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Showing posts from April, 2014

Global Exploring One Book at a Time

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It is the end of the semester.  I have to suppress a sigh every time a student appears at my door.  And yet, I am still very much on the clock and they need me to be more, not less, responsive. Or, as one  suggested, "You could just give us all A's and be done."

Sigh.  

In a search for some inspiration to lighten my mood, I came across the story of British freelance writer and sub-editor Ann Morgan, who took it upon herself to read a book from each of 197 countries (all of the UN-recognized countries plus Palestine and Taiwan.)  In her project -- My Year of Reading the World,  Morgan set out to answer one question in particular: "Can a person in London access all of world literature?"





Morgan started her "book packing" project in 2012.  She read 4 books a week and blogged about it here.  The Anglophone world press got excited about her challenge and the wonderful, strange things that it made happen in the world and shared her story here, here and here (to…

Naming the Butterflies: On Discomfort Zones

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I am generally blithely unaware of how much time I spend smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone.  People I know.  Places I know.  Experiences I know.

I tiptoe to the edges of it from time to time.  Get lost on purpose.  Walk into a room filled with strangers.  Teach unfamiliar material.  Add a new tool to my digital toolkit.  Ask a new question.  Sit with a new answer. Stretch. I even occasionally wear yellow.

Most of the time, I am comfortable. Even, dare I say it, staid.

But I study and write about Derry, Northern Ireland, a place far from home.  Its culture has been shaped by a history I have come to understand something of -- it often feels just enough to illuminate all that I do not and cannot claim to know.  Derry is simultaneously deeply familiar and quite literally foreign.

People say, "But, you're an historian of Derry.  You've spent years there. You love it. Plus, you are Irish-American and Ireland is really just the 51st state, perched off the Maine coast. …

The Art of Memory: Jorge Luis Borges and "Funes the Memorious"

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Access.  Access.  Access.  

Yesterday in class we explored digital history.  The plethora of digital documentation was on everyone's minds. We discussed how archivists will try to preserve and historians of the future will try to sort through all the video clips, recordings, tweets, texts, status updates, social media profiles, emails, blogs, etc. that we all produce.

Someone said people don't need to be educated formally anyone -- they can just go to the internet and become experts on topics that interest them. (I just resisted the urge to snort and harrumph.) Another person exhorted that people don't need to read anymore, don't need to know anything -- because everything is always accessible at the touch of a button.

I said I thought they needed more skills, not fewer, to make sense of all the information to which they have access.

It led to a conversation about how to make meaning from all this "stuff," how information requires interpretation, how the challeng…

The Art of Memory: Sean Tyrrell and the "Big Songs"

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Had the pleasure of seeing Galway songwriter, troubadour and vintage instrument aficionado Sean Tyrrell last night in Somerville.  I was charting a path down memory lane, having seen him at least once at his regular Sunday night gig at the Roisin Dubh in Galway and a couple times at Sandinos in Derry over the years. Strange to listen to music remembering your younger self listening to the same music, trying to place not just where you were, but who you were the last time you experienced it.


Performing Memory

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My mom has a habit that has become more pronounced over time.  If she doesn't want to do something, she makes herself late.  A strange, passive aggressive stalling tactic. You might think about it casually and consider her disorganized, or worse -- approaching senility.  The dillying.  The dallying.  A whole ritual involving socks.  But I don't think so - because I can see the intention behind it.  A quiet protest.  An insistence on her right to choose.




As I was sitting on the couch yesterday morning, in pjs, drinking tea -- a half an hour before I needed to be somewhere it takes me twenty minutes to drive to -- it occurred to me that I have inherited this particular habit.

When I first picked up Diana Taylor's wonderful book The Archive and the Repertoire, the idea that we perform acts of memory everyday in our speech, our silences, our habits and ways of being in the world  was new to me.  It kind of blew me away.  I think she actually talks about looking in the mirror a…