[Every year since 2011 I’ve shared wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves in a holiday series. This year, I’ve really got just one wish that I want to highlight in a single, weeklong post, but I’d say it’s a pretty darn important one.]
On two things I very much hope to help us do, and the one defining reason why.
For a long time now, including I’m sure many times in this space (that’s just one example I found at random), I’ve defined my career goals as “expanding our collective memories.” I still believe there is so much of American history that we collectively don’t remember well (if at all), and that so, so much of it is both painful in ways we need to engage and yet inspiring we ways we need to feel (often, if not always, at exactly the same time). Day in and day out, I’d say that goal of expanding our collective memories continues to motivate what I write about on this blog and in my online pieces such as my Saturday Evening Post Considering History columns (which turns five this coming January!), what I teach about at FSU and for adult learning programs, what I choose to focus on in book projects, what I bend the ears of my sons with, and more, and I can’t really imagine that changing.
Speaking of my sons, earlier this year they were performing a parody of their Dad (something they’ve gotten better and better at in recent years), and kept returning to a single phrase that they claim is my most commonly spoken one: “Let’s keep the conversation going!” I knew it was a frequent AmericanStudier utterance, but since they called me out on it I’ve caught myself saying it again and again and again, so yeah, they nailed it. Every one of those times I’ve mentally paused for a moment and wondered if I was becoming a self-parody, but then I’ve realized that the phrase captured exactly what I was trying to say and request, so have just leaned into it. Because here’s the thing: collective memories exist in lots of places and spaces, including history books and pop culture and government documents and historic sites and many more; but I don’t think they get created and contested and expanded anywhere more regularly or importantly than they do in our conversations. If I can through all areas of my career help us keep such conversations going, I’ll feel that I’ve done quite a bit indeed.
I suppose that might already seem like two wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves, and fair enough; they are large and can receive multitudes of wishes. But what I want to focus on in this final paragraph is at the very least the wish at the heart of those other two, the most defining content that I’ve gradually discovered I want to add to our collective memories and conversations alike. Despite so much that has happened in our educational and historical and cultural and social communities over the last half-century, I believe that we still, far too often and too fully, use “American” as a short-hand for white, English-speaking, Christian, and other components of one particular culture on the American landscape (and of course not even close to everyone who is part of that one particular culture either, says this atheist and multi-ethnic white dude). So if I could make one wish for the AmericanStudies Elves, it would be that in the year and years to come we get better at using “American” to mean both all the cultures that are centrally and essentially part of this place and, especially, the complex and crucial community we have always created and continue to create out of the combination of all of them. As I always say, once more (and not for the last time) with feeling, ain’t that America?
Year in review series starts Monday,
PS. Happy holidays! Wishes you’d share?