While in the process of trying to pull together a reflective piece on Hamilton as public history, my friend Sarah H. had a dream where she saw me rewriting the lyrics to “Ten Duel Commandments.”
What follows is the first of three completely different posts on the musical. You should be aware I wrote “Ten Ham Commandments” on a five-hour bus ride between DC and Newark, and in doing so I now have a reinforced appreciation for Lin Manuel Miranda’s skills. Seven was ridiculously hard to re-write (internal rhymes!), and refers to a response Miranda gave during his recent interview at the National Museum of American History about what he wanted his own legacy to be. You can listen and read the original lyrics here – with annotations. Thanks to Sarah H. for helping me edit. In the end this parody is really about how much Hamilton connects with a more inclusive view of the past. Continue reading “Ten Ham Commandments”→
It’s been over a week and I’m still thinking about the Slate Academy symposium “How Do We Get Americans to Talk Honestly about Slavery.” Why? It’s not just because the subject matter resonates with a lot of current events on race and class. It’s not just because the panel mimicked how I think about public history i.e. through a broader lens of objects, oral histories, literature, and popular culture. Rather, it is because the conversation presented to us represents a lesson on how to talk honestly about the entire past, period.
A culmination of a podcasting series for Slate Academy the live symposium brought together experiential historians, museum professionals, divers, authors, critics, and a pop culture icon to investigate the process of myth-making surrounding slavery. The strength of the symposium lay in participants ability to delve beneath the surface of history to identify ways to encourage a dialogue in the face of resistance. To investigate, as culinary historian Michael Twitty says, how “slavery is not a blip, but a chronic condition.” Continue reading “Talking Honestly About the Past”→
Who owns the past? Who controls it and shapes the way it is told? What happens when intentional and unintentional omissions support one version of the past at the expense of another?
As one of the essential underpinnings of the historical profession we are taught to think through issues of authority at all levels. We are trained to recognize the role and nature of power not only in the creation of historical narrative, but also in our own interpretations.
At “History on the Edge,” the 2015 annual meeting of the National Council on Public History I heard attendees directly and indirectly discuss various forms of historical authority. I offer three statements to summarize the discussions:
Avenues for historical authority continue to expand.
We need to become better communicators about our profession (in effect to re-gain the historical authority we seem to be losing).
That complex issues of authority still exist as we continue to work to create a more inclusive historical narrative.
This past April I was in a small exhibit space at the Country Music Hall of Fame learning the history of country music through the years. There were CMA awards and costumes, record covers and photographs. In front of me was a screen cycling through the songs of the featured artist. As it shifted to a new song first my foot began to tap, then my head began to bob, and though I was dutifully avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room I knew I wasn’t the only one.
And then we just started to sing:
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”
Twenty-four hours ago while, on a bus to New York City, I wrote a blog post which I probably will never share beyond my family. Incredibly pessimistic, the post reflected on heritage, hate, and deflection born out of frustration and my own anger at another tragic series of deaths.
Then today happened. Not only did we see that #lovewins, but we heard President Obama, in his eulogy to Reverend Pinckney, proclaim:
I am trying to write shorter blog posts so here is my quick, fifteen-second, breakdown of the new The Force Awakens trailer. Hell. Yes.
ONE. Sand. Sand. Sand. BOOM. That buried star destroyer made me think of the Lusankya buried beneath the city of Coruscant — what happens to the detritus of these massive spaceships after battle? I guess they don’t all burn up in the atmosphere. Relics of a time gone past? Really, what a spectacular visual.
TWO. The voiceover. “The Force is strong in my family. My father has it… I have it… my sister has it… you have that power, too.” Again we are seeing the blackened helmet of a father who fell so far before gaining redemption.
In eighth grade science class my friend Tracy slid me a folded piece of notebook paper. Scrawled across the top were the words “Star Wars Expanded Universe and Ratings” or something like that. On this paper she had painstakingly written out the name of each of the books marking each in turn with a series of stars. One for Children of the Jedi. Five for The Last Command. A blueprint for a newly inducted fan.
Soon I found myself devouring each book as it came along. Wanting to stay current, and let’s be honest, to know everything. In 1995, the internet was in its infancy, and my sphere of conversation on this topic was limited. But, boy, did I read.
I read regularly until the end of the New Jedi Order. Then things took a turn towards darkness. bugs, strange adventures, twisted Solo children. So I moved on, returning occasionally for a book by Timothy Zahn and to read about Mara’s demise firsthand. I felt like I owed it to her to read about her death, to pay my last respects.
Despite all this the internet kept me informed and it was enough. A single toe in a larger pond.
Let’s get this out of the way: I am hopeful. Cautiously optimistic. Filled with anticipation. Even thrilled now that we have three films in three years.
Seriously all — ROGUE ONE. Even if it isn’t linked to Michael Stackpole/Aaron Allston, the idea alone… Whew.
Then there was a notice about the new books, including a blurb about Star Wars: Aftermath, and there it was: an unexpected twinge next to my heart, a sudden moment of loss.
I have a theory about why we are attracted to epic storytelling. It’s all about the history. However, for many that past is not our past, but rather history created in the minds and imaginations of writers around the world.
For an example we should look no further than the incredible popularity of Game of Thrones. A medieval fantasy filled with political jockeying, power struggles, zombie like ice walkers, and dragons. A story nerds have been following long before it ever hit the small screen. Now others are discovering the show and going back to read the novels and get more out of this world that George R.R.Martin created.