Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Historians Are Afraid and They Offer Sage Advice

As an historian, I cannot help but notice that my fellow historians and I seem to be hardest hit by the recent election. We are anxious.  We look at patterns and processes all the time and we don't think Americans are exceptional -- certainly not exceptionally positioned to withstand or resist authoritarianism.  Yale historian Timothy Snyder has spent a lot of time thinking about fascism, communism and authoritarianism.   This is what he has to say about our new era on his Facebook page over the weekend:

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.


1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

We, the Other People, Write Letters to the President: The Moment of the Incomplete Gesture

Some of us created this web project: dearpresidentelecttrump.org as one way to respond to the US presidential election.  Here's what my friends and colleagues are probably thinking: Oh, Pollyanna, you are so cute.  Yes, please, let's write letters to President-Elect Trump!  HA!  You think your efforts mean something. You think words matter in the face of this tidal wave of hatred and this concerted dragnet of fear and this forced rationality and the illusion of "the choice" of the American people.  My (insert: #notmypresident protests, hand-wringing, boycotting, pantsuiting, phone campaigning) is waayy more effective.

To that I say: maybe. (But I tangled with police in the nineties and I need to do something and I don't own a pantsuit and I can do this and at the same time make calls and stop any racist  and decency-phobic shopping I was unwittingly doing.)

Here's what my relatives are probably thinking:  Hey, you creepy activist, you are making me uncomfortable with all your talk of dissent and creating an archive and communicating your fears.  My retirement fund is doing great and Trump was always a liberal and this is surely all just bluster and he didn't mean those things.  Calm the f**k down or I shall unfriend you, which would be unfortunate because your pets are the cutest.

To this I say: I am sorry.  I feel that our very nation is on the line.

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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Look, Mom! Margo on TV!

I had the total pleasure of being on GCTV6 this morning, talking about the Places Project, Monteagle Homecoming and the importance of local and community history. 


Posted by GCTV 6 on Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Who Controls History? Facebook and the "Napalm Girl" Photograph

It is one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century.  I would argue that for many, it tells the story of the American war in Vietnam, or the Vietnam War, more eloquently than any other image.  The picture is often called simply, "the napalm girl."

And Facebook decided to censor it.  Because the child depicted is not wearing any clothes.

Because she was burned so badly that she was basically on fire.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Erasing Labor Day?

A friend of mine posted this picture yesterday:

She took it at her dry cleaners.  It led to a very funny thread on her Facebook wall:

"Someone might need a tutorial on holidays?"

"Police?  Well, they are usually unionized, right?"

"Union organizers! They keep us strong and free."

"My shop steward definitely keeps me safe from management."

And it went on from there.  One person made the case that the dry cleaners' experience was directly connected to the events at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York and  made them, possibly, more amenable to learning the stories of America's labor organizing histories. "History is a weapon."


Several people mentioned American flags flying everywhere in honor of Labor Day.  Here in Tennessee, college classes ran on schedule and even the campus post office was open for half the day.

Labor Day seemed a non-event.

Are we erasing Labor Day from our national commemorative calendar?  Are we in danger of forgetting the importance of organized labor to our history?

It is a distinct possibility.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bishop Edward Daly, 1933-2016: May You Find Your Own Heart's Ease, Bishop Daly

Bishop Edward Daly passed away today. He leaves behind a lifetime's commitment to his corner of the world and a faith that expressed itself in innumerable ways.

Priest, bishop, historian, author, writer, archivist,  performance director, radio and television producer, hospice chaplain, brother, friend. He was so many things.

Most of all, he was a decent and a good man.



Thursday, July 21, 2016

Since when were the Gardaí on the other side of the Northern Ireland conflict?

Today, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience announced its grant awards for 2016.



Photo courtesy of SHOUT
One grant was awarded to an organization called  Diversity Challenges, whose mission is "to assist culturally specific groups in integrating community relations principles and considerations within all aspects of their work."

(No, I don't actually know what that means either.)

According to the Sites of Conscience the grant will fund “Voices from the Vault,” a project that collects stories from former police officers in two police forces on either side of the (Northern Ireland) conflict. The work is groundbreaking in the sense that it is uncommon for state agents in any dispute to talk about their experiences."

Ummmm, what?

As a public historian, I tend to dismiss academics who get petty about semantics.  They always seem to have an air of the kid in the front of the room just dying to get the answer right. (The kid waving their hand in the air so hard you think they might pee themselves.)


As an historian of Northern Ireland, though, this term "on both sides of the conflict" jarred.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Low Voter Turnout in Derry Dishonors the Past


According to Northern Ireland elections statistics, only 56% of registered voters in the Foyle District turned out to vote in last month's elections. As an historian of Derry, this breaks my heart a little.

Look at the photo to the left.  Those are real people.  Historical figures, some of them, like Eddie McAteer and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Civil rights steward Vinnie Coyle.  Others, probably, not known to me.  And then the faces of the young, the hopeful, the indignant, the worried.  The faces of the civil rights movement.  


Which -- of course -- was in large part a movement for for the right for every adult citizen to have a vote.



Monday, May 9, 2016

When Trump is Your Imagined Inner Critic: Self-Help Meets Political Commentary

I saw this today on Facebook:


Imagining telling off Donald Trump is oddly cathartic.


No one who reads my blog is going to think I am a Trump supporter, so it will come as no surprise to you that I can readily imagine my inner critic as Donald Trump.

Mean, hurtful, irrational, bombastic, and in your face.
Also: clever, effective and capable of disabling all rejoinders.