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The Boston Globe

Ideas

American history, hacked to bits

How we used to remember our nation’s past: with a chisel

As the nation celebrates its independence this week, souvenirs and emblems of America’s history abound: flags, replicas of the Statue of Liberty, T-shirts depicting the Liberty Bell. But behind the postcards and key chains lies an older kind of American souvenir: a chunk hacked off of a treasured national monument to take home with you.

Today, our national monuments are venerated and generally treated with respect—few would dream of carving off a piece. But this notion of historical preservation did not arise strongly until the mid-19th century, when people saw that there were only so many pieces of Plymouth Rock that you could chop off before nothing was left.

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