Friday, September 18, 2009

The first post about the past

It is a Friday evening and I currently have a cold, but beginning this blog seems like a much better option than lying in bed with a box of tissues, feeling sorry for myself. At any rate, that is besides the point because this blog is not about my poor immune system or even the inane thoughts that pass through my head each day but about my year in the Public History program at the University of Western Ontario.

I used to keep a journal. Technically, I still do, but it spends more time collecting dust in my desk drawer now than it does as a confidante of my day-to-day thoughts. But blogging, I think, is going to be different for a few reasons. First of all, I'm writing on this specific subject rather than the fact that my cat used my bathtub as a litter box for the third time this week.

Secondly, people are going to be reading this (unless, of course, I am that boring, to which case I will revert back to said griping and self-pitying).

Much of my inspiration for this first entry comes from a book I just read- Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. While her blog focused on her attempt to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking within a year, her book and the resulting movie is an interesting example of the intersection between history, social memory, and blogging. As Powell progresses through the book, she finds that her life is transformed by a woman that lived and worked in a world fifty years ago. Child becomes her companion and mentor, taking on life in a modern, New York kitchen and helping a young woman turn her life around. At the end of the book, Julie hears that Child commented negatively on her blog and is, naturally, a little disappointed. But after some reflection she writes that "maybe if I met that Julia I wouldn't even like her. But I liked the Julia in my head- the only one I really knew, after all- just fine." She and her husband even end the project with a visit to the Julia Child exhibition in Washington, DC.

As a new student of Public History I of course got excited that the final touch to the Julie/Julia project was a visit to a museum. But I think for many, museums and other heritage sites are places of tribute where we can attach something tangible to the feeling that history has inspired or changed us in some way. History had lived within Julie's kitchen and in visiting Julia Child's own, she was reaching back.

This, to me, is Public History: it does not necessarily need to be read, or listened to, or watched, but it does, I think, require an experience. A connection with the past that may be as unique as hearing the voice of Julia Child as you cook; as profound as standing at the Vimy Ridge memorial and tasting the mud and sweat and fear; as lighthearted as watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail and thinking, hey, I wonder if they have something with that witch scene...

You know this is where history happened and that you, somehow, have become a part of it and it you.

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