On two broader takeaways from my fall of travels and talks.
I’ve written a lot in this space about the book talks that I’ve added to my public scholarly work, goals, and life. No, really, a lot. I won’t reiterate what I said in those posts, nor will I write follow ups to each of the great events that have followed the most recent such post; although I do have to thank all the folks at the Him Mark Lai Branch of the San Francisco Public Library; Kate Tranquada and the Waltham Public Library; Gabriella Ibieta, Heidi West, and everybody at Drexel University; and Katy Fuller, David Nathans, and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (along with Jack Shea and the MV Times) for all that they did to make those wonderful events happen. All the support and generosity and collegiality I’ve encountered makes me that much more excited for the spring’s slate of talks and the individuals, institutions, and communities they’ll help me connect to!
Speaking of such institutions, one of my broader takeaways from these talks has been a fuller recognition of the amazing collection of museums, historic and cultural sites, and other such resources we have in this country. To cite one that I haven’t mentioned in other posts yet (but will come back to in a future series on San Francisco): the Chinese Historical Society of America, led by Executive Director Sue Lee. Like every institution I’ve visited and connected to, the CHSA is doing vital, irreplaceable, historical and cultural and intellectual and public work—work in its community, but work for all American communities and audiences and conversations. And also like every institution I’ve visited, the CHSA needs more support—which is of course partly about our national and political priorities when it comes to funding, but also very much about awareness and engagement with the existence and efforts of these institutions. So check out the CHSA’s website (linked above) and work, visit if you’re in San Fran, and please spread the word on it—and any and all such institutions with which you’re familiar (like here in the comments!).
The second broader takeaway from these talks is just my optimistic sense of my fellow Americans. The audiences for the talks have been hugely diverse, from students and colleagues to community members in places as varied as San Francisco and New York’s Chinatowns, Martha’s Vineyard, Harrisburg, rural Maine, and Waltham. To a degree of course they’ve been self-selected (by choosing to attend the talk, I mean), although in many cases they’ve come as part of a class, group, or program. And in any case, they’ve consistently—indeed, always—been interested and engaged, sharing their perspectives and voices but open to learning more, passionate about questions of identity and community but not myopic or rigid in their understandings of such core themes. It’s easy to despair about the seemingly irreversible divisions that plague American society and life these days, and I don’t want to minimize those problems—but traveling to give these talks has also reminded me of the striking and powerful things that we share, that connect rather than divide us. Makes me that much more excited to envision a career as a public scholar, adding my voice to those communal, connecting conversations in any and every way I can.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Responses to this post? What else from your fall would you recap and share?
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