Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor R.L. Gentilcore


This study explores the nature of human retrospection. Emphasis is placed on defining underlying orientations toward the past, examining the relationships between retropective dispositions and attitudes and behaviour, establishing socio-demographic and geographic variations in past orientation, and evaluating interest group differences in retrospection. Attention is focused on the past in the environment of the present.

Four basic dispositions are defined and measured in an extensive survey of Metropolitan Toronto residents' retrospective orientations. Residents maintain foremost, a broadly based and largely undifferentiated interest in the past. More specific and restricted are dispositions toward direct experience with the past environment, appreciation of heritage, and conservation of prehistorical and historical resources. Involvement with the past assumes a wide variety of forms. Although few residents join historical societies, many participate in visiting old places and seeking out vestiges. Greater numbers choose passive involvements like reading or reminiscing about the past. Whereas past appreciation largely demands involvement for Torontonians, it is personal and casual rather than formal. Residents maintain highly favourable attitudes toward the past. Responses to statements of belief and behavioural intentions regarding utilization of the past indicate strong sensitivity toward the historical environment. The Toronto research confirms that dispositions toward the past align the development of retrospective attitudes and focus involvement with the past.

Peoples' retrospective views and reactions to the past vary. In Toronto, city dwellers are generally more positively disposed toward it than their suburban counterparts and accordingly demonstrate greater involvemnet with and more affirmative attitudes toward the past in the present. Social class group affirmation of the past in dispositions, attitudes and involvement declines from the upper through the lower classes. Toronto experience, and urban experience in general, enhance positive sentiments. Older people maintain stronger feelings for cultural heritage whereas younger residents tend to exhibit more positive feelings for conserving the past and engaging in direct experience with it. Although heritage appreciation is culture specific to Toronto, historical conservation and a popularized communion with survivals transcend culture group ties. Striking, however, are the strong positive sentiment toward the past, the substantial involvment with it, and the uniformity in retrospective attitudes among the respondents as a whole.

Toronto residents, Ontario Archaeological Society members and professionals maintain largely identical retrospective dispositions. However, the relative strength of these dispositions and the effects they have on attitudes and behaviour vary among the groups. For both the O.A.S. and the professionals, adherence to group ideals, objectives and policies tend to align dispositions and prescribe attitudes and behaviour. Since professionals, and interest groups like the O.A.S., initiate and develop preservation and presentation policies, variations among groups suggest that current policies require reappraisal. The strong positive sentiment toward the past and the substantial involvement with it among Toronto residents also carry policy implications.

The major contributions of this research, however, are conceptual and substantive advances in understanding human retrospection in the urban environment. The study clarifies relationships among the past which persists, that which is recognized, and that which elicits attitudinal and behavioural responses. The idea that distinct, enduring dispositions underlie retrospective cognition, attitudes and behaviour substantially furthers understanding of past orientations and advances the theory of environmental cognition. Since these dimension are not place specific, they enhance understanding of human views of the past environment in general. The affective nature of retrospective dispositions facilitates prediction of human orientations toward the past. Although Toronto's history is unique, the way Torontonians view the past is not necessarily so. The kinds of past recognized have relevance in other Canadian urban settings; the dimensions of past recognized have an even broader significance.

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