Monthly Archives: October 2015

Memory is a Tricky Thing

We all have a story about the day we were born, or the day of our adoption as in my daughter’s case. My father was a captain in the Army Medical Corps stationed in Panama in the mid 1960s. Yes, I know, that tells you how old I am. My mother had accompanied him, thank goodness, or where would I be?

Bill & Molly Parke in Panama, 1965

Bill & Molly Parke in Panama, 1965

Every year on my birthday, my dad used to recount the morning of my birth. I would hear how the Army physician who delivered me would not let my father in the delivery room, even though he was also a doctor. My dad would love to tell me about seeing the most beautiful sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and how rare that is in the Americas, perhaps even unique. My mother’s parents and maternal grandparents had traveled to Panama on a freighter to be there for my arrival…I was late, I might add, so their visit lasted a month. My parents’ stories from Panama are wonderful, especially the ones about me, of course. Every year on my birthday, however, I used to think, “Oh no. Here comes the story about the sunrise.”

Memory projects are so incredibly valuable, and, sadly, too many times we realize that when it’s too late. I joined the field during what seemed like the heyday of the oral history movement. This was before everyone had a computer, so it was cassette tape recorders. Today, programs like StoryCorps on NPR are keeping that flame not only lit, but well-fueled. I love StoryCorps, so I was thrilled to learn last fall that StoryCorps founder Dave Isay had been honored with the 2015 TED Award.

Dave Isay

Dave Isay

How wonderfully validating!  Isay plans to use the award to take StoryCorps global and has developed the StoryCorps app. We’ve come a long way from the cassette tape recorder. Thank you, StoryCorps! Check out Isay’s TED Talk to hear more.

Following the StoryCorps model, WVPE Public Radio in South Bend, Indiana has been airing South Bend Stories celebrating the city’s 150th anniversary. And the work of countless, dedicated people in museums and libraries across the nation contribute daily to recording and preserving the everyday stories of the men and women who make our communities so vibrant.

Picture 3 - Leadership In History logoYou simply need to scroll through the list of AASLH 2015 Leadership in History Award winners to see that the stories we collect and recount continue to inspire our communities. So don’t wait another season. Take that shelved project and get that story written down, or recorded or filmed. Useful resources abound. Help may be found at StoryCorps, on the AASLH website here and at Groundswell among many others.

Isay says that these stories are about listening.

From the TED blog post in the link above we are reminded, “But interestingly, while ‘story’ is in the name, Isay sees StoryCorps as primarily about listening. ‘Listening is generosity,’ he tells us. ‘Listening to someone else closely is one of the most valuable gifts we can give to another human being.’” Don’t miss the chance to listen this Thanksgiving and over the coming winter holidays.

My father is 80 now. He suffers from dementia. He often forgets who I am. I would give anything for my dad to tell me one more time…or 100 more times….about the sunrise the day I was born.

Julie Parke
SHA Class of 1999

Class of 2015, and a visit with Denny O’Toole

Developing History Leaders @SHA gets underway at the end of this week. The Class of 2015 will gather in Indianapolis to begin three weeks of learning and dialogue about the many ways we bring history to communities across the country. A distinguishing characteristic of this year’s class is its geographic spread, with greater representation from the West than is usually the case. This class includes students from Texas, California, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, and the Yukon Territory in Canada.

While in Santa Fe last week visiting our son, Anita and I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Denny and Trudy O’Toole. For those who don’t know, Denny was the coordinator of SHA prior to my taking the position in 2010. The O’Toole scholarship is named in his honor. Denny was a leader in our field for decades, and inspired and influenced many who now lead and work in history organizations. It has been an honor for me to follow in his footsteps.

Denny was eager to hear about the 2015 class. We talked about what has changed, and what has not, since he passed the baton. Some faculty continue to serve – Conny Graft on evaluation, Barbara Franco and Laura Roberts on organizational change, Kent Whitworth on team building – and we continue to engage with many of the same local organizations – the Indiana Medical History Museum, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, and Conner Prairie, where we will again participate in “Follow the North Star.” John Herbst and the amazing staff at the Indiana Historical Society continue to host the seminar and provide invaluable support.

Of course, much has changed. Every year there are a few new topics in response to student suggestions and emerging new practices. This year, building on changes made over the past two or three years, we will place emphasis on historical interpretation of contested history. David Young from Cliveden of the National Trust will frame the issues by addressing the role of public history in communities today; Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko from the Abby Museum will present her approach to decolonization in working with the native peoples of Maine; and Sarah Pharaon from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience will engage the students in methods of dialogue when addressing difficult topics.

We will also continue to tackle the basic challenges of leadership of history organizations: building financially sustainable organizations, stewarding collections, engaging communities, and leading change. Also, a number of the faculty have been involved in the History Relevance Campaign, so we’ll have frequent discussions about the value of history in contemporary life.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what this year’s class thinks and has to say about public history and the work we do to bring history to people in our communities. See you in Indy!

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