Showing posts with label memory and identity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memory and identity. Show all posts

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


Monday, March 28, 2016

1916: The Centenary of the Easter Rising

It is the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  Events throughout the week, indeed throughout the year, are scheduled in Dublin.  It is an interesting moment of looking back and looking forward, as commemorations generally tend to be.  I, for one, think the Republic has only healed from its turbulent history in the wake of the Northern Ireland peace process.  Until then, there were still schisms and wounds.  What kind of nation is Ireland and what kind of nation will it be?  The centenary of the Rising is a good time to ask these questions, a good time to transcend post-colonial collective traumas and still, to carry the lessons of the past to continue to construct a democratic, progressive, welcoming nation that puts the wellbeing of its citizens before everything else.





At about 11:00 am on Easter Monday, 100 years ago today, the Irish Volunteers, along with the Irish Citizen Army, assembled at various prearranged meeting points in Dublin, and before noon ambushed and occupied seats of British and Ascendancy power in the city. These had been selected to command the main routes into the capital, and also because of their strategic position in relation to the major military barracks. They included the General Post Office, the Four Courts, Jacob’s Factory, Boland’s Bakery, the South Dublin Union, St. Stephen’s Green and later the College of Surgeons. The properties targeted were taken virtually without resistance and immediately the rebels set about making them defensible. The GPO was the nerve centre of the rebellion. It served as the rebels’ headquarters and the seat of the provisional government which they declared.”  

Here is an image of the General Post Office during the Rising: 




The rising was crushed almost immediately, its leaders executed and imprisoned.  All over Britain, and indeed in Ireland itself, the events were mocked and trivialized.  The Manchester Guardian  had this to say 100 years ago: “It is the nature of a riot rather than a rising,”  dubbing it “a show – for it cannot be regarded as more than this – of rebellion”.  Today, historians still consider the rebellion a failure, but the harsh and merciless treatment of its leaders by British forces changed public opinion and laid the foundation for a protracted war of independence --- Ireland's fight for sovereignty was the first crack in the facade of  Empire.

William Butler Yeats, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1865, the son of a well-known Irish painter, John Butler Yeats. Born into the Anglo-Irish landowning class, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival, a movement against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. Deeply involved in politics in Ireland, he wrote numerous poems like this one, giving voice to the struggles and price of Irish independence, the yearning and doubt so much a part of the movement.


I’ve only included about half this poem but you can find it in its entirety by clicking here 

Easter 1916 
W. B. Yeats


I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terribly beauty is born…

…Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Salem State University History Spotlight

Somehow, I never got the heads up that this little article got published over at Salem State.

I love that public history got recognition. I very much love that the Six Word Memoir Project got recognition. I do not love the quote, which I cannot quite believe I said and certainly don't remember saying, "History is pointless and useless if the public doesn't engage."

Really?  Do I even believe that?

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice

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.

the memorial space

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 Salem a city that welcomes and includes everyone.  

Nominations are welcome from the public at large. While the award doesn't always go to a New England-based organization or institution, it usually does, as it is very important that awardees can attend the celebration/award ceremony, which often occurs in early spring. (The organization can't fly folks in from Indonesia, no matter how much we might want to!) Recipients are invited to give a talk on an issue important to their work that relates to the SAF's mission and ongoing educational initiatives.  Turnout is big - it is a great way to get exposure for good work being done. There is also a small, unrestricted cash award to help support the honoree's efforts.  You can find out more about past winners of the award here.

Most important, I can bet you anything that if you take a couple hours to fill out a nomination form for that community organization, youth advocacy group, arts and social justice weekly meet-up, school committee on inclusion or Quaker peace gathering that's been on the go for 60 years, etc. etc. etc., it will mean the world to them.  It will make them feel visible, like their work and their efforts and their ways of loving the world and attempting to make it a place that reflects their values of social justice and openness are seen, heard, valued.  

Appreciated.

In a world filled with silences when it matters to speak and efforts to create change that feel too small to make a difference, nothing could be more important.

Nominate today! Deadline is October 30th.




Monday, September 28, 2015

Academic Kindness is Awesome!

It is Monday and we all need some good news.  So, from the Department of Good News in the Academy, folks, this is a heads up for any of you who may have missed the great tumblr site, Academic Kindness, which the editor or editors call, " a record of unsolicited kindnesses, unexpected goodwill and excessive generosity in academia."



Each post is little more than a paragraph.  A story of kindnesses large and small, though, really, mostly small.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.


According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are artifacts of the ancient bonfires lit to celebrate Lúnasa, the harvest "festival of light." December would see Lundy's effigy burn.  


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Teaching Serial as Public History


serial
Photo credit: Kate Preissler
I took a risk this semester and dedicated a fairly large chunk of class time to teaching Serial in Intro to Public History.  It was placed in the syllabus as a bridge between a unit on memory, identity and different publics and a unit on settings and tools for public history practice.  I was inspired to do this by my own engagement with the podcast (errrr, obsessive binge listening) and by some great email conversations with Kate Preissler, Digital Projects Manager at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, who wrote a fabulous blog post on Serial and public history for the NCPH blog.

In case you've been under a rock, Serial was a hugely popular podcast that ran for twelve episodes last autumn.  It examined the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999 in Baltimore and pulled apart the evidence used to successfully convict Lee's ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed -- who pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence to this day, from his cell in a maximum security prison in Maryland.

I wanted to share my rudimentary class outlines and assignments for others who might be interested in exploring Serial with college students.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Greetings from the Ledge: A Pop-Up Museum

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 own black shining Prince!—who didn't hesitate to die, because he loved us so."


Barry Blitt's "Dream of Reconciliation",  which graced the cover of the January 26, 2015 New Yorker Magazine, also made its way into the exhibit.  Dream invokes the iconic image of Martin Luther King linking arms with civil rights protestors during the march from Selma to Montgomery, but instead of King's historic contemporaries, Blitt chose to pair King with a different set of kin.  The cover depicts Dr. King marching alongside Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Wenjian Liu, the NYPD officer killed last month with Rafael Ramos.

There is also a photo of a witness call box, which were used so powerfully in this exhibition on police violence. Due to the exhibit, images of traditional police/fire call boxes have come to stand as a memorial for police violence.




Finally, the unidentifiable image.  South Africa?  The Children's March? I haven't been able to place the image of a police officer with two small boys or to track down the significance of the number, "24841."  If you know, please leave me a comment or email me.


The Ledge is simple, even subtle.  It is easy to miss, and in fact, I was dismayed by the number of people who either didn't notice it, or worse, noticed it and didn't think much of it.  Because it made me want to jump up and down.  It made me want to celebrate, despite its painful content.  It made me proud of the students who came up with the idea and implemented it, claiming space on this campus for memory.  


As U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves reminded us eloquently last week in a speech before sentencing three young white men for the death of James Craig Anderson, an African American who was beaten and then run over, racial injustice today must be understood and faced squarely within the context of over 200 years of institutional racist violence.  The inheritances of the past matter.  They cannot be unremembered and therefore they must not be forgotten.  


Thanks, Ledge guerrilla curators, for reminding us.   
And --- don't you all want to go build a pop-up museum right now? 


Monday, February 2, 2015

Night Will Fall: A Meditation on Representation

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 reason.  It introduces most viewers to historical newsreel footage of the Allied liberation of Nazi concentration camps that British filmmaker Sidney Bernstein used to create the film "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey."  Bernstein's film was never completed, the project ultimately axed because the US Army withdrew its footage due to fears of alienating Germans at a critical point in the early Cold War.  

Some of the US footage was used by Billy Wilder, an Austrian Jew and Hollywood director , members of whose immediate family were killed in the Holocaust.  Wilder produced "Death Mills" for the U.S. Department of War.  Its purpose was perhaps best expressed by the intro for US audiences to the English language version of the short film, which played in German in cities and towns across occupied Germany and Austria to showcase Nazi atrocities.  "It is a reminder that behind the curtain of Nazi pageants and parades, millions of men, women and children were tortured to death -- the worst mass murder in human history." The Bernstein film that was never made, (until recently under guidance of the Imperial War Museums staff,) was a subtler, more evocative exposé.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Irish Famine: LOL?

They say comedy = tragedy + time.  A proposed television series set in Ireland during the Famine (1845-1852) has raised interesting questions about how to attribute meaning and weight to each variable in this particular equation.

When screenwriter Hugh Travers, a Dublin native, mentioned in an interview that he had been given an open commission to develop a television program by Channel 4, and was working on a tragicomedy set during the Famine, he referred to it as a "kind of Shameless, set during the Famine."  Reaction was speedy, and quite what you would expect. 




Most stories ran photos of Rowan Gillespie's Dublin memorial to Famine victims.
The Daily Mail led the race for the headline with, "Is this the Most Tasteless Idea for a Sitcom Ever?" while IrishCentral.com's Irish-American pundit Niall O'Dowd forgave those who thought this was an April Fool's joke. The Irish Times interviewed writers and historians who said it was in poor taste and made inevitable comparisons to other historic atrocities. Indeed, it showed its hand by eschewing any number of historians of the Famine to interview Tim Pat Coogan on the matter.  Coogan, the most vociferous proponent of the "famine as genocide" school of thought, was quoted saying, “You really would have to be talking about making jokes about Belsen and Auschwitz and the gas chambers to make it an equivalent thing in our lifetime.” Petitions were posted for people to register a negative reaction; protests outside Channel 4 were scheduled.  

And the too-cool-for-school hipster journalists made it clear that no one cares if you are offended,  mocking those who were bothered by the idea of a Famine comedy by calling them the simpleton "outragerati" and taking particularly sharp digs at Irish Americans who, according to some, have no right to an opinion on the matter.  (I'd say that of the things Irish America legitimately gets to have an opinion about, the way the Famine is remembered ranks pretty high on the list, given that it led to one million deaths and over one million emigrants, many of whom came to North America.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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


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 Times and 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 good reasons for this.  A society that functioned on silences and secrets for over forty years might not race to embrace talking about and through complicated emotions.  A conservative society with a large rural population may not find holistic remedies or eastern mind-body-spirit practices welcoming. Prozac is far less invasive than a therapist, far less sweaty and well, compromising, than yoga. 


Those issues notwithstanding,  I see some good reasons antidepressant use may be up that have nothing to do with patients opting out of other therapies for mental ill health.  There may simply be more people seeking help.  Why?  Well, here's my take:
  • Post-memory
  • An acknowledgment of the psychological costs of dealing with the conflict  and post 'extreme-life' funk
  • A shift away from self-medication

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thoughts on Calvary

The new semester began a few weeks ago and I've found myself caught up in an effort to establish a new routine -- one that includes a traveling spouse and a lack of wheels three days a week. Despite the busy and the efforts not to glorify the busy, I've continued to think about the McDonagh film I saw in late August.

John Michael McDonagh's latest venture, Calvary, stars Brendan Gleeson and a whole cast of compelling actors, including Chris O'DowdKelly ReillyAidan GillenDylan Moran and Isaach de Bankolé. It is probably fair to say that the younger McDonagh stepped out definitively as something more than Martin's brother and creative collaborator with this one.  

I challenge the reviews that refer to this as a black comedy.  It's not black, but rather demonic, humor.  Until a point, after which it is not funny anymore.  "Beautifully bleak?" Indeed. "Mordantly funny?" Yes.  But the New Yorker reviewer who called it silly either didn't see the film or really doesn't get Ireland, Catholicism or, well, death.





Full disclosure: I might have had a panic attack in the movie theater.  Not at the scene, but at the bar scene, the one that suggests that the whole thing is on a rapid downhill slide.  If you saw the movie, you know what I am talking about.  If you didn't, I don't think it really matters anyway.  Just so you know that I got so shook up I couldn't breathe.  At a movie.  That consciously I understand is a fictionalized portrait, an imagined life. Designed to feel real.  



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Constructing Usable Pasts At Home

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 free-fall Mario myself.) Dad is 84, can't see well, can't hear well, and until recently didn't have a fully functioning set of teeth.  He is still a formidable guy on his good days, articulate and even a bit fierce.  But on bad days, I can see the age, the wear and the tear, the worry -- and the toll it has all taken.  He looks depleted.  He shuffles and bounces off walls.






I have been teaching an online summer class on public history over the past six weeks. For some reason it is more difficult online to make the links clear between history and memory. It is also really challenging to explain without actual back and forth dialogue the way memory functions as glue, piecing together and holding steady our identities as we understand them.  Memory structures events, offers them a shape.  It also makes certain that this shape adheres to our sense of who we are.  The ways memory becomes codified into history ---  if the narrator is reliable and the same version of events is repeated often enough --- is kind of a tough thing to explain. Once you see it, you never stop seeing it.  Once the veil is lifted, the relationships between history and memory are only too clear.  But for history students, who tend to really like the "facts," this tends to be a stretch. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Art of Memory: The Fault in Our Stars

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.


quotation from The Fault in Our Stars

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Seeing Through New Eyes?" Grappling with Identity/Identities

Is this a Derry granny?




Brought to you by British Telecom's "Portrait of a City,"an initiative designed to crowd-source community archives as part of the City of Culture events last year, this image of an older woman and sixteen children is one of eight photos that were enlarged last year, printed on heavy-duty tarp material and hung on the exterior wall of the Orchard Street entrance to the local shopping center, Foyleside.

It sits in the wall of the building just like a photo sits in a frame.

I took this photograph while going to catch a bus to visit my friend Bryonie, who is one of the most creative, effervescent and astute thinkers I know.

When it comes to thinking about Northern Ireland, I often get this Rumi quote in my head (I know, I know, the cliché of it all!!!!) "Out beyond right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I'll meet you there." I always think of Bryonie on that field.  Partly because she writes about landscapes and maybe because in my mind, a part of her own identity is intertwined with the fields of Leitrim.  Mostly because she doesn't just reject, she simply enters into, gently scrutinizes and then deconstructs prescriptive, rigid, essentialist thinking about the histories, cultures and cultural politics of this place.  All the dichotomies: them/us, north/south, Éire/UK, belonging/not belonging --- they lose resonance and are revealed as the caricatures they are.  But she does it in a way that also affords the processes of their very construction respect.  Like I said, formidable.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Tale of Two Margos

On Saturday, my friend Holly and I went for a jaunt out to west Donegal.  We took the road from Derry, out to the Grianán fort, then stopped in Letterkenny for a bite to eat and a rummage through a local flea market.

This gave me a chance to think about Irish kitsch, how it speaks to a different history of material culture and what I want from it.  I shocked myself by picking up a series of objects that I do not think belong in my home, but which I couldn't bear to leave in the crates and boxes of the market.  They were very inexpensive.  I felt like I was rescuing them, whether they come home with me or I find homes for them elsewhere.


We got a little turned around in the Letterkenny suburbs, but eventually made our way from Kilmacrennan, to Glenveagh Natl. Park, through the Poisoned Glen and out to the Bloody Forelands and Gortahork via Gweedore.  (Or the Bloody Holiday Home Lands, depending on your cynicism.)

We drove the "Wild Atlantic Way" up to Falcarragh and Dunfanaghy, came down through Creeslough and back down to Letterkenny and Derry, which is just on the other side of Bridgend.
(I still can't help humming The Emigrant's Letter every time I am up in this country.  You can listen to it here.) It is cheesy.  I don't care.  I am not sure that you can understand the emigrant experience without occasionally inhabiting the emotional and sentimental cultural expressions that it birthed.  As much as there was opportunity, there was loss.

So, we covered a fair bit of ground.   Here's a map so you can see for yourself:




Ever since my first visit out to Gortahork, with the wonderful Irish historians Billy Kelly and Breandan Mac Suibhne in 1999, I have always tried to make at least one trip up there when I am in Derry.  In the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, it is a special place.  The quality of light, of air, of sky --- the softness that is insistent in spite of barren and desolate landscapes.....the history.  It is not my place, will never be my place.  Nevertheless, I see it as a pilgrimage of sorts.  A visit to the northwest without Gortahork and the Bloody Forelands  would feel incomplete.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Performing Memory

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 and seeing her mom looking in the mirror in the introduction.

When I ask, "How's by you?"  I am performing memory.  I never ask anyone who is not in my immediate family this, but my association of the phrase with my mother and her mother and aunties -- five first generation Polish-American women -- comforts me somehow.  I usually ask the cat, though a. he cannot answer and b. how's by him is pretty much the same as it is for me, since we live in the same place. Never you mind that the etymology of the phrase is Yiddish and I have no idea why my mom's family adopted it. Maybe it was my German/Irish grandfather's.  I've adopted it to signify what I want it to -- probably changing the meaning and original purpose of the utterance.  Oh well --- memory is fluid, flexible and open to adjustments.

We all think about food as memory and traditions of other kinds as well.  But isn't it fascinating, and maybe just a little freeing, to consider your nervous ticks, procrastination and avoidance tactics, the armor you grab for whenever you get in an argument, etc.  performances of memory as well?  Doesn't it make you want to understand what attitudes and behaviors are yours and yours alone, and which ones are inheritances?


I've become more inclined to make hospital corners the way my mom taught me, to follow a particular choreography in the kitchen, to find it funny and oddly lovely that I hoard cans of tomato sauce and stockpile condiments just like my dad does.  It is still neurotic, but as a performance of neurotic memory, it makes it a little more OK.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Teaching Fun Home as Public History

I assigned Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic for the first time in Public History and my students are reading it now. It is an amazing graphic novel that just got turned into a musical.


I assigned it because I wanted to teach something about identity as it relates to the social frameworks of memory and to connect it to the ways in which we localize memories through landscapes, objects and images. I also wanted to do something on family history. 





So, what do I want students to get out of this reading experience?  What questions do I hope they ask and explore as they read the text and examine the graphics?  How do I encourage them to think beyond the coming of age/coming out/coming to terms with a gay dad stories to think about the structure of the text and the relationships between memory and identity?  The things that made the book so fascinating to me actually focused around Bechdel's literary relationship with her father --- she experienced the relationship through texts --- Joyce, Proust, Salinger, Faulkner, the ancient Greek myths. Her dad was an English teacher as well as a part time funeral home director.