Hodge Podge: Old Houses, Athletic Traditions, Parody, and Loss

It’s been a busy summer. I’ve ended up having a lot more vacations then expected (which is great) and not enough time to work on some upgrades to the blog that I wanted (which is not so great). I did however manage to purchase a domain name so this blog is now thisiswhatcomesnext.com. Other changes should come in early fall.

This month’s Hodge Podge is what its always been. A collection of thoughts. A sense of appreciation. A tribute. It’s also a bit random with no clear connective tissue beyond the history and links to storytelling. I end this post with a collection of links because when I haven’t been writing here I have been writing for PreservationNation.org, Fangirl, and Homespun.

The Life and Times of Carter’s Grove

I have some random memories of my time in Williamsburg. A bright clear day, a reconstructed fort and the voice of Ivor Noel Hume coming from a barrel, narrating the story of Wolstenhome Town. That is how I remember Carter’s Grove. A few weeks ago the Washington Post posted an article that documented the home’s demise in conjunction with the man that was supposed to save it. The article does not paint a pretty picture, and I’ll admit I was shocked to hear about the disrepair.

Having spent four years of my life in Williamsburg I am attached to the bricks and mortar that tell the region’s colonial past, but it is a hard time for historic houses and has been for a long while.

In the end though, the metaphor of the disrepair was magnified by the fall of one specific man. And a few weeks later, an editor from the org where I work posted on PreservationNation made things a little clearer, and less consumed by the drama of the narrative that the Washington Postwas trying to tell. (Read the comments for one by Ivor Noel Hume about what happened to the museum and Wolstenhome Town).

The house, while not as dire as initially portrayed, still has some critical issues, and I am sad for the loss of the archaeological museum that I learned so much from.

Random Williamsburg Links: William & Mary found a Civil War site and aNicole Moore’s (of Interpreting Slave Life) honest take on Colonial Williamsburg.

Going for the Gold, Silver, and Bronze: The Opening & Closing Ceremonies in London

Yes. England is not China. Both nations hold an element of culture and individualized history that makes them distinct. There is no way that China’s opening and closing ceremonies will ever be replicated–the grand spectacle, the flashes of color and drums, and music all amazingly choreographed–a great memory that will be a comparison for all Olympic games to come.

But let’s talk about London 2012. The thing I love about the opening and closing ceremonies is the glimpse into what makes a nation. So England chose to go with sound–from the sounds of industry (clanking, wailing, whooshing), that of the digital world as a means of showing the world that it was a quirky nation — stoic, amusing, yet fully in the modern era.

As for the closing ceremony, we were once again awash in noise, musical notes, traffic and a noise of visual spectacle highlighting the musical history of this island.

And the symbolism for me of the cauldron, of many nations coming together into a single flame, each individual and unique, might have been one of the more impressive elements of the entire production.

So no, not China, but a show that illustrated Britain’s history on its own terms.

Another Civil War: A Community Ashokan Farewell.

Ken Burns has a formula. A groundswell of music underscoring the reading of an emotional memoir, a tale of a fight so brutal that friends are pitted against friends.

Last season, the NBC television show Community captured his method in 25 minutes of comedy perfection. Troy and Abed, once friends, found themselves on opposite sides of a fight for a Guinness World Record. One supported Blanketsburg, the other Pillowtown (Forts made out of Pillows and Blankets). What followed was a documentary style episode that followed the fight, battle to battle, complete with Burns like voiceovers of primary sources (text messages) against slow, meandering stringed ballads. (Watch the trailer here.)

It was awesome. A parody that looked at how we tell the story of battles and real life encounters with harrowing periods of history. Aside from entertainment, this half hour stripped of real history, made clear the mechanisms of a documentary. It underscores the difficulty of maintaining a truer narrative rather than one where these tools are employed to construct a compelling story. By seeing the voiceovers, the music, you are left to reflect on how much of what we see in documentary is real, and how much is a subtle construction. And like all tools of the public history trade, how do we find the line where the story we are telling is about pushing an emotion, rather than telling a story that is true.

A Moment of Silence

I am always clear on this blog when I’ve been influenced and inspired. As a graduate student I read a book by an anthropologist–a book about the history we do not see, the history that we can feel, can sense, but do not articulate. In Silencing the Past, Michel-Rolph Trouillot talked of those silences, and the oppression of histories–forcing a young graduate student to look at the world we live in, the world we silence as individuals and as nations–in a whole new light.

He states in his first chapter (The Power in the Story): “Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives) and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).” At each of these moments, we make choices, determinations, of what is worthy for remembrance, and what is not.

What are the stories that we discard, as we write new, revised, histories? Whose power determines that story? Trouillot deserves a blog post of his own, but I wanted to recognize, in the weeks since his passing, his influence on how I look at the historical narrative.

And finally, to David Rakoff who told another kind of story through the texture of his voice on This American Life and other programs. Listen to him here, this other teller of tales who the world lost last week.

How we tell our story, and what stories we choose to tell. It all matters.

Other Stories:

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