The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it…history is literally present in all that we do. – James Baldwin
Over the last year or so I’ve watched as the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) rose up on the National Mall. From the outside it felt like an inspired decorative container, monolithic from afar but interwoven and detailed from close up. My impression changed once I stepped inside. Clean lines, curved staircases, and the decorative metalwork of the exterior provided an incredible sense of openness, a constant reminder as I traveled from gallery to gallery that this is a museum embedded in the landscape of the core of Washington D.C.
A foundation. A place to start.
And so in trying to frame my first NMAAHC visit I thought about writing a traditional exhibit review —discussing content, display choices, and interpretive design—but that just didn’t feel quite…right. Rather, my first visit felt incredibly emotional. In some ways indescribable, walking through the museum felt like when you peer through new glasses for the first time. Everything seemed clearer, more in tune, more complete. Continue reading “Still I Rise: The National Museum of African American History and Culture”→
A few months ago two friends of mine asked me to do a reading at thier wedding, and after I offered to write it for them they said yes. I wanted to share the piece with you along with a recording of a portion I had to cut due to time constraints (and that it didn’t quite fit in with the broader piece).
Here is the final reading from the ceremony this weekend.
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 Crosslinesand the Folger Shakespeare Library’s District Merchants– demonstrate 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.
“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.
August 14, 2006. This story begins in a stately building on the corner of 18th and Massachusetts in Dupont Circle. On this particular humid day, typical of a Washington August, a young twenty-three year old woman walked into her first day at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While the specifics of her emotions are lost to time, they are likely tinged with a combination of relief (she has a job!) and excitement (she has a job in her field!).
That was then. This is now.
I have always been a big believer in loving what you do. Every day we get out of bed and head to a workplace to spend a third of our weekly waking hours as means to support ourselves. In these hours we have a choice – to let our work become rote, a black hole of time filled with disengagement, or to find work that stimulates our mind, bringing passion and joy along for the ride. It is a luxury, perhaps, but something that I feel is essential.
This morning I introduced one of my nieces, a ten year old, to the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time. During a planned trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum we walked through Daniel’s Story – the exhibit directed toward children – and the Hall of Remembrance. When she didn’t feel comfortable going through the permanent exhibition with her parents, the two of us wandered around the National Mall talking about what she learned.
It was an important conversation for me and for her, and while I tread carefully on what details to share much of our talk centered around how Hitler intentionally separated people based on religion and other characteristics he felt were deviant (making a side connection to Harry Potter and Voldemort’s obsession with purebloods). Our conclusion was how ridiculous that assumption is because we are all, in the end, human beings.
This month’s Creative Collaboration looks at an image from S.Fell. Taken at the Baltimore Light City exhibition the image reflects the conversation from this morning. We are in the end all the same.
In the foreword of the new translation of his book Night Elie Wiesel wrote:
“In retrospect I must confess that I do not know, or no longer know, what I wanted to achieve with my words. I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer—or my life, period—would not have become what it is: that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.”
Like most American teenagers I encountered the words of Elie Wiesel in an English class. The stark white cover, Wiesel’s name in blue lettering, a shadowed image of barbed wire obscuring a singular figure: we were two years from my first visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (of which Wiesel was the founding chairman) and while I knew about the horror in abstraction, this was the first witness testimony I had ever read. Continue reading “Never shall I forget that night: On Elie Wiesel”→
This post originally appeared on History@Work. You can read it here.
My daily job at the National Trust for Historic Preservation doesn’t involve day-to-day interaction with the broader public. Rather I am a historiographer, in that in my work as a content manager for preservation professionals, I am constantly thinking about the methodology of history–how we protect, communicate, and talk about the past. At the National Council on Public History annual meeting this past April, I realized that our most successful conversations and discussions were the panels and sessions that actively included the public’s viewpoint as part of the presentation. Continue reading “Challenging the exclusive past | Challenging my inclusive past”→
The inspiration for this month is a waltz. Written by Sir Anthony Hopkins it was conducted by Andre Rieu and has quickly become one of my go to YouTube videos. The piece is at times melancholic and joyful all at the same time.
For my submission (the only one) this month I thought I would try my hand at writing a very short story where the song is an invisible character. Written on my porch as the sun set (mood, it’s all about the mood) I tried to match each section of the story with one section of the composition. Continue reading “Creative Collaboration: And The Waltz Goes On”→
A few weeks ago I wrote two separate pieces on a unique art installation at the Dupont Underground in Washington, DC. The exhibit took the plastic balls from National Building Museum’s “Beach” exhibition and turned it into an interactive work that looked at the building and re-building of structures.