higher education · southern history

so much through which to sort

Fruity non-alchoholic drink courtesy of cherished colleague while we caught up on each other’s lives at the SHA meeting.

It’s Sunday and I’m back at it. Here in Tuscaloosa, we sprint toward the end of the semester (thankfully, with an extra hour of sleep).

I do as much shortly after returning from the Southern Historical Association (SHA) meeting alternately energized and reflective about so much, but above all, how so much of what happens literally on the ground does not always mirror what happens in and outside my classrooms or the headlines.

I just printed out about 70 papers that reflect the views of mostly upper level students who, like me, are also sorting through so much via two assignments. The work before them concerns how our messy postwar world turns up in the postwar music to which we listen. We take steps forward and steps backward all at once, pun intended.

John Hopkins University scholar Jessica Marie Johnson is one of my living heroes.

As I reflect on this stuff, and those papers that will be graded before Thanksgiving, I think about two things that still linger in my mind since the 83rd annual SHA meeting:

  1. how uncomfortable people are with nuanced stories. This was heard at the last plenary session (I’ve forgotten which panelist said this; apologies). Indeed, most folks want things to be black and white because dealing with the gray areas requires real work. And in this microwave age where things must go fast (unless you’re Alabama’s offense and defense reverting to old school ways of chugging down the field in order to wear down LSU; Roll Tide!), real work requires time, something we don’t have a lot of.
  2. I am thinking, too, of the wise words of Johns Hopkins University scholar Jessica Marie Johnson who spoke of how digital platforms like blogs permit us to sort through so much including our scholarship. We do as much while our work makes it way around the traditional ports of call like book publishers and journals. Having arrived in the academy after a lengthy career as a journalist, I welcome hearing such an affirmation of what I do with ease. I used to journal and now have little time to pick up a pen if I am not grading. So this blog has become a way for me to make connections between my work, my teaching, my personal life and the world around me. The boundaries are sometimes blurred in ways that bring comfort and not. Still processing it. While I do, I will continue to appreciate the Twitter convos with writer-historian-blogger Megan Kate Nelson,who I first met last spring at the Western Association of Women Historian (WAWH) meeting.

Above all, I am grateful to have met so many new scholar-friends in St. Petersburg, FL, a place to which I traveled for the first time with a bit of longing. It’s a family matter that I shall not delve too much into in this digital space.

Suffice to say this Florida native felt a tinge of something as the Southwest airplane carrying me and others made its way around the Panhandle. I could literally feel the turn, see the curve and mostly experience something I will ultimately call “good” – for now – as I continue to explore racial and spatial politics in this state. It is my second project. And I appreciated this chance to intuit the past up high and, speaking of music, down on the ground

I am grateful to the scholar in the audience attending my panel who told me to be unafraid to make ties to Andrew Jackson’s skirmishes with the Seminoles and the spatial and racial politics of “blacks” on the peninsula between the late nineteenth century and today (thank you, panel organizer  and University of Michigan historian Jon Wells, for kindly pressing “enter” to advance my Powerpoint slides).

I move forward with more confidence after such encouragement, but also while continuing to reflect on Thavolia Glymph’s injunction to put a face on the numbers and Glenda Gilmore’s push that we find the southern in the global.  I’ll think, too, about the warm conversations with so many including University of Texas-Austin historian Daina Berry and the senior colleagues with whom I traveled to and from St. Pete. Thank you, Lesley and George. And from time to time, I’ll remember the words on the plastic cups at the resort at which we stayed: just let go.

The hammock I never got to rest in, but walked by several times. I shall indulge – someday.

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