Herculaneum & Pompeii: Fingerprints on the Earth

Everyone had warned us. Bring a hat. Bring an umbrella. Drink water.

You will sweat.

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One of the many side streets in Pompeii.  | Credit: Priya Chhaya

Day two into thirty-three days of inspiration I faced dehydration and a persistent fight against bouts of jet lag induced exhaustion to fulfill a dream. On day two I visited the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii where the heat shimmered before me, an undulating, endless wave of haze. I could almost touch the air as it moved, and when the heat overwhelmed and I struggled to breathe, water always saved the day.  Despite all this, where my body rebelled against exterior influences begging for the air-conditioning and fans, my mind was filled with exhilaration .  Continue reading “Herculaneum & Pompeii: Fingerprints on the Earth”

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Soul of a Nation at the Tate Modern

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
Brothers in the instant replay
There will be no pictures of young being
Run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still life of
Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a red, black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the right occasion
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and
Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant
and Women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day

The revolution will not be televised

—from The Revolution will not be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

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Black Unity, Elizabeth Catlett. This wooden sculpture shaped into the hand gesture of the Black Power movement, can be found in Soul of a Nation, an exhibition I attended at the Tate Modern in London. The back of the sculpture is a relief of two faces. You can find it in the section entitled “Figuring Black Power.”

During my travels abroad this summer I tried to keep an eye out for examples of multidisciplinary storytelling. Near the end of my trip I visited the Tate Modern in London and attended an exhibition about art during the Black Power movement. A short review would simply say that Soul of a Nation is stunning, not only because of the way in which the exhibition mixes print, sculpture, and photography to show the visual culture of the movement’s history, but also how artists illustrated emotion and meaning through their work.

Continue reading “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Soul of a Nation at the Tate Modern”

One Foot in Front of the Other: Defining Terms

In my book, The Heart of the River, I wrote that “every adventure starts the same way, with one foot in front of the other.” After averaging 7 miles (14k steps) a day for the last month, I can testify that I embraced my adventure through formal/informal theatrical performances, walking tours, museum visits, historic site wanderings and so, much, more. It wasn’t merely the steps that made a leap forward, but also my mind as I started to pull on different threads of my project on storytelling, trying to find the ways in which these pieces fit and slotted together.

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Images in this post represent the different ways you could tell the story of my trip to Italy. This first image is the ceiling of the Dumo di Siena in Tuscany.

As a reminder here are the four research questions that I presented a few months ago:

  1. What are the ways in which history and culture are being presented in an increasingly digital world?
  2. In what ways do digital projects dealing with art, music, and the past connect with the public beyond a momentary impression?
  3. What are some of the innovative ways in which the arts and history intersect to tell a narrative – both offline and online? How can we create a more fully immersive experience for the user?
  4. How do various historical presentations and cultural mechanisms relate and effect individual and collective identity?

Continue reading “One Foot in Front of the Other: Defining Terms”

The Layered Past, Italian Style

It’s difficult to describe the way Italy inspires. Perhaps it is the unchecked eating of pasta and gelato, or the way we learned to appreciate beautiful vistas amidst ungodly heat (heat wave code name: Lucifer).

Whatever it is, my feet hate me, but my heart is soaring. There is a lot to tell from this trip so far, but I’ll start with one pertinent to my storytelling project.

From the outset of this project my first lesson about studying the past sketched out the rough edge of my frame of reference. More specifically, that in addition to written chronicles, one of our primary sources of evidence comes from the stratigraphic layers written in the earth.

I grew up comparing the work of archaeologists to time traveling, where each layer took us further back through the ages, revealing how each era built and settled upon the times before.

Continue reading “The Layered Past, Italian Style”

From Europe, With Love

And so it begins. Over the last two months I have been interviewing friends, strangers, and colleagues about my project on interdisciplinary storytelling. Their words have been thoughtful, engaging, and challenged the way I think about my work. While I will do more interviews when I return I am now leaving for a month long European adventure – for inspiration and wonder. While I will conduct more interviews in September for now I am going to digest what I’ve heard so far and see where I go. In the meantime, if you consider yourself a storyteller make sure to fill out my survey and tell me about your art.

Ciao, for now.

(Seven) With or Without You

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The Joshua Tree

In 2001 I attended one of my first big rock concerts at what was the MCI Center in Washington, DC. While a great band with an amazing repertoire I was (at the time) a really a big fan of their most recent album. It was a great concert. I had a lot of fun.

Five months later I went back for more. This time, we were a little further north at the Baltimore Arena and unlike the first concert which was an enjoyable experience, this night filled an emotional need, converting me for life. The band, of course, was U2 and that second concert was one month and eight days after the horror of 9/11. I didn’t realize it until I walked out of the Arena but those two hours helped make sense of a month of chaos and insanity. Continue reading “(Seven) With or Without You”

Visual Storytelling: Tone, Texture, and Scale in Westeros

In a few weeks fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will embark on the second to last season of a show that redefined how we imagine new worlds on television. While we’ve long known about the different cultures in Westeros through the written word, seeing these stories on the screen has resulted in an entirely new visual experience.

A view of Cave 16 at the Ellora Caves in India. Circa 8th Century. This served as one of the artistic influences for the Hall of Faces in the House of Black and White. | Credit: Santanu Sen on Flickr via Creative Commons

One of my favorite things about the show has always been the intricate sets and staging which was the subject last week of a presentation at the National Museum of the American Indian with Game of Thrones Art Director Deborah Riley. Continue reading “Visual Storytelling: Tone, Texture, and Scale in Westeros”

Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World

Update 8/2/2017: Do you consider yourself a storyteller (a dancer, a musician, an artist, a writer)? Make sure to fill out my survey!

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here. —Sue Monk Kidd in the Secret Life of Bees

As a public historian and preservationist, I have always seen our work as inherently interdisciplinary, recognizing that in the increasingly digital world we live in, the need to use audio, video, and text to communicate our mission has become paramount.

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Now, nearly, eleven years into my career at the National Trust for Historic Preservation I plan on jumping in feet first into the world of storytelling and engage with digital (and in person) storytellers across a variety of disciplines and fields. In doing so I hope to gain a sense of best practices and tools that can help connect the public to the histories of all Americans.

This project is part of a two month sabbatical from the National Trust that will take place this coming August and September (see timeline below). The hope is to not just look at storytelling in the history field – but also the wider field of humanities and beyond.  At the end I hope to have gained a sense of how to construct a story that is richer, broader, and meaningful – without creating a cacophony that overwhelms the senses. Continue reading “Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World”

Dear William Shakespeare

April 24, 2017

Dear William,

When I first decided to write you a letter, I figured I would craft it in your favorite meter. After all, if you are writing a love letter to William Shakespeare, iambic pentameter feels like the right choice to make.

But here’s a reality check: I am terrible at it, though I will admit I really like saying the phrase because it sounds like something out of the Jabberwocky — familiar, yet completely made up.

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A staging of Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare Theatre Company involved an on stage intermission of live music with the audience.

(Jabberwocky is an amazing poem, the things you miss when you die in 1616.)

Anyway.

Happy birthday (a day late)! For being just over 450 years old you’re still breaking hearts, causing drama, and encouraging laughter around the world. As we wrap up marking the 400th year of your death (sorry!) I wanted to tell you how I felt.

Whew. I’m a little nervous, as I’ve never expressed my love to a dead playwright before. Continue reading “Dear William Shakespeare”

Journey to the Past: Timeless & the History Film Forum

Many fans of fantasy and sci-fi fall into two different camps: those who love time travel and those who don’t. For those who love it, suspension of belief is sufficient to get through the paradoxes that these narratives develop over time. The inverse is true for those who abhor stories that change the past, because repercussions from the butterfly effect leads to stories that are convoluted and messy.

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I thought about this the other day when watching Rogue One, last year’s Star Wars movie about a group of rebels plotting to retrieve the plans for the first Death Star.  While thrilling in its own right it is only through the final minutes (the final, last ditch, effort to escape Darth Vader) where we see the connective tissue between this film and 1977’s A New Hope.

In some ways it feels like a historical document. A primary source that fills in a missing piece — why everyone fears Darth Vader, just how desperate Princess Leia was to get the plans away from her ship, the absolute critical nature of C3PO and R2D2’s mission. It puts things into perspective and provides insight into a story that captured my imagination for the past twenty years. Continue reading “Journey to the Past: Timeless & the History Film Forum”