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.

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.