Tuesday, June 2, 2015
June 2, 2015: Mount Auburn Connections: Blanche Linden
[If you’re in New England, there are few more beautiful spots for a spring walk than Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. In this series, I’ll highlight a few American connections for this unique site and all it includes. Please share your thoughts, on this site and any other beautiful or evocative spaces you’d highlight, for a crowd-sourced weekend walk!]
On three inspiring sides to a hugely influential scholar.
If you want to learn more about Mount Auburn Cemetery, or simply to read one of the most impressive works of American Studies scholarship ever produced, there’s no better place to go than Blanche Linden’s Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery (1989; new edition reissued in 2007). Linden’s book, based on her groundbreaking PhD dissertation, became the starting point for a lifetime of work exploring, analyzing, and sharing Mount Auburn’s histories, stories, and meanings; as she contributed the most of any single voice to the cemetery’s audio tour (now converted as well into the mobile app available at that link), it’s fair to say that she will continue to share her perspective on and researches into the cemetery with its visitors for many years to come. But even if you never get to set foot in the cemetery, Linden’s book is a pioneering work of interdisciplinary scholarship well worth your time, a project that contextualizes its seminal landscape architecture and 19th century histories within philosophical and literary reflections, art history and material culture analyses, urban and environmental studies, and much more.
Moreover, Linden’s influences on American Studies and related scholarly endeavors and communities aren’t found solely in her published works. I first encountered Linden’s work through my connection to the New England American Studies Association (NEASA): during the late 1970s and 80s, first as a graduate student at Harvard University’s History of American Civilization program (from which she received her PhD in 1981) and then as a junior faculty member at multiple local institutions (including Brandeis University and Emerson College), Linden helped found NEASA, and then served as one of its first presidents during this crucial formative moment. Decades later, during my own 2011 term as NEASA President, Linden contacted me from retirement in Florida, both to express her continued support for NEASA’s efforts and to offer invaluable materials from the organization’s early years. Coupled with her 1994 editing of the national American Studies Association’s Handbook for Regional Chapters, this 2011 moment reflects just how lifelong were Linden’s contributions to the field, practice, and community of American Studies, both within her beloved New England and well beyond it.
In July 2014, at the far too young age of 68, Dr. Linden passed away at her home in Florida. Because of the connection we had made through NEASA, I was fortunate enough to be invited by Linden’s NEASA colleague and friend (and pioneering American Studier in her own right) Patricia Palmieri to the September memorial service held at (where else?) Mount Auburn Cemetery. The service of course highlighted Linden’s lifelong contributions to Mount Auburn, as well as how much she meant to her wide and deep community of friends and family; but through the voices of a number of her former students, all of whom have gone on to impressive careers in their own right and had stayed in touch with her while they did so, it also provided a compelling glimpse into how successful she was as a teacher and mentor. Too often, I have found, the different sides to this profession are treated as distinct choices or emphases: of course most of us teach, write, and perform service at both the institutional level and beyond (such as in organizations like NEASA); but nonetheless there remains a sense that we have to choose where and how we dedicate our time and make our most lasting impacts. Yet as the life of Mount Auburn’s most significant historian demonstrates, we can and should instead strive to succeed in all those arenas.
Next connection tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other sites or spaces you’d share?