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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 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.


To My People: I am Grievin…

June 9 - the Feast of Saint Columba

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The celebrations of Saint Columba in Derry City represent one of my favorite examples of what Eric Hobsawm and Terence Ranger named "an invented tradition."  In 1897,  the Catholic residents of Derry began a tradition of honoring their patron saint publicly in the streets of the city, as well as in its Catholic chapels.

Here is an excerpt from my manuscript about the process, and reasons, for doing so.

The celebrations of the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Columba scheduled to be held in Gartan, Donegal, provided the catalyst for Long Tower's Father Willie Doherty to expand his vision of Derry as a city inspired by Columba and to invite the city’s Catholic population to join together to show religious reverance and pride for their cultural heritage. Father Willie served as a conduit, providing the stimulus and organization that enabled local Catholics to express publicly a broader Irish community identity in a way that was respectable, even pious. In…

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.



Piracy or Exchange? The Fate of Ideas in the Avaricious Academy

Recently, a friend and fellow historian read a section of my manuscript for me.  She made an acute observation about the ways my protagonists consistently dug deep into the past whenever faced with a new conflict or challenge. "Interesting how they always take the long view," she noted in a comment.

The long view. I love the phrase.  So much so, in fact, that I am determined to use it.  I might even incorporate it into the title of my book when it emerges.  I will acknowledge my colleague's general brilliance and specific contribution in the acknolwedgements that preface the book.  I will figure out a way to cite her.  If her phrase makes it into the title, I will buy her a bottle of wine.  As a tenured faculty member at a research university, my colleague will probably feel duly recognized and appreciated.

This, after all, is part of our job -- to exchange ideas freely for the benefit of others.  As a tenure-track faculty member at a regional public university, I too, …

Listen to Veterans: the Student, Citizen, Soldier Oral History Project

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Veterans of the armed services aren't visible in our public and political culture because they aren't statistically significant.  That's what Tom Landers, an Army veteran and a graduate student in History at Salem State University, reminds us in an oral history with historian Andrew Darien for an important oral history project that launches for Veterans Day.

Support for veterans' benefits and accolades for their service spike during campaign season, but once the spotlights fade, political leaders shirk their promises.  U.S. veterans fade back into the shadows of American society.  We rarely see or hear them speak for themselves about war, politics, or the short and long term effects and implications of their military service.  They become a convenient soundbyte.  In many cases, their history gets used for others' gain.

Over the past five years, Salem State University has grown its enrollment of veterans, thanks in large part to the Veteran Assistants Veteran Integr…

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…

Art of Memory: Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither

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This is one of those books.  You devour it because it is beautiful and unnerving and compelling and also because, deep down, you know this is not a book you can live with for days or weeks.  It is not a book that you can stare at on your bedstand or your living room table.  It is a book to be consumed.  Afterwards, you might want to forget it. But you won't be able to.  In other words, it is an Irish novel.

Do I recommend it? I do.  I think. Maybe. I'm not sure.

I am writing this blog post less to tell you about this book because I am not ready to talk about it than because I want to try to hold onto some of the language without having to actually pick up and revisit the book.  The language astounds me.  It is not derivative.  At least I don't think so.  If it is derivative, it is of Joyce with maybe a tiny bit of Patrick McCabe.  It is less, I don't know, inexorable, than either of those authors.  And yet the story told here is much more haunting than theirs'. De…