“That Would Be Good Both Going and Coming Back”
The title of today’s post derives from the penultimate line in Robert Frost’s “Birches.” It was also the title of the kickoff to the 2012 edition of Developing History Leaders @SHA.
When John Durel began his tenure as SHA Coordinator, he instituted a new wrinkle to the program, a keynote address from a senior leader in the history field on the first Sunday of SHA.
This past year, Bill Tramposch, Executive Director of the Nantucket Historical Association, delivered our keynote address which we have just published in the latest issue of AASLH’s History News magazine.
Here is an excerpt from Bill’s address to the SHA Class of 2012:
This essay is about the importance of white space. Like an episode of Seinfeld (without the humor), this piece is about nothing, and the importance of nothing. Enjoy it. There are no footnotes here, no expostulation on decades of scholarly research into museum education theory, just thirty-five years of observation, first as an interpreter and now as a director, with a lot of reverent looking-on in-between.
Magic can occur in our halls and within our sites, and this magic implores us to have a faith in that which cannot be measured, nor should be. Trust the silence. Trust the white space in which deep and enduring connections are being made in front of our very eyes. Trust the settings and ambiance we offer our guests. Trust and wait, and while waiting, look at what some great writers have said. We can measure many things, and we increasingly do, but our utmost respect must go towards that which defies measure.
Graduates of SHA often note that one of the program’s main benefits is access to faculty who are some of the top leaders in the field of history. Bill’s essay reinforces that notion. I hope you’ll take the time to reflect with Bill on the white spaces in your own institution and career path and consider SHA’s role in it. Frost’s conclusion in “Birches” is apropos to Bill’s central thesis, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” As history professionals, we would be wise to heed that wisdom.
p.s.: If you want a real treat, here is the great Robert Frost reciting “Birches.”