How do you tell the history of a place throughout time that seamlessly integrates other forms of expression?
We can tell the basic story of the past — the who, what, when, where, and why, but how can we account for a story where human expression and connections to those events become as important as the events being described. Equally critical — are the digital tools, and methods we can use to communicate these ideas in our work to tell the full American story.
I wish I had a great excuse. A reason why this post (that no one is really looking for but me) is only going up today.
There are a lot of good reasons to put the blame on. On being too busy. On the state of the world. On the unexpected. On letting fear of change effect the way I feel, think, act. On a surprising lack of will power. On procrastination. On having nothing to say.
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.