Tag Archives: Peter H. Wood

(Good) changes abound

After more than a month of not posting, I’m back. If I may write frankly, the time period from about the time I last posted at the end of May to the present has been a transformative one. It has been filled with both endings and beginnings that have brought a lot of pain but a lot of positivity and peace of mind as well. I have always believed that there is no such thing as the black and white concept of good and bad/good and evil. I think all things have both a dark and a light side to them, I guess sort of like the Chinese philosophical principal of yin and yang. The universe, though we may not be able to believe it when we are knee deep in some situation, will always even itself out. Nothing really is ever purely wonderful or truly terrible. I think that is the biggest concept I’ve had reaffirmed for me this past month. When I was thinking that the past year was simply terrible, being in the wrong place, attaching myself or being forced onto the wrong people, and dealing with some pretty wicked inner demons, it wasn’t ever all bad. I’m also one of those people who, although I don’t choose to believe in a higher deity, chooses to believe that most things happen for a reason. In my own life, all the bad stuff over the past year has happened for reasons that, oddly enough, have only become clear over the past week or so. It’s an amazing feeling too when you realize you’ve been walking around in a pretty dense fog, and that fog suddenly lifts, putting you back on the main road.

One of the most enlightening experiences I’ve had thus far this summer is getting an opportunity to intern at the museum. I am very disappointed to say that I let the past several months or so beat the passion and love I once felt for the museum field out of me. I got fairly lost in the what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life department and gave up almost entirely, something I have never done willingly in my life. I let myself go from being a very driven, vibrant young person to someone who just didn’t care or, rather, didn’t know how to care anymore. This is the attitude I had coming into the museum this summer. However, in dealing with the turmoil extant in my subsurface, I neglected to realize there was something deeper, waiting patiently, keeping warm in the glow of the fire in the core of my being as the storm raged overhead. This was an old childhood friend, a true friend, the kind that never really abandons you even when you act like a complete idiot or you lose touch for a while. This friend was my love of history. I had seen it peek out every now and then over the last months when I would get a rare chance to discuss public history in my classes or if I had a moment to read a good history book in my spare time. Then something would inevitably go off to the contrary and it would scurry back down to its hiding place. One of the strongest moments like this, though, occurred this past spring and very nearly helped pull me back into the boat.

I took a cultural history class last semester. It was pretty good as far as history seminars go. Somehow by a very fortuitous coincidence one of my favorite historians of all time, Peter H. Wood, came to visit my school. As a freshman in undergrad I read his seminal work Black Majority, and it was one of the largest contributing factors that made me want to become a history major. I remember thinking his rice thesis was the most brilliant idea I had ever encountered. The book, pardon the cliche, changed my life. We read his recent work Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War in the seminar and discussed it the week before he came. It was a short but interesting read. Our professor wished us to go to the public lecture Dr. Wood was giving and also to the private informal talk reserved for those in the history department. Unfortunately a very inopportune shift at work kept me from the evening lecture, but I had the absolute pleasure of attending the talk earlier that day. As an outsider I sat towards the back wall while the more senior history grads controlled the conversation. Most of them were interested in the future of historians in the academia, of which he did not have the most positive words for the future. I gave up my idea of going into that arena long ago so my interest wasn’t really peaked until he began discussing the possibilities of public history and how promising that avenue was looking for young historians. He lamented the gap that exists between academia and the museum and historic site. He echoed the words I had had rattling in my mind without a forum for expression for months and months. My heart felt light and when the talk was over it was all I could do to keep from running up and hugging him. For the record, Dr. Wood is an incredibly effervescent and kind individual. Instead I resolutely marched up to the front of the room, pushing past the history grads who all looked at me like a foreigner and introduced myself to him. I told him my situation, how glad I was to hear what he had to say about public history, how I had been racking my brain over the problems that exist, and how passionate I was about trying to fix them. He was warm and encouraging and genuinely wished me luck on my path. I then asked him with a shy smile if he’d sign my book, and he did so gladly. I thanked him profusely and quickly scooted out giddy as could be. When I got back to my apartment I eagerly opened the book and found this inscription:

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It felt great reading that. Unfortunately, I was still scratching my head trying to figure out how I could do that. Well, like I said, being at the museum revived my desire to do this, and I believe it has helped put me back on the track on which I need to accomplish it.

There are many changes beginning personally and professionally/academically now. I’m not sure what the months ahead will bring, but I am sure about my newly minted plans and resolve. I care again. I’m going to make history museums stronger because I am the face of a change in tides and a representative of a new generation, that contrary to popular belief, does give a damn about our past. No one and nothing will ever take that away from me.

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