Posts

Why Public History?

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When you search Google for a definition of public history, this is one of the first things to pop up.

My own definition of public history is very different from the one proffered in that piece.  Public history, as far as I am concerned, is not a bridge between academic history and the public.  It is not simply history for public audiences.  The field, in fact, is somewhat split between those who see public history as primarily public-facing and those who see it as, first and foremost, public-engaging.  There is no animosity between practitioners with these different orientations, at least not that I am aware of. Me?  Public-engaging all the way.  More fun, more interesting and for me, more meaningful.

Discussing Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites

I really like teaching Susan Ferentinos' book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites.  I like the "primer" nature on the history of sexuality and and how historiography meets interpretative practice.

Here is a class discussion guide I've created for my students, followed by the essay questions I've assigned.  Feel free to use them if they help you.


Peer-Led Class Discussion on Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic Sites


You have 10 minutes to review the questions. You should all have your books. You will discuss the book for 45 minutes.  These questions do not need to be addressed in the order which they appear, but I have conceptualized them in order:
1.Who was this book designed for, do you think?  Given that, what can we surmise about the demographics and interests of its target audience? Why is it necessary for museums and historic sites to take on this work? 2.What are some of the biggest shifts in American historical understa…

Kavanaugh: This Was No Witch Hunt

I recently wrote this piece in response to the comparisons of Kavanaugh's hearings to the witch trials in Salem in 1692 on behalf of Voices Against Injustice, a Salem-based nonprofit organization:

The winds of Salem are rising.  From Canada’s Calgary Herald to Fox News, in blogs and tweets, 
reporters, columnists and pundits have compared recent Senate hearings on the confirmation of
 Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the witch trials that consumed Salem, Massachusetts 
in 1692.  Their claims, righteous and protective, defend Kavanaugh from his accusers and point to
 a “witch hunt,” an hysterical web of conspiracy and lies. “No evidence!”  They clamor that Kavanaugh is “a convenient scapegoat” for those who identify with 
the political left.  He is innocent, unjustly accused, caught in the turmoil of a political and cultural tempest 
much like the victims of Salem.  The notion that Kavanaugh is a victim has been splashed all over 
media. These claims are unfounded and historically …

A Poem about Home

Just a few nights after my mother died, my sister Ellen and I were driving to a hotel near the small cottage at a senior community where my parents have lived since 2013.


"What are we going to do?  Mom was home." she said.
"I feel homeless," I said.
It is true.  Our mother's heart was our port in the storm, an open welcome, a space of rest and respite.  The bricks and mortar surrounding her didn't matter.  She, herself, made us feel safe and loved, always and unconditionally.

I came across this poem by Ruth Carr, that reminds me of our family home, and even more of our mom:

There is a House

there is a house
whose door will not close in my face
where there will always be a place for one more
at the table.


there is a house
that lets in light all the year round
even in the winter the weakest of suns
reaches in.

there is a house
with walls that hold me like branches
with a roof of summer leaves
and roots that go deep.

there is a house where I can be long and n…

When Someone You Love Dies: Notes for the Living

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I never gave a lot of thought to death until my mother died unexpectedly two months ago.  Now, I think about it all the time.

Until confronted by it ourselves, we tend to ignore death and grief.  For something that is all around us, all the time, it seems invisible ---  right up until we become the ones blindsided by the news of the death of someone in our intimate circle -- parents, spouses, children, siblings, close friends.  My friend Erik said to me, "As the Greeks say, eventually, time and tragedy come for all of us."  Truth.

 I am in the process of writing down some thoughts. Here is a list of things that in retrospect, I wish I could have articulated to people in the wake of my mom's death about how to help, how not to help and what they could anticipate from me.  There is no order and this list might not help you. 


But I hope it helps.  If you are grieving, I send comfort and love.  If you want to help someone who is grieving, I send comfort and love.

List One: 

June 9 - the Feast of Saint Columba

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The celebrations of Saint Columba in Derry City represent one of my favorite examples of what Eric Hobsawm and Terence Ranger named "an invented tradition."  In 1897,  the Catholic residents of Derry began a tradition of honoring their patron saint publicly in the streets of the city, as well as in its Catholic chapels.

Here is an excerpt from my manuscript about the process, and reasons, for doing so.


The celebrations of the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Columba scheduled to be held in Gartan, Donegal, provided the catalyst for Long Tower's Father Willie Doherty to expand his vision of Derry as a city inspired by Columba, and to invite the city’s Catholic population to join in reverence for their religion and in pride for their cultural heritage. Father Willie served as a conduit, providing the stimulus and organization that enabled local Catholics to express publicly a broader Irish community identity in a way that was respectable, even pious. Inv…

Public History Summer Course

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Take a class with me this summer! Online conversations, field trips, occassional class meetings.  You will love it.  Registration Information: click here.