Based upon exercises from A. D. Colemans workshop, “Writing to and from Photographs.”

After my father’s death, I discovered a man that I never knew. Going through his things, I found letters, medals, photographs, a yearbook from his squadron, notes he had written - and in reading through them, I could see him change from an open young man, excited about his grand adventure, to the guarded man who was my father - damaged and haunted by something he never spoke about. And he was a “hero.”

How much more troubling to confront “a difficult past.” I do not expect this seminar to teach me about my father -- that is a personal quest -- but I do have a profound respect for how the past impacts the present, and for how imprecise that past becomes, shifting as our subjective memories restructure it.

I am particularly intrigued by the way you plan to expand “text” to incorporate physical context in our study, Nora’s “places of memory” as you mention. In 2003, I participated in an NEH Seminar studying Dante in Siena with Ron Herzman and Bill Stephany. I could never have recognized how important context is without that experience. From the feel of the thousand-year-old stones beneath my feet to the bitter taste of vernaccia, sipped in the shade of San Gimignano's towers, I understood the context of Dante in a way that cannot be duplicated without the experience of place. At a much more basic level, grocery shopping and doing laundry in a foreign language in a foreign land was both humbling and empowering.

In Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, Leduc's powerful line expands place in an even more subjective sense: “Your heart is conquered territory, mister.” Though not a French view of the Vichy past, I have taught the play successfully, finding that my students recognize why individuals may be complicit with authority, choosing survival over some idealized nobility, for all of us a painful fall from innocence. We sometimes find ourselves by looking deeply at others. How might we have thought, how might we have acted, in that situation?

Miller’s play resonates with Nora's concept of “a history in multiple voices.” Even having read only the preface to Realms of Memory, I am fascinated by his term “rememoration,” especially since my personal and cultural history seems to have changed as I have aged. I doubt that my Sixties were much as I remember them or as I have “cleaned them up” for my students.

The main reason I want to be a participant in this seminar is because of the challenging material. I am unfamiliar with most of the texts you have selected, but I am an eager learner. I have some familiarity with two of the films you have selected, The Sorrow and the Pity and Au revoir les enfants. It has been some years since I studied them in a film class, so the emphasis was different. I have been fortunate enough to teach a film elective for some years and look forward to once again being a student of film.

The very best teachers in the country will be applying for this seminar, and those you select will be stimulating company. The six weeks I spent studying Dante was the richest intellectual experience I have ever had, and I am hungry for another like it. After nearly thirty years in the classroom, I was bored and uninspired. The usual sort of in-service was not enough. When I say that the seminar experience changed my life, I do not exaggerate. The classroom discussions were electric, exhilarating. I have never been immersed in a group of people of such caliber. They were knowledgeable, insightful, gifted, thoughtful, and we were embarking on an intellectual journey of discovery together. Each person brought something to that discussion which enriched all of us.

I am a good teacher because I have been fortunate to work with colleagues who are better, who inspire me to be better, who stimulate each other, who share, and who have helped me enjoy teaching for almost every one of the thirty years I have been in the classroom. Teaching renews me only as long as I keep learning.

You also asked that we address our knowledge of French. I studied French in high school and presented it as my language for both my Bachelor's and my Master’s. That said, I read French better than I hear it, and, according to a former French foreign exchange student, I speak it with an accent that is “étrange.” It will be a challenge for me to communicate effectively in French, but, if accepted, I will pull out the old textbooks and load the language CDs into the car so that I can immerse myself in the culture. Scary, but exciting.

To show my gratitude to the National Endowment for the Humanities, I promised myself that every year I would encourage other teachers to take advantage of this life-changing opportunity. Now that three years have passed, this was my opportunity to apply again and I was immediately drawn to this seminar, personally and intellectually. Your qualifications to teach me are evident, and I hope I can convince you that I am worthy of instruction.

World War II casts its shadow into our present and into our lives, in unexpected and troublesome ways. My father’s inability to come to terms with his own “dark years” cast its shadow over all his relationships, over his sense of self. In your seminar description, many of the phrases that you used to describe the French difficulty in confronting the legacy of those four years fit my father's personal demons.

Wounded in his B-17 ball turret, my father never spoke of his injury; yet he always limped, rubbing his left leg, enduring its constant throb, its tenderness, a ghost of pain. Old wounds always ache.

 My Seminar Project

I was fortunate enough to be accepted and spent a stimulating summer studying in France. For my final project in the seminar, I designed a brochure on “How to Read a Memorial.” I ask students to focus on

  • the stated text and mission statements at a site
  • the context of a site, including setting, materials, plants, and access
  • the subtext, or implied message, of a memorial site

Links are included to excelllent online memorials for those who do not have access to a physical memorial site.

Because I teach in Oklahoma City, I have access to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, created to honor those “those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever” by the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Included is a copy of the Memorial brochure as adapted for that specific site. You could make a brochure specific to a memorial that is meaninglful in your own area.

 
Memorials.pdf

 
Memorials.doc

  
MemorialsOKC.pdf

Find out more about National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars and Institutes.
Deadline for all is March 1!
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Updated 12 June 2016.