Monday, September 26, 2011
September 26, 2011: The Post of the Seven Links
I spent a very enjoyable and productive couple hours in Salem, Massachusetts this past Friday, chatting with an AmericanStudies colleague (on whom more momentarily) there, and getting to see a bit of the amazing living history museum that is much of the city’s historic district. It’s given me some exciting ideas for next spring New England American Studies Association’s Spring Colloquium, details I’m sure I’ll be sharing in this space as they develop. For today, I wanted to highlight seven of the places and people that make Salem such an exciting AmericanStudies space (none of which focus on witches!):
1) The House of the Seven Gables: The source for Hawthorne’s 1851 novel has long been, as I learned this past week, much more than just a historic residence—it was turned into a settlement house (a la Jane Addams) at the same time that it became a historic recreation. And the current Museum very successfully continues both of those legacies, remembering the past while partnering with community organizations and efforts in the present.
2) The Friendship: The Salem Maritime National Historic Site is a rich AmericanStudies resource for a variety of reasons, but none is more exemplary than the recreation of Friendship, a 1797 merchant vessel. Not only is the recreated ship entirely seagoing, but it’s docked next to an equally authentically recreated historic warehouse, creating a pitch-perfect little glimpse of an 18th century New England port.
3) St. Joseph Hall: As the Italian organ-grinder in Hawthorne’s novel illustrates, Salem has long included a multi-national immigrant community. But it was really around the last few decades of the 19th century and first few of the 20th century that Salem’s numerous ethnic neighborhoods blossomed, and the National Park Service has begun turning the waterfront St. Joseph Hall into a living tribute to one such community, the Polish neighborhood. It’s a work in progress, but a great part of the city’s continuing efforts to celebrate its multi-ethnic heritage and embrace its continued cross-cultural identity.
4) Peabody Essex Museum: The Peabody Essex is first and foremost an art and culture museum, and a strong one as well as one of our nation’s oldest. But as the “Learn and Play” category on the Museum’s website highlights, it’s also working hard to become a more interactive and dialogic experience, not only for its youngest visitors but in a variety of exhibits and areas for everybody. And if you click on “Exhibitions,” it’ll quickly become clear that the Museum’s evolving and compelling definition of art and culture is well able to keep pace with 21st century America’s transnational and multimedia identity.
5) Salem State University’s American Studies Concentration: Salem State is the only other University in the State U. system to offer an AmericanStudies concentration, making it and my own Fitchburg State an important potential partnership as folks like me (and my colleague at link #6) continue our efforts to grow AmericanStudies programs and conversations in that state and region. Like FSU’s Salem State’s isn’t a full separate major yet, but its existence signals both a core group of faculty and students connected to these conversations and an important starting point and model for that continued growth and expansion. I look forward to working with them a lot more, and particularly with…
6) Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello: Liz is the Interdisciplinary Studies faculty member who directs SSU’s American Studies concentration, but she’s also got her hand in just about every aspect of the city’s historical and AmericanStudies efforts, and was my guide for Friday’s tour. And as her biography and blog at the Public Humanist site (linked) illustrate, she’s also deeply committed to the kinds of public scholarly engagements and dialogues toward which I’m increasingly and passionately moving in my own work these days. Just a great local and regional AmericanStudies voice, and one with whom I look forward to working a lot more.
7) The Daltons: Maggi Smith-Dalton is, among other lead roles in Salem and AmericanStudies efforts, the president of the Salem History Society and the editor of the Boston Globe’s online “History Time” series to which I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute a few columns over the last few months. But it’s in her joint musical performance, history, education, and outreach work with her husband Jim Dalton that she’s doing some of the most innovative, engaging, and important AmericanStudies work in the area and region. It’s hard to capture that kind of performative AmericanStudies work in a website, and if you get a chance to hear ‘em live you most definitely should—but as with all seven of these places and people, the links can at least give you a sense of Salem’s rich and ongoing public scholarly identity.
PS. Any places or people whose AmericanStudies conversations or contributions you’d highlight?