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In some ways it feels like a historical document.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”

Twenty-Seventeen

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A quotation from the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I am
afraid. Folded in by the weight
of postcards and calls
links and 140 characters.
Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality  
between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.

I am
certain that I have fingers
toes, a heart with blood pumping
slowly through my veins
as do you,
and them,
and us, but those that lead find
different ways to say
You Don’t Belong.

I question
my ability
my strength for this
test.
Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles
And God cannot do all the work

And so

Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready.
I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.


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Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr put up this panel during his talk for the Arlington County Library. I wrote about that talk here.

Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:

Continue reading “Twenty-Seventeen”

Who Do I Want To Be? Art, Literature and Choosing Your Own Identity (Part II)

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In the first post of this series I wrote of how the miniseries Roots and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of the Earth and Sky tackled a simple question of individual identity amidst displacement  – “Who am I?” But there is a second question that both the show and the book addressed that looks beyond the status quo and the present revealing active identity creation. “Who do I want to be?” is a question that is both aspirational and forward looking.

And so two other art/history pieces I experienced this spring – the Smithsonian’s Crosslines and the Folger Shakespeare Library’s District Merchantsdemonstrate that not everyone wants or chooses to internalize their heritage in the same way. Rather they make it clear that answering the question “Who do I want to be?” is a combination of conscious and unconscious choices we make in the process of forging identities.

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One of the many exhibitions at Crosslines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality

Continue reading “Who Do I Want To Be? Art, Literature and Choosing Your Own Identity (Part II)”

Who Am I? Art, Literature, and the Shaping of Identity (Part I)

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“And he, Marin Djivo, younger son of a merchant? What was his life about? Trade? Clever, profitable dealings? He was from a city state that flourished by letting no one hate them enough to do anything disagreeable. Where you are situated in the world, Marin thinks, digging a grave in a Sauradian meadow, shapes how you act in the world.

Then he amends that thought: It is one of the things that does so. Rasca Tripon and Danica Gradek might frame it differently. Or the old empress living with the Daughters of Jad on Sinan Isle might do so. They are all exiles, he thinks, taken from what they were, where they were.”

–Excerpt from Children of the Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (emphasis mine)

For those of you that are fans of musical theatre the title of this piece may prompt you to belt out a singular name. A man whose identity at the moment of questioning had long been obscured by a series of numbers.

Continue reading “Who Am I? Art, Literature, and the Shaping of Identity (Part I)”

Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian

“When we worked here together we fought, scratched, and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is all about. Small incremental change every day.

Teddy Roosevelt once said ‘far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people you love.” — Leslie Knope

 

Yesterday we said goodbye to the loveable crew from Pawnee, Indiana and I literally got more emotional than I thought I would. And so, in the spirit of farewell, I pulled together my favorite things, moments, and thoughts from Pawnee, Indiana (with some helpful suggestions from my friends on Twitter and Facebook).

Continue reading “Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian”

Nobody Knows Where They Might End Up

(Nobody Knows)

It’s tough to keep a show going after ten years. Scripts start getting creative. Having a helicopter land on someone’s head becomes normal (Oh ER, when are you going to end up on Netflix?), and you lose sight of who the characters are amidst the drama.

I started watching Grey’s Anatomy in the middle of season 3 and vowed to stop watching last year when Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang departed.

Best. Laid. Plans. When the show premiered again this fall I was back, ready to hear of the happenings at Grey-Sloane Memorial Hospital including, spoiler alert, the introduction of yet another sister for Mer.

But this is not a post about Grey’s Anatomy. This is a post about diversity and storytelling from Shonda Rhimes the creator/writer of Grey’s, Private Practice, Scandal, and the executive producer of the new How to Get Away with Murder. Two weeks ago she gave an interview for the Smithsonian Associates at the National Museum of Natural History, and I thought what she had to say about diversity and storytelling was worth repeating.
Continue reading “Nobody Knows Where They Might End Up”

Damn, Victoria! History, Mystery and Whodunnit

Excerpt from the final scenes of Mulgrave Manor:

DAVIS (shaking his head): When we really first met. We were in London they had just announced the end of the war and you were there taking care of Lady Weschester….that night…it changed my life. It gave it meaning.

S. HARROW (shaking her head violently): We talked. Nothing more. You’re reading into it too much–what about Lady Victoria.

DAVIS: Damn Victoria! It is you that I love.

The invitations were sent. The silver polished. Footman stood at the ready for one of the finest soirée’s Buckinghamshire had ever known. All that was left was for the director to call action.

For the last two years I’ve participated in a murder mystery club. It started with a friend’s birthday party which was set in the 1920’s–your typical murder mystery out of a box with villains, heroes, heroines and of course……murrrrrrrrder.

Somewhere along the way three of us started to write the mysteries ourselves, taking a gander at figuring out motive, means, opportunity and a gaggle of red herrings to confuse and bewilder our guests. In the past these investigative forays took place in the Wild West, the land of fairy tales or at an intergalactic peace accord signing (guess who wrote that one). For this spring’s adventure I embraced my love of pop culture, gossip and history and set the tale on the set of a Downton Abbey rip-off called Mulgrave Manor.

Continue reading Damn, Victoria! History, Mystery and Whodunnit”

2012: Turning, Turning, Turning Through the Years

writingWhen I started this blog in 2009 I had intended for it to serve as an outlet for these words I constantly have churning in my head. Words floating around after I step out into the world, asking–begging to be written down. These words are more than just a way to express myself, they are a way for me to paint a picture, tell a story, form a narrative. They are letters that form sentences that lead to ideas.

So when I look back at my words this year, I realize that 2012 was filled with milestones. When this blog goes live it will be my 108th post*, and the nineteen posts that made up this year have a few common themes. Some were labors of love (the history of Jim Crow, and my piece on public history, the American Revolution, and 1865) while others looked to my travels from Wisconsin to Washington State. I also attended some gorgeously produced theatre productions that pushed storytelling to the next level (not to mention the big Disney buys Lucasfilm news). With every word I put down I tried to embrace the connections between what we read, see, and watch and what we think following these experiences.

Continue reading “2012: Turning, Turning, Turning Through the Years”

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.

Continue reading “Hodge Podge: Old Houses, Athletic Traditions, Parody, and Loss”

Downton Abbey and the Pull of Place in Popular Television

I’ve been angling for a reason to write about Downton Abbey on this blog, and an opportunity presented itself in this fun Friday post that went up today on the PreservationNation.org blog. You can read the post with the awesome-as-usual Downton Abbey images here but I’ve also included the text below.

PS: I also use it as an excuse to mention other awesome shows like The West Wing, LOST, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica. Because what would each of these shows be without the familiar hallways of the White House, the forests of our favorite Island, and a spaceship serving as home for a drifting civilization (or in the case of Dr. Who, the ability to hop from place to place in time)?

Downton Abbey and the Pull of Place in Popular Television

 

I think by now many of the regular readers on this blog know three things about me. I love history. I love writing about history. And I pretty much think about history, and place, and the past about 367 million times a day.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I think about the power of place and the past when doing the most mundane things — walking, cooking, and watching television.

Like many, many people, I’ve been enamored with the British period drama Downton Abbey, which just finished its second season run on PBS. For those that haven’t seen it, it begins in pre-World War I England and gives viewers a glimpse into the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants through the intervening years.

What I love about Downton Abbey is that the story centers around the estate, a magnificent house full of both grand (for the lords and ladies) and humble (for the staff) public and private spaces that serves as a mechanism for how a family and their employees lived in the early 20th century. The way the building is used over the two seasons reflects society and class as changes in women’s roles, war, and disease take its toll. But Downton is used as more than a set piece. The home is a crucial character in itself, and plays a crucial role for how each of the characters defines themselves.

This isn’t necessarily something new. After all, the whole premise of the show Cheers is to tell the story of a group of bar patrons in a particular space. Then there are three of my favorites — The West Wing, LOST, and (nerd alert) Battlestar Galactica — which are incredibly place-centric, as ninety percent of each episode occurs within their respective main locations: The White House, an island, or a giant spaceship that serves as the only defender against the enemies of humanity (try saying that three times fast).

What other shows out there use place to tell their story? We know of course that there are plenty of serials and sitcoms that use cities as the backdrop to their storylines. The stories in Mad Men, for example, are integrally tied to their place in mid-century New York.

The point, perhaps, that I am trying to make is that as a preservationist and a historian, I’m drawn to shows that integrate where they are with the people whose lives intersect in those spaces. And it’s the same for the real world, since the places we save are often inherently important because of the mark of individuals or groups on them, or our own modern interactions or associations with them.

I recently watched an episode of Dr. Who (a show with a time-traveling theme) where the main character presents a theory that there are fixed points in time that can never change — that events will always happen in this time and this place no matter what tries to influence them. It’s a fanciful idea, one that appeals to me as a historian because of how we think about the “power of place” — that an important way that we can tell the story of our past and make it tangible is by recognizing the confluence of people, places, and events in time.

What do you think? Do you love a television show because it reminds you of history, place, or preservation? Sound off below!