Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Museum of Free Derry Needs to Keep the Names Up

The Museum of Free Derry has recently drawn fire from all sides for an exhibit that lists the names of all those killed in the area during the early Troubles.  On one hand, relatives of RUC officers killed during the Troubles "find it disgraceful" that their loved ones are identified in a space they consider a bastion of republicanism and which supports "terrorism."  On the other hand, some relatives of Bloody Sunday victims and others object to the full display of names of those killed on the grounds that it shows "complete disrespect for those on the list that have been murdered by the establishment" by having members of "the establishment" listed alongside the Bloody Sunday dead and other victims of state violence.  While the exhibit has been up for a decade, it has received attention recently because of the reopening of the museum after renovations.

I was so glad that the Museum of Free Derry received £2.4m to fund renovations and an extension for the simple reason that it does the best job in the city, really in the North (and for that matter on the entire island of Ireland,) of presenting the history of the civil rights movement and the early Troubles.  As an historian of Derry, I've been impressed by MoFD because it has struggled and persevered under the kinds of strains and challenges that would have sunk a less sturdy instituion and would have ripped apart less stalwart organizers.  

During the Troubles, the Bloody Sunday Trust maintained a countermemory, a version of the past diamterically opposed to the official version proclaimed by the Widgery Tribunal and adopted by the Northern State and mainstream press that blamed the victims of Bloody Sunday for state violence that killed 13 unarmed civil rights protestors.  It was not until the Good Friday Agreement authorized a new inquiry that the version of events almost unanimously held by Catholic nationalists in Derry and Northern Ireland (not to mention the Republic) was considered, evidence weighed.  (Lots of evidence -- the inquiry took 12 years, considered 20 million pages of testimony and produced a 5000 page report.)

From 1972 until 2010, when the British government apologized for Bloody Sunday calling it unjustified and unjustifiable, families of the victims, civil rights activists, scholars and republicans joined together to commemorate Bloody Sunday, to remember the victims, to bring the truth to light. It was an act of defiance -- standing up for truth.

It was out of this movement that the Museum of Free Derry came into being.  It started as all good things in Derry start, a DIY affair with a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, laughter and passion.  It started also with the need to create an archive.  Derry needed a repository, a safe place to hold and keep artifacts related to the civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday and the Troubles.  Nationalist Derry also needed a space to tell its story, a story that was discredited and oversimplified for so long.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Six Word Memoir Project Comes to Salem, Massachusetts

Once upon a time, I had a particularly wonderful group of Intro to Public History students.  We were working with the idea of memoir as public history.  As a lark, really, I asked them to write their life story in six words, no more no less.  The idea came from  Smith Magazine and we all found it to be really compelling.  So compelling, in fact, that we decided to involve our campus in the process.  My students got hundreds of students involved.  They shared their experiences, from the mundane to the sacred and everything in between.


As public historians, we grappled with how to curate, to care for, other people's stories.  We came up with creative ways of getting people to contribute and we took turns gatekeeping content and dealing with difficult memoirs, painful ones, angry and sad ones.  We talked and debated and ultimately designed a series of arresting exhibits all over campus.  You can see them here.  From kitchen staff to the Vice President, so many members of our community got involved in the project.  Students turned out to help us erect a public art installation, a living breathing web that blew in the wind and brought movement and life to our shared stories.

It was a beautiful project.

This is why I am so happy that the Salem Award Foundation is bringing it to the City of Salem on June 11th.  Residents of all ages, classes and creeds will come together to share their stories.  In six words, no more, so less. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Public Historians are Something More than Nice

I went to numerous conferences this year.  It was a nice perk of being a fellow at the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies.  Sharing my work on participatory cultural memory, I was on panels with literary theorists, social workers, psychologists, planners, musicologists and geographers.

Traveling outside my academic "home" of public history was a learning experience for me.  I love my sub-discipline and have long been a booster for public history as a rich community of practitioners and scholars.  When one of my students attended her first National Council on Public History annual meeting a few weeks ago in Indianapolis and declared of attendees, "I can honestly say these were the most supportive people I have ever met in my life," my reaction was, "Yes - of course.  That is who we are."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

LIve on Grundy CountyTV with my Students

This was a really fun TV appearance with three of my best and most delightful students. There is so much I could say here about our Highlander efforts and about how hard these students work, but you should just watch the segment:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Places Projects is on Sewanee's website!

Our project, the Places Project, got featured on the Sewanee website.  It is always strange to read an effort to try to capture something that for you is fluid and so very much alive -- even a great piece like this.  The Places Project is in my bones right now.  I am not ready for it to be static, but I am ready for the word to get out there about it.

Places project feature

Anna Sumner Noonan C’17, Catherine Casselman, C’17, and Margo Shea pore over maps of the South Cumberland Plateau annotated with local residents’ stories about places that are significant to them. Photo by Buck Butler

Drawing the People’s Map

A Sewanee professor and her students collect stories about places on the South Cumberland Plateau to compile a rich topography of personal history.



You can read the full piece here:
http://www.sewanee.edu/features/story/places-project.html


Friday, March 31, 2017

To Eric Schneider, With Gratitude

Eric C. Schneider
I was nervous.  Standing backstage immediately before giving the student commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences graduation, I was gulping air and peering out at the thousands of people in the audience.  Eric Schneider leaned in conspiratorially and said, "If it makes you feel better, in the scheme of things, you are just an infinistimal speck of dust.  We all are."

A few months later, Eric sent me a typed letter with a handwritten note.  The letter was one recommending me for an internship.  The note said, "Everyone should get at least one chance to read their eulogy while they are alive.  Here's yours."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love letter to ourselves from Audre Lorde

 This morning, I am thinking of Audre Lorde.  So, in honor of Valentine's Day, self-care, bravery and voice, I give you the poet who changed the way I see the world when I encountered her:

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.... What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."

I began to ask each time: "What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?" Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
Audre Lorde

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Truth, Truthiness and Trump

I went to a spatial humanities workshop last summer at the National Humanities Center.  The best thing about the three-week seminar was the opportunity to spend time thinking and talking with artists, political scientists, philosophers, literary theorists, language experts and, of course, my fellow historians.

We were chatting after the seminar one evening and the awesomely intelligent Liz Corsun said something that hit me hard.  I am paraphrasing here, but it was essentially this, "Isn't it funny that once women, working class  people & queer people and people of color finally became established and influential within the academy, all of a sudden there was no such thing as truth anymore?  As soon as the marginalized could claim authority through information and evidence, suddenly there were no more 'facts,'  just texts with varying claims to fact?"* 

Funny.  That.

And here we've been, thinking postmodernism and poststructuralism lend themselves to enacting liberatory possibilities.  Multivocality and multiplicity should bend, ultimately, to more nuanced, inclusive, democratic representations of experience and of history, right?  Forget that "hegemonic narrative."  Let's have alternatives!   Following folklorist Henry Glassie's observation that countermemories are often the "resort of people who feel removed from power, the imagination’s parallel to armed resistance," it's been common to applaud the prism, the fragment, the partial.  We liked the non-totalizing, we embraced the variabilty of variousness.  

Ahem.

In the past few months, and certainly since the inauguration of Donald Trump, we have been privvy to the slide of facts.   Facts have been portrayed as simply a matter of interpretation.  This means, in a sense, there are no facts.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Class Discussion Guidelines

I am sharing these class discussion guidelines because I think they are great.  My students arrived at them after a conversation about what makes group discussion helpful, productive and energizing.  They also asked me to make them  lovely and to share them on Blackboard so everyone has a copy.  I am hopeful that they will guide us as we learn together this semester.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

(White) Academia Needs Work

Tiffany Martinez didn't need to add the "white" to her statement that "academia needs work." She experiences the power and exclusion of whiteness all the time. For her, the academy is white.  I hope you've already read her piece, Academia, Love Me Back, but if you haven't, you need to.  Anyone working in the academy needs to.  White people need to.

I needed to.  I know, from my own experiences and my own mistakes, that the worst injury a professor inflicts on a student is the false assumption that work they have submitted is not their own.

That is what happened to Martinez.  She used the word, "hence" in an essay.  Her professor insisted that this was not her word.  They underlined "not" twice.  As in, "no freaking way do you know this word."  Not to mention this young woman is a serious scholar  and can probably out-write every kid in that class.

 The damage we can wreak as professors by making assumptions about students, about their writing, about their ideas is tremendous. As Martinez notes, it can set students back, as their own doubts and feelings of not belonging are codified and wrapped in the mantle of authority.  Of knowing.