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Not Everyone is Hiding from Scary Ideas in College

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This article by Judith Shulevitz has been popping up in my Facebook feed all week.  Every time I see the girl wrapped up in the fetal position inside a giant ear, I seethe a little bit more.  It seems that the Shulevitz piece has hit quite a nerve. Everyone is so ready to castigate the fragile flower millenials for their inability to get outside of their own heads and hearts.

The crux of the argument expressed in the piece seems to be that in an over-medicalized, over-protective culture, students today are perfectly content to sacrifice free speech and independent thought so that they do not ever risk the danger of being "discomfited" or, gasp, "distressed."

Writes Shulevitz, "It is disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago.  But those were hardier souls.  Now students' needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals --- mental health counselors, student-…

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

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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 art…

Teaching Serial as Public History

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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 maxim…

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…