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Showing posts with the label memory

When Someone You Love Dies: Notes for the Living

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I never gave a lot of thought to death until my mother died unexpectedly two months ago.  Now, I think about it all the time.

Until confronted by it ourselves, we tend to ignore death and grief.  For something that is all around us, all the time, it seems invisible ---  right up until we become the ones blindsided by the news of the death of someone in our intimate circle -- parents, spouses, children, siblings, close friends.  My friend Erik said to me, "As the Greeks say, eventually, time and tragedy come for all of us."  Truth.

 I am in the process of writing down some thoughts. Here is a list of things that in retrospect, I wish I could have articulated to people in the wake of my mom's death about how to help, how not to help and what they could anticipate from me.  There is no order and this list might not help you. 


But I hope it helps.  If you are grieving, I send comfort and love.  If you want to help someone who is grieving, I send comfort and love.

List One: 

Public History Summer Course

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Take a class with me this summer! Online conversations, field trips, occassional class meetings.  You will love it.  Registration Information: click here.



Places Project Summary

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I copied over this article from the UMass History Dept blog. 


In 2015, I set off for south-central Tennessee’s South Cumberland plateau to take up a two-year  Mellon fellowship with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies at Sewanee: the University of the South.  The Collaborative, a partnership with Yale, envisioned starting and sustaining multidisciplinary, community-engaged, curricular projects that had place as their focus. In other words: pretty much any public history endeavor would fit the bill.
I had some basic goals for my Mellon project.  I wanted it to be something I could begin and complete in two years.   I wanted it to be digital.  I wanted it to engage local history and memory.  I wanted students with different interests and strengths to have meaningful roles to play.  Most of all, I wanted to undertake a humanities project that the pragmatic people of the region would see as useful — if not while I was doing it, then at least when it was done.  T…

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:

The Places Project Gets Recognized

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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.


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


Erasing Labor Day?

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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 i…

Tours at the Highlander Folk School Historic Site

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My students and I have been busy.  

Sewanee Students Offer Historical Tours of the Highlander Folk School 
If you have ever wanted to learn more about the Highlander Folk School in the Summerfield community of Grundy County, now is your chance to learn.
University of the South students enrolled in courses offered through the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies will offer free historical tours of the Highlander Folk School site on Saturdays throughout April. Tours will be offered at 1 and 3 p.m.April 9, 16, 23, and 30, weather permitting. Tours last approximately one hour and leave from the Highlander Folk School Library on Old Highlander Lane in Monteagle, Tennessee. If you are interested in attending a tour, please plan to arrive 10 minutes before it is scheduled to begin.
Student tour guides will share the history of the site and the vision and ethos of its founders and staff. They will introduce the historic programs and work of the school and relay its contributions to…

The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice

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Good news!  Nominations are open for the Salem Award.  This is a wonderful opportunity to provide recognition for an organization or individual doing good work to promote social justice and human rights locally, nationally or internationally.

As many of you know, I am a  board member of the Salem Award Foundation, a volunteer-run organization that educates and advocates for human rights and social justice as a way of memorializing the witch hysteria of Salem, MA in 1692.  The organization also serves as a steward for the Witch Trial memorial installation, a really beautiful site that is often over-shadowed by the tourist sham-tasticness of Salem.


For the past twenty- four years, the Salem Award has been awarded to individuals and organizations as a way of honoring the individuals in Salem circa 1692 who spoke up and pointed out the injustices and ludicrousness associated with the witch hysteria.  The organization has also been parter of a larger, city-wide effort to make…

May Ethan Schmidt Rest in Peace. The Rest of Us Should Not.

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And twenty four hours later, it is over. Thirty-nine year old historian and history professor Ethan Schmidt was shot and killed in his office yesterday morning on the campus of Delta State University.  Bright, hard-working, part of a constellation of many personal, professional and public circles and communities...

And now he is dead.  The most recent headline.  The flashiest of victims of gun violence this week.  Maybe.  The week is still young.  You never know.

But, hey, there's a candlelight vigil.  Before we move on.

Schmidt was murdered by a colleague.  All evidence points to this as a deeply personal killing.  

Art of Memory: Samuel Beckett

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Comments I made at a panel on Beckett March 5, 2015.....

If there is one Irish writer whom you do not normally associate with memory, it would have to be Samuel Beckett.  Often portrayed as the "artist from nowhere," and as having an imagination situated somehow "outside of history," Beckett the man and Beckett the writer were almost obsessively forward-looking.  Exploding categories, questioning identities, accommodating chaos.   Looking back? Nah. Except Beckett insisted he could remember being in utero.  Yup. And he didn't like it one bit.  

Seems that for Sam, suffering started early.  He claimed, "It was an existence where there was no voice, no movement that could free me from the agony and darkness I was subjected to."

Greetings from the Ledge: A Pop-Up Museum

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I was running an administrative errand in a building I visit only infrequently on campus when I came across a small DIY pop-up exhibit commemorating numerous victims of racist violence.  Welcome to The Ledge Gallery, folks.  

This makes me glad. 



It is simple. It is somber. It is done with a very sparse curatorial hand --- no labels, no descriptions.  The images speak for themselves.  The images speak to those who stop, who look, who listen to what the they say.

A memorial card for Malcolm X holds the center of the tableau.  It forefronts "Our Black Shining Prince," the name Ossie Davis chose for Malcolm X in the eulogy he delivered at Faith Temple Church of God in February, 1965.  Davis famously likened X to Jesus and called on supporters to continue his work when he exhorted, " what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed-which, after the winter of discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a Prince—our…

What is Public History? A Slam Poem Ode by an "Intro to PH" Undergraduate

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Every time I teach Intro to Public History, we begin the semester with two sets of readings.  One set examines public history as it is situated within:
the history of the national parksthe discipline of historythe context of efforts to amplify invisible, untended or uncomfortable historiesthe context of ordinary people's interests and engagements with the pastThese go over very well.  
The other set?  Classics like Becker's "Everyman His Own Historian," David Lowenthal's meditation on the benefits and burdens of the past, Pierre Nora's famous (and famously dense) discussion of lieux de memoire, "sites" both literal and metaphorical that serve as bridges between history and memory and as anchors of identity in a rapidly changing and homogenizing world.
These go over terribly.  And I assign them anyway.  
This semester, I made my students do a reading response to these readings.  Some of them were fabulous. Some of them, shall we say, reflected the comple…

Night Will Fall: A Meditation on Representation

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At ceremonies and pilgrimages, through newspaper accounts and private reflection, people around the world observed the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz last week.  It has become a touchstone date, a moment for remembrance, a call to witness. 

Perhaps the ghosts of the Holocaust were with us as well.  In a locked room at Auschwitz in which an the Italian television crew and Jewish leaders found themselves trapped. Amidst silence and candlelight at vigils across the globe.  And in André Singers' film "Night Will Fall," which aired around the world on January 27th.


Night Will Fall is a film about witnessing.  About survival amidst death. About the ways to tell a story, the impact of the visual, the politics of evidence.  About the power of solid historical research to deepen our understanding of both the past and the horizons and the limits of our humanity.  It is a difficult and necessary film.


There's been much ado about the documentary, and for good reas…

Thanks for the Memories, Donald Trump.

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(October 10, 2016) Note:  I wrote and posted this blog post almost two years ago.  And then --  Donald Trump came along.  And I was reminded -- in the most disturbing of ways -- that these stories are so many women's stories.  As mild as they may be, they are scarring.  As quotidian as they may be, they are wrong.

Donald Trump has triggered our traumatic memories of sexual violence. 

I want to join the chorus of women who are saying, "I don't want to be silent anymore.  If my silence is my complicity, then I will be loud."

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I had no intention of telling her.

No intention, in fact, of sharing my story of the bizarre sexual assault or assault-lette that occurred last weekend -- beyond my husband and the Facebook message I hurled like a scared grenade immediately after it happened to two of the most reflective feminists and genuinely empathetic pe…

The Historic Salem Re-Photography Class Photo of 2014

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There  was drama from beginning to end.  Getting desks and chairs and setting them up outside Old Town Hall.  Getting  bunch of parking tickets at 8:23 a.m. (OK, I admit I am posting this in part to provide a link to it -- so I can prove to the Parking Hearing Officer that my entire class was downtown to set up this photo. I am hoping s/he will have mercy on me and my promise to protest or pay all the tickets!)  Getting wet on the rainy, slushy way to and from our site to take a photo to enter into a contest for first year seminar class pictures.  Since our class was on The City: History, Memory and Imagination, I think we did OK.







Depression Under the Sofa: Trauma, Post-Memory and Antidepressants in Northern Ireland

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Prescription records in the United Kingdom were released recently by the Health and Social Care Board. Much has been made of the rates at which  antidepressants are prescribed in Northern Ireland -- at  two 
and a half times more than in England, it turns out that the Northern Irish are being medicated to address anxiety and 
depression more often than in almost any other region in the world.  

Journalists have been quick to make knee-jerk observations about use by patients who are too young to be directly affected by the Troubles.  "The disparity is so huge that it warrants closer examination," said Steven McCaffrey of The Detail.


The insinuation in both The Irish Timesand the BBC is that the Health Service in Northern Ireland is over-prescribing.  

Health care professionals in Northern Ireland have noted for several years that patients who come to see a professional about mental health concerns tend to expect a prescription and are averse to alternative therapies.  There are go…

Nostalgia: A Cost/Benefit Analysis

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I am one of those extremely lucky people who is graced with an old friend. A longtime friend.  A friend who has known me from the pigtails  -- to the dreads -- to appropriately adult hair -- to the hair coloring conundrums of the moment.  A friend who remembers my fascination with Fisher Price "little people" and deep love for roller skates, who sat in the beater cars, offered kleenex in the wake of disastrous love affairs, celebrated victorious moments, made me laugh in the face of ordinary griefs.   Nothing I do or say will ever surprise her, quite simply because she has seen it all.  And, I like to think, vice versa.




Last week, I was complaining about my life.  Why so little of this?  Why so much of that?  Why so difficult? Blah blah blah.  And my friend, my dear friend of these four decades, said, "You've got to stop it. You have to let it go."

"Stop what?"  I asked. She said, "Nostalgia. It's all nostalgia."

"Huh?  Nostalgia for …

"Humbling Moments" at the Oral History Association Meeting

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While I wait in the airport for my husband to finish running a half marathon and then drag himself to come get me,  it's a good time to write a quick post about the 2014 Oral History Association Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. 


It was my first OHA meeting.  Seasoned oral historians and experts on reflection and analysis of the interview process Stacey Zembrzycki and Anna Sheftel invited me to participate in a roundtable conversation on humbling moments because of my insistence on discussing failure in community collaborations more openly last spring at the 2014 National Council on Public History annual meeting

The panel also included the trailblazing feminist oral historian Sherna Berger Gluck and Janis Thiessen, a thoughtful and critical historian of Canadian labor, business and religion.  We had really good attendance and a remarkably rich and flowing conversation, given the fact that there were about forty people in the room.

Constructing Usable Pasts At Home

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Here is the quote of the week:

“In the end, we get older, we kill everyone who loves us through the worries we give them, through the troubled tenderness we inspire in them, and the fears we ceaselessly cause.” Walter Benjamin

"Troubled tenderness" is the most beautiful phrase I've read in a long time. It's been a tough week around here, with my mother hospitalized after a collapse that was the result of taking too much medication.

Her body didn't like that one bit, and heart, kidneys, lungs all had something to say.  The first twenty-four hours were rough. She is doing better now and with some luck and some hard work, she will be right as rain in a month or so.

We've come down to help my mom and dad when things have gone pear-shaped before.  My husband once remarked that my dad looked like Mario from the video game -- running into walls and bouncing off of things.  In the thick of the panic, he does get a little dazed. Don't we all?  (I often feel like fre…

The Art of Memory: The Fault in Our Stars

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I finally read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.  I am really glad I did.  

I was captivated by the ways the characters experienced their interior lives together, the way they took lonely separateness and made something new.  They co-created narratives about what was happening around them that were sparkly, beautiful, larger -- much larger -- than what they might have conjured on their own.