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The Salem Witch Trial Memorial - “What's This Memorial Really About?”

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I was supposed to give this talk today, but it got rained out.  I may have the chance to give it again sometime soon, but I thought I'd post this here in case anyone is interested.
The Salem Witch Trial memorial was erected in 1992 to mark the tercentenary of the witch hysteria. It was designed as the first physical structure in the city of Salem to commemorate the trials and the execution of twenty innocent people suspected of witchcraft in 1692.
What a beautiful, reflective, introspective space.  People often forget just how long the memorial was in coming to fruition.Historic Salem, Inc. created a committee in 1963 to commemorate what they then referred to as the Witch Delusion.The idea was that the memorial would rest on Gallows Hill, where the hangings are believed to have taken place.At that point, the Essex Institute, now part of the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Massachusetts Society for the Preservation of American Antiquities, now Historic New England, had tossed around th…

"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.

Historians Being Mean: A Glossary

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Last night, while I was prepping for the seminar I teach on historiography, I realized that one of the reasons we teach historiography is to give students a basic vocabulary with which to critique historical research and writing.


There are instances in which the correct word matters, not the OK word or the more or less descriptive word.


(This, of course, is coming from the woman who, as a four year old, asked her mom if she could postpone her nap because she wasn't tired at the moment.  I used the perfectly appropriate word and got out of my nap.  Life lesson learned.  Check.)

In no particular order, then, here are a few of the most commonly used words historians sling at each other and what they mean.  Followed by what they really mean:

Thoughts on Calvary

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John Michael McDonagh's latest venture, Calvary, stars Brendan Gleeson and a whole cast of compelling actors, includingChris 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 d…

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.



Selfies in Crossfire

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Not a lot in the news to inspire and hearten me at the moment. You?

As far as I am concerned, it has been one of the most painful news cycles in recent memory and the fractiousness of social media made me dial back my own presence in the virtual spaces that have become my stomping grounds.  I maintain that knowing what is happening in the world is a civic responsibility, but sometimes fulfilling that simple act is wearing.  Made more wearisome, of course, by my awareness that I enjoy a luxury not known or experienced by so many thousands of people living with, living through, living and dying amidst the throes of war, atrocity, earthquakes, epidemics.  The luxury of finding the news exhausting.

Amidst stories of ebola, of bodies falling out of the sky, of Gaza, Gaza, Gaza,  this photo of a grinning woman on the BBC news page caught my attention:




The photo seems to suggest, "Look at me.  I am smiling. So there."  Actually, that is pretty much what this selfie, like many other…