow on the Hill in north-west London for many years, and after retirement, in California.


Lowenthal's doctoral work was on the 19th-century North American philologist, geographer, and environmentalist George Perkins Marsh, whose work laid the foundations of the environmental conservation movement in the United States,[8] and led to his book George Perkins Marsh: Versatile Vermonter (1958, revised 2003).

Other key texts of his in the field of historical geography include The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (1996), and Passage du Temps sur le Paysage (2008).[9] Landscape photographs taken by Lowenthal in the 1950s were included in a French exhibition at Le Pavillon Populaire in Montpellier, France, from 8 February to 16 April 2017 and accompanying book Notes sur l'asphalte, une Amérique mobile et précaire, 1950-1990. His last book, Quest for the Unity of Knowledge, was published posthumously in November 2018.[7][10]

He was well known for his work on landscapes, and advised international heritage agencies and institutions, including UNESCO, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the International Council of Museums, ICCROM, the Getty Conservation Institute, the World Monuments Fund, the Council of Europe, Europa Nostra, English Heritage, the US National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Trust of Australia, and the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage.[5]

His historical analysis of the ever-changing role of the past in shaping our lives, The Past Is a Foreign Country (1985), is his best-known work, widely considered to be a classic text.[11][12] A new book, The Past Is a Foreign Country – Revisited, came out in 2015, for which he was honoured with a British Academy Medal in the same year.[13]

Lowenthal was also active in the Sark community, first visiting the island in the 1990s. He returned several times since 2010 while becoming involved in the Sark community's battle against constitutional reform preferential to the Barclay twins.


Lowenthal was awarded several medals by institutions around the world. These included:

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • West Indian Societies (1972)
  • The Past Is a Foreign Country (1985)
  • The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (1996)
  • The Past Is a Foreign Country – Revisited (2015)
  • Quest for the Unity of Knowledge (2018)


  1. ^ Hugh Clout, "David Lowenthal obituary", The Guardian, 27 September 2018.
  2. ^ "Eleanor Lowenthal (Mack)" at Geni.
  3. ^ "Guide to the John Lowenthal Papers TAM.190". New York University. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  4. ^ A long interview with Lowenthal recorded in 2018.
  5. ^ a b c "Forbes Prize Lecture 2010", International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Resources.
  6. ^ "David Lowenthal delivers first CCHS annual lecture", Centre for Critical Heritage Studies, UCL, 30 October 2017.
  7. ^ a b "David Lowenthal has passed away". University College London. 17 September 2018. Archived from the original on 4 October 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  8. ^ "Landscape Research Group, About Us, Directors, David Lowenthal". Archived from the original on 2017-02-27. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
  9. ^ a b "Professor David Lowenthal FBA, 1923-2018". The British Academy Fellows.
  10. ^ Quest for the Unity of Knowledge at Google Books.
  11. ^ "Sylvester Baxter Lecture: David Lowenthal, 'Conservation Past and Present'", Events, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 17 November 2014.
  12. ^ University College London, Department of Geography, David Lowenthal at 90 [1]
  13. ^ UCL Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  14. ^ Royal Geographical Society, Medals and Awards, Full List
  15. ^ American Geographical Society, About Us, Awards, The Cullum Geographical Medal [2] Archived 2015-10-03 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Scottish Geographical Medal", Inspiring People, Royal Scottish Geographical Society,
  17. ^ "David Lowenthal Receives the British Academy Medal", AAG (American Association of Geographers), 12 October 2016.
  18. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Fellows
  19. ^ University College London, Department of Geography, Professor Lowenthal to receive Honorary Doctorate [3]
  20. ^ "Forbes Prize Lecture 2010", University College London, Department of Geography.

Further reading[edit]

Preceded by
Ronald F. Abler
Victoria Medal
Succeeded by
Ian Simmons
Preceded by
Melvin G. Marcus
Cullum Geographical Medal
With: Jack Dangermond
Succeeded by
Wilbur Zelinsky
Preceded by
Robert Dodgshon
Scottish Geographical Medal
Succeeded by
Vanessa Lawrence
Preceded by
Patricia Clavin
British Academy Medal
With: T. C. W. Blanning and Susan E. Kelly
Succeeded by
Antony Griffiths
Preceded by
R. F. Foster
Succeeded by
Avi Shlaim
Preceded by
Robert Fowler
Succeeded by
Dame Marina Warner