It’s not a great feeling. A self-instituted pressure combined with a tingling in my fingers as they rest on a keyboard waiting for words to come. My head feels full, as if perched on a cliff expecting something to push it over the edge. And then there are all the ideas jumbling, tumbling, and pushing me around.

Writer’s block is a pain in my ass.

Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal

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A few weeks ago I attended a tweetup between the National Museum of American History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Using the hashtag #docsocial twenty social media users gathered to look at the role of documents and primary sources in the telling of history.

The objects central to the program were handbags–purses belonging to two women held at Terezin, a camp located in Czechoslovakia that was used as a “model/propoganda” camp.

The first belonged to a seamstress, Camilla Gottlieb, and is part of an exhibition at the National Museum of American History called “Camilla’s Purse”. The documents and objects within tell the story of her life at Terezin and later in the United States. The second purse, at the Holocaust Museum, belonged to Helene Reik, who died in the camp–her purse survived because a cousin saved it. Within the handbag was the expected and unexpected: a manicure set, scraps of receipts, and photographs Helene had used as paper, filling every available white space with words.

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Optimism. Focus. Growth. Three ways to approach 2013. Three tools to infuse the way I tell stories, both beyond and of the past. Three ways to embrace the future.

New Year resolutions are tough. As goals for the next 2-300 or so days they are choices of self-determination. Dictates on change. Guidelines for choices you want to make in the year to come.

They are often lofty and almost always fall to the wayside before February.

Last year instead of resolving I sought to qualify. I chose three words that would be a touch point for how I manage inevitable change and tell my stories. Three ways to accept the unpredictable and embrace it.

In this I have been mostly successful. 2013 was a year of personal change which often pulled me away from writing. My focus was directed towards family matters and I made the conscious choice to look for personal growth offline (though it seems my use of Twitter is perhaps on an uptick).

In the last year I’ve written 13 posts here on …this is what comes next. A few were cross-posts from either Fangirl or the Indian American Story. Others included links to reflections on the PreservationNation blog.  Collectively these posts (which are listed below) mark my love with learning through place (this year I traveled to Boston and Paris) and finding ways to teach my new niece an appreciation for the past. Some of my favorites? This interview with a Kristina Downs on Native American Heroines (originally on Fangirl blog), my look at Cloud Atlas, and a two-part post on returning to historical places and the resonance they bring on PreservationNation.

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1785Does preserving old places–and the memories they represent–matter? Do the individual and collective memories embodied in old places help people have better lives?

Tom Mayes, a colleague of mine who is spending six months in Rome as a recipient of the 2013 Rome Prize, asks these questions in his latest post investigating “Why Old Places Matter.”

As I’ve read his series it has brought back my own thoughts on memory and memorializing–where stone structures on a battlefield or ever-living trees bear witness to the past. At this intersection of memory-place-monument these objects of remembrance serve as a physical manifestation and encapsulation of a collective connection to the past.

Old places provide a tangible reminder that something happened–that humans stood in this exact spot and did something. That we interacted, enacted change, or fought for a cause.

They are questions that I am also thinking about as I prepare for my last day at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, the soon to be former headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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This post originally appeared on the FANgirl blog.

The Corps of Discovery in Kansas City, MO, which features Sacagawea

The Corps of Discovery in Kansas City, MO, which features Sacagawea | Credit: Kristina Downs

On FANgirl we talk a lot about heroines – who they are, what makes them strong, how they represent and influence the culture we live in. Often these discussions involve looking at the process of myth-making and storytelling; stereotypes and archetypes – and how they reflect real world needs and ideas. These ideas specifically are rooted in our historical narrative.

For a long time the history we learned was told from a singular perspective: the white male, the victors, the overseers, the husbands. Since the 1960s historians have worked to fill that gap looking at the same history from additional viewpoints including African-American, immigrants, Native-Americans, and women. While we have some primary sources written by members of this specific groups, sometimes our understanding of these lives come from folklore: stories, myths, music, and literature.

Folklore gives us a sense of iconic figures and representations that reflect the age in which they were written. These historical mythologies are transitional and ever shifting from decade to decade, just as our heroes and heroines in science fiction have changed based on where we were in time.

About a month ago I sat down with a friend of mine, Kristina Downs, to talk about her dissertation on Native American heroines. We’ve known each other for about ten years through a mutual love of Shakespeare and science fiction at the College of William and Mary, but it was only recently through a random post on Facebook that I realized she was in the process of getting her Ph.D. in folklore. Read the rest of this entry »

Preservationists say “no.”
House Museums are “behind the velvet ropes.”
Historians live within an “ivory tower.”

Does this sound familiar?

Historians serve as stewards of the past, disseminating history to a variety of different publics. However, segments of that public view historians and preservationists as obstacles–individuals who set up barriers, keep research confined within the academy, or prevent progress. Despite our efforts, this is how they perceive the work of history professionals.  Of course, those of us who work in the field know that history professionals are working to broaden outreach in museums (albeit with increasingly limited budgets), to spread literature and research, and to present a more open and accessible past by saving places across the country.

This past week I staffed the National Preservation Conference in Indianapolis. While I didn’t get a chance to fully attend sessions, I observed a discipline actively working to remove barriers. Sessions sought to think past restrictions and standards and focused on aligning the needs of preservationists with the needs of community.

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This story was origionally posted on the Indian American Story the blog for the Smithsonian’s Indian-American Heritage Project.

In early April, pop star Selena Gomez incited media buzz when she appeared in public wearing a bindi. She is not the first celebrity to wear something Indian, but I have to ask:

Should I feel offended that someone has chosen to appropriate a piece of Indian cultural identity for entertainment? Or is it another sign of how elements of my heritage have trickled into the American subconscious? If she “meant well,” is it OK? Or is it never OK for someone who is not Indian to wear such a symbol without preserving its meaning? And, at what point does something go from being culturally appropriate to cultural appropriation?

Let’s consider three scenarios.

Scenario 1: So You Think You Can Dance contestants perform a Bollywood-style dance number. The performance includes elements of hip-hop and classical Indian styles.

Scenario 2: Selena Gomez hires a composer to add tabla and sitar to a song to give it a strong beat. She attends performances wearing Indian clothing, and composes a video that includes elements of Indian dancing. Read the rest of this entry »

The silence on this blog hasn’t been so much due to a lack of inspiration, but rather the time — or the quiet — to put it all down on paper. A lot of what I’ve had to say comes between the lines of real-life events, catching up with friends, and spending pool side time with a book.

None of these moments are particularly revelatory. In fact, they are ordinary, occasional, spur-of-the-moment flashes of joy. Like nerding out every time the John Adams theme plays at a Washington Nationals game.

So the latest Hodge Podge is a look at 500 episodes of This American Life, A few short book reviews, and a round up of a mish-mash of things my brain stopped to examine in the last two months.

This American Life at 500

It would be funny to joke that the radio show was five-hundred years old, but really five hundred episodes of top-quality storytelling is something that deserves a few lines. When I first started this blog almost four years ago my intention was to spend every week commenting on the latest TAL episode. While that hasn’t exactly come to fruition, I still find myself listening every week and thinking about the people that are profiled, their lives and what they say about living and being a citizen of these United States.

So some of my favorites from the last two years in no particular order: Read the rest of this entry »

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. -Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (August 28, 1963).

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I’d like to say that I spent my day at the edge of my seat watching the news coverage and the live streaming…but I didn’t. I spent most of my day watching my three week old niece cry, sleep and overall just be adorable.

While the television wasn’t on I did follow my Twitter feed, read reactions on Facebook, and read transcripts of the speeches by Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama. This morning I listened to the short remarks by the only still living speaker from that day in 1963: Representative John Lewis.

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When I was in graduate school I spent a lot of time reading about the technological sublime. That feeling of overwhelming fullness, sensory overload, you get when standing beneath awe-inspiring feats of human engineering. Crafted and designed by human hands these structures stand as a counterpart to the natural sublime that comes when beholding formations like the Grand Canyon and Chimney Rock.

When I stand at the edge of a city, I perform the same action, over, and over again. I close my eyes, open them and let my gaze sweep along the horizon, pinpointing the tallest structure I can see.

Then click. Snap. I take a picture.

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