Everyone had warned us. Bring a hat. Bring an umbrella. Drink water.
You will sweat.
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”→
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.
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
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.
When this post goes live you’ll find me thousands of feet in the air flying toward a week in Paris.
Paris. It sounds incredible right? I honestly think when we first booked our tickets all I could think about was food. Crepes, chocolate, pastries. Mmm. Mmm.
But then the historian (the imaginary angel that sits on my shoulder) shook me out of my mental sugar high. She reminded me that I wanted to do this trip right, to land already knowing a little about what I was about to see.
To take advantage of this visit to explore, experience, and to defy expectation.
So I prepped like I was prepping for a marathon (well a 5K) and in a month was able to read three memoirs, one history book and skim two additional titles on myth and architecture in Paris.
When 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.
A metaphor I often use when talking about the past is that of a puzzle. Getting to know the whole picture of place means fitting together a number of disparate pieces that when snapped together give you a single picture — a snapshot in time that is one in a series that make up the past.
I also approach visiting new cities through this lens. A few weeks ago as a prelude to my visit to Spokane for the National Preservation Conference, I went to Seattle to visit with some friends and family. What I ended up doing was not just visiting to a popular tourist destination but also getting a sense of the place itself.
If I had to sum up my last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico in two words it would be this: the sky. During the day it was a brilliant shade of blue, at dusk a deep shade of pink, and there were moments this past week where I thought all I had to do was reach up and capture some of it in my hand.
It was everywhere — along main roads, soaring forward when we drove around town completing errands; along the Turquoise Trail on my birthday as we made stops at ghost towns on the way to Sante Fe; and at a rehearsal dinner located high on a hill where we could see all of Albuquerque spread out before us.
Many of my posts on this blog are often connected more often than not to my thoughts about the past through books, movies, exhibits, and travel. Seeing the reflection of the past in the “stuff” we consume, produce, and leave behind.
However, sometimes I like to look past the “why” and to the “how,” to the practice of public historians — what we do well, what we should be doing, and how I can engage in this broader conversation.
This year’s annual conference for the National Council on Public History involved a convergence and a merging of ideas with the Organization of American Historians. As expected the five days in Wisconsin were filled with networking and sessions which integrated your typical academic style paper(s) with the more hands on, interpretive style of the public historian presentations.
So I thought that I would use this, my first of three [the second will come in a few days, the third on food will post in June] posts on my trips to talk about methodology — providing examples of different (or not so different) conversations through the lens of the meetings and sessions I attended.
Earlier yesterday, this post went up on the PreservationNation.org blog.
In the next two weeks I will find myself in Milwaukee, WI (where I am right now) and Ft. Worth Texas. Both trips are professional in focus, the first for my annual pilgrimage to a new US city for the National Council on Public History. This is a conference that every year introduces me to new people and new conversations.
Mentally, the historian in me battles with my inner foodie and urbanist. I’ll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to see, what to eat, and what makes these cities tick.
We hit the ground running here in Milwaukee. Not only did I get to stay at the historic Ambassador Hotel the first night, I also got to visit the Domes, three modernist greenhouses that are a part of the Marshall Park Conservatory. If you think the exterior looks cool, check out the inside….the three domes had flowers and plants from a tropical ecosystem, a desert ecosystem, and the final one, which demonstrated the human effect on landscapes and flowers.
Then we had the second annual THATCamp NCPH. If you remember from last year this is an unconference, an informal learning experience having to do with digital and new media in the humanities. The sessions I attended had to do with the future of blogging, the issues surrounding bringing scholarly publications to the digital realm, and a closer examination of branding and promotion for organizations and projects. I walked away, as usual, with a plethora of really cool websites and links.
I’m hoping to do a more analytical post about content at the end of the conference but I wanted to emphasize my goal for the next two weeks as I experience Milwaukee and travel to Texas:
I’m feeling the pull — that urge to make sure that I don’t miss a minute, a site, or a story, and to walk away from both these places seeing them as more than just a meeting room space.