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Category: Social

Legacies

I like to say that I am a second-generation digital humanist. My father, George H. Brett II, became interested in computers in the late 1970s,…

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Week 13: Scholarly Communication and Open Access Open Source

When I started my Masters program at the University of Edinburgh, I had an idea – an ideal – of what Grad School would be like. I envisioned intellectual conversations about history, art, theatre, literature, and science happening in the flat at dinner, over a cup of coffee, or a late night beer. I believed that to enter Graduate School was to enter a realm of scholarly discussion and inquiry.

The reality of my MSc was that, outside of class, these conversations happened only with a handful of people: a few fellow students, occasionally one who lived in my block of flats, and frequent conversations about culture and cultural differences with my friends, a computer programmer and a translator.

I wanted to open with the above not to complain but to point out the importance of scholarly communication. Most academics/scholars benefit from and crave conversation with other scholars, about the topics which we study and about intellectual subjects in general. One of my main activities on Twitter is following conversations about digital history and humanities.

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The Donor Side

This past week I participated in the museum donation process from the other side – the donor side. My father was donating some of the papers of his father and grandfather to a military museum, and my sister and I joined him.

The initial meeting with members of the collections and research departments was relatively familiar to me, having witnessed it happening in my own department when I was at the historic house museum. They explained the process of accession – slightly different from what I was used to – and we talked about the content and history of the 2 trunks, display table, and assorted files and scrapbooks. They were very excited about some of the material, and sensitive to the fact that it was sort of hard for us to let it all go. They are, however, going to digitize everything, and we’ll get a pdf of the finding aid once it’s complete.

The best part of it all, however, wasn’t even on the original itenerary. Dad of course mentioned that I had just worked in a curatorial department, which led to some friendly colleague chat with the research guys. They suggested that, after visiting my great-grandfather’s aircraft (undergoing restoration), we visit their office building, also the collections storage site.

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Listening and hearing

Last night, I attended a “Listen…and be Heard” session hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (yes, I am Episcopalian). The session was very productive as a member of the diocese – I went feeling nervous and left feeling very respected and respectful. I also went into it intrigued by the process, and I think it could be used by public history and preservation communities when dealing with difficult issues.

Here’s how it worked: everyone showed up and was given a name tag with a little number on it. The number was for our small groups, which came later. The small groups didn’t end up quite as mixed as they might have, despite the fact that if you came in a clump they tried to give everyone a different number. I think so many people walked in solo that it affected the random-mixing nature.

Anyway, there was coffee and cookies as we waited for the session to begin. Eventually (well, at the scheduled start time), we all gathered in the sanctuary where the Bishop addressed the crowd. We opened with a prayer, and then he talked a little about how the process of the listening sessions was developed, and about what the session were and were not. A priest who is part of the administration of the Diocese (I cannot recall her name) gave us some instructions. She said that anyone whose group was in an area with other groups and where they might have trouble hearing should come see her and they would be switched to one in a quieter location, which I thought was an excellent concession to the older members of the crowd. Then we broke into our small groups.

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My Grandfather

My paternal grandfather died on Saturday. He turned 87 at the beginning of this month.

I’m doing my best not to focus on the loss, on the fact that (more than likely) whoever I marry will never have met my wonderful grandfather, and think instead about what time I did have with him. After all, my maternal grandfather died when I was about four years old, and my memories of him are limited to an impression of pale plaid and beige, of the smell of pipe tobacco, and an overall sense of being loved. Which is wonderful, but different from the memories of a man who I knew for almost thirty years.

My grandfather was a living connection to the events of the 20th century. Not just for me – a few years ago he sent me a clipping from his local paper, talking about the travelling portion of the Vietnam Memorial Wall and how Vietnam vets were talking with the junior high kids, helping them to understand the reality of that history. My grandfather was named in the article, and his picture was there too. I have that clipping somewhere. He loved talking about history, whether it was his, our family’s, or the world’s.

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One man’s past is another man’s present

The last two days I have heard things on the local NPR station which very clearly brought to my attention how things I consider to be very much The Past are still The Present for others.

The first was not a full story, but the lead for a story later on (which I didn’t hear). It was about politicians in some state running for office and in the sound clip one of the Republican candidates was railing against the evils of Socialism. The second was about a group of people of faith, Pastors for Peace, who go to Cuba in violation of and protest against the ban on travel. The reporter mentioned that there is legislation to try and soften the embargoes, but that an Anti-Communist lobby group is fighting to keep things as they are.

From a purely logical standpoint, I understand that the reasons behind the concerns. I know that the Baby Boomers and those before them, who make up a great deal of the “Powers That Be,” still carry the emotional weight of the Cold War. For me, however, that war is history, the past, something to be learned from, not something to be continued.

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