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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…

On Priorities

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With a new semester, it begins again.   I am not talking about the classes, the meetings, the students, the committees, the scrambling to pick up loose strands left over from last semester.

I am talking about the promises we make to ourselves.  It is our new year's ritual in a world of busy, whether it is manufactured or organic busy.  Everywhere I turn, people are making bold declarations. "I will say 'no' more often."  "I will only check email twice a day." "I will remember to stop and breathe."  "I promise to make time for what matters to me and to stop wasting time on things that don't matter."  "No more Facebook!"  "No more Netflix." "No more letting people dump stuff on my shoulders.  I choose me!"

Everywhere I look, people want off the habitrail… Looking for meaning.  Purpose. Authenticity.  Time for the people and things we love.  The sense that we are in the right place, doing what we should b…

The Irish Famine: LOL?

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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. 




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 esc…

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.