MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 22, 2013: Book Talk Thoughts: U of Maine

[Now that my year of book talks has kicked off in earnest, I wanted to follow up a few of the talks I’ve had the opportunity to give so far, as well as look ahead to the next one and beyond. If you have thoughts, questions, or takes on these talks, such talks in general, or any related issues, I’d love to hear them! And if you were at any of these talks, please say hi and share your thoughts too!]
On two very distinct and equally compelling connections in the Pine Tree State, and what they helped me to see.
One of the most exciting and largely unanticipated side effects of my book talks has been how much they’ve helped me connect to people and places with which I might not otherwise have gotten in contact, and from which I’ve already learned so much. The Museum of the Chinese in America about which I wrote yesterday represents one type of connection, but so do the many academic institutions and colleagues with which I’ve been fortunate enough to share the book. In one trip up to my northern neighbors at the University of Maine, I was able to make two distinct and equally beneficial kinds of connections: to an AmericanStudies colleague whose class offered new perspectives on the discipline; and to an inspiring scholarly space that helped me think of my project in an entirely new light.
The colleague, who helped bring me to the university and set up both events, is Sarah Hentges, who teaches American Studies and a ton of other interdisciplinary stuff at U of Maine, and who has published multiple interesting American Studies books. I had the opportunity to talk to, and then participate in a discussion on Manning Marable’s Living Black History with, the students in Sarah’s Introduction to American Studies course, and the experience was inspiring and envigorating on a number of levels. I would particularly highlight the way in which the students, mostly I believe local kids from northern Maine, brought their own identities and perspectives to bear on not only Marable’s book, but also core AmericanStudies questions and themes, such as how and why we should remember our most complex and challenging national histories. With Sarah as their guide, these students are charting their own path into AmericanStudies, and it was exciting to share a couple hours with them as they did so.
Earlier in the same day, I got to give my book talk at a truly unique space on the U of Maine Augusta campus: the Holocaust and Human Rights Center (HHRC) of Maine. The HHRC was created thanks to an endowment from a local resident who also happens to be a Holocaust survivor, and from its design to its exhibits, the building continually took me by surprise during my too-brief time there. I was particularly struck by one wall on which the words of Holocaust survivors had been written, eerily paralleling my talk’s focus on the Angel Island poetry. I don’t mean to equate Angel Island, or any American experience, to the Holocaust—such equations aren’t of much use in either direction—but of course the principle of a center dedicated to the Holocaust and human rights is that there are issues which transcend any event, even the most horrific ones, and become broader questions and conversations to which all people are connected. Talking about my book at the HHRC helped me to imagine how my focal histories and stories might link with such questions as well, a provocative and potent frame with which I’m still grappling weeks later.
Next talk follow up tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think?

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