Friday, May 18, 2012
May 18, 2012: NEASA Colloquium Highlights, Part Five
[On Saturday, May 12th, I had the honor to run the second annual New England ASA Spring Colloquium. We met in Salem, first at The House of the Seven Gables and then out and about in the historic district, and talked about historic sites, public history and memory, place and identity, and much more. In this week’s series I’ll be briefly highlighting each of our six featured speakers and a bit on his or her interesting and inspiring talk and ideas. Your feedback and ideas are welcome too!]
Our fifth speaker, John Ronan, shared his unique, evolving, and very compelling reading of the public historical connections and purposes behind Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”
John’s reading forms the basis for a forthcoming article in the New England Quarterly, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spoil its details here. So instead I’ll just say this: “YGB” is as familiar, for American Studiers and scholars, as an American short story gets, and John’s reading opens it up in a host of new ways. He also breathes new life into a couple equally well-trodden paths: the story of Hawthorne’s relationship to the Salem Witch Trials; and the story of the Witch Trials themselves, and of how we make meaning of them in America.
At the end of the day, and as this blog has proved time and again, I’m pretty antiquarian in what I hope is the best sense: believing that there’s significant value in our continuing engage with some of the most old-school, canonical, traditional American texts and figures, questions and narratives. The key, of course, is to find ways to keep that engagement fresh and compelling, and to make clear why it matters to contemporary audiences and conversations. John’s talk and ideas are great examples of that work, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you check them out in the NEQ.
Final speaker this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Any takes on “YGB” or any historical short stories?5/18 Memory Day nominee: Frank Capra, one of 20th century America’s greatest mythmakers and yet a filmmaker entirely willing to portray some of America’s darker and more complex narratives and themes as well.