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Showing posts from March, 2014

The Art of Memory: Eduardo Galeano

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Eduardo Galeano is, to my mind, the very best kind of writer. Defying categories, playing with media, voice and form, he is a journalist, novelist and poet.  For me he is also, strangely enough, one of the clearest routes that brought me to public history.  




I found The Book of Embraces on the bookshelf at a friend's house almost 20 years ago.  I asked if I could borrow it and he said it wasn't his cup of tea, "Keep it."  Soon after, another friend saw it on my bookshelf and asked if he could borrow it.  Off it went, just a few short weeks after it had arrived.  

I still have that copy. In it, my friend had inscribed: "I loved this book so much,  I don't really want to part with it. Still, I don't want to hang onto it a second longer when you've not yet read it."

The Art of Memory: Derek Mahon and Numinous Objects

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Continuing our Thursday series on the art of memory, today’s poet is Derek Mahon. Born in Belfast in 1941, Mahon is a self-described "voluntary exile' from his home in Northern Ireland.  Having lived in Paris, Greenwich Village and in a handful of different cities in Canada and London, much of his work explores themes of displacement, loneliness and the alienated life of the artist in society. I love his work.  I am never bored by Mahon and I always find new things to explore.

Do You Have a Problem with the Word Failure?

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People don't like to talk about failure.  They prefer other terms.  Challenges.  Stumbling blocks.  Hiccups. Preludes to success. Opportunities for growth. They embrace what my friend Elizabeth calls the perky reframe.  (I got fired, but hey, I have a lot more time to devote to my popsicle stick collection.)

Most of all, they prefer you don't openly call something a failure.

Sound familiar, anyone?  There are good reasons people shy away from labeling things, especially programs, projects or collaborative endeavors, failures.  It can be  embarrassing to admit. It may jeopardize your public image or compromise your legitimacy. For those of us who rely on grants, fellowships and donations, it might risk funding. If something with which we are involved fails, it is possible we ourselves will come off looking like failures.


Me, I don't trust people who can't talk openly about failure.  It could be my experience with Irish history. The Irish ability to use, celebrate…

The Art of Memory: Szymborska

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I became acquainted with  the art of memory by listening to my parents and grandparents, by following along the imaginative avenues of memories of Lake Woebegone on Prairie Home Companion, by asking strangers to tell me their stories.  But I really fell in love with memory, a love that endures, through the literary arts --- poetry, fiction, memoir, plays.  

Occassionally,  I introduce you to some of my favorite writers and poets and spotlight their memories or reflections on memory. I'll share a few thoughts on why I find each piece meaningful, provocative or striking.  I am not a literary scholar and I can't tell you about influences and patterns and the like.  Maybe I'll tell you how I came across a writer or poet. I hope I introduce you to a few wordsmiths or let you connect with those you may not know well.  And in the meantime, I hope that I reconnect with some of the things that inspired me to explore the art of memory.

We start with my favorite 20th century poet, Wisł…

What People Think of Museums

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What do people think of when they think about museums? 

Specifically, I am talking about what  college students, most of whom come from eastern Massachusetts, think of when you ask them to do a free association with the word "museums."  Now to be fair, this class of mine, Intro to Public History, has a mixed blend of students.  Some are avid young public historians and they take as many classes as they can in material culture, museum studies, architecture, local history, etc.  Others, ummm, it fit their schedule.   So here's what comes to mind for them:






I am not sure why we had so much fun with this, or why I found the exercise both utterly entertaining and oddly gratifying.  But I did.  We laughed a lot.  We had an intelligent conversation.  

I guess that's it.  We laughed a lot and had an intelligent conversation.  (Not necessarily mutually exclusive activities, but you'd be surprised how rarely the two occur simultaneously.)