By Jeff Guin
This past week, I was chatting with a group of young people interning at the office where I work. Although they hailed from points across the U.S., several were spending their second summer in these scientific research internships, and some were already committed to come back next year.
“What is it,” they asked “about this little town in the middle of nowhere. I never intended to come back. It’s like it has its own gravity well.”
I laughed: “I was born here. I help dig the well!”
So many people fight to be something or somewhere else that what they know. That includes me. We chafe against everything we are and ever knew. We only want whatever the opposite might be. Somehow the struggle seems even more heated for those of us raised “down home” where ideals are passed-down, deepfried and embedded in concrete.
From the time I could remember, the concept of “time and place” captured my imagination. Listening to Don Williams sing about “Good Ole Boys Like Me” is bliss, though only the most unaware non-southerner would classify me as such. Reading Thomas Wolfe’s exhaustive, angsty treatises on the narrow-mindedness of small southern towns is arousingly depressing.
While working on my Master’s degree in Folklife and Southern Culture, I was once assigned to lead a class presentation on Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I tabbed the 1,000 page book with nearly as many contextual sticky notes and used color-coded highlighting on selected passages. It was the presentation of my life, until my instructor asked question: “So, how would you argue this is a ‘southern’ novel?”
When the answer to a question seems blindingly obvious, you haven’t thought about it enough. Learning just enough about the world–and your life–makes it all easier to label and categorize. But when you’re looking for the bigger picture, all the labels and categories and sticky notes fade into your peripheral vision.
Identity comes from a lot of places. Some of it’s given. Some is discovered. Sometimes it’s an educated choice based in a pivotal moment in time. As I learned from the first minute my daughter was born, some is plain-old hardwired. But it’s always best enjoyed with disinterested amusement.
Yes, I love my hometown dearly and do my damnedest to advocate for its heritage and culture. It’s my mission to try to help other people learn how to do the same for themselves. I’ve learned that you can’t make your life’s mission to escape your heritage without holding yourself in contempt. Your liberty and your legacy lies in promoting the best parts of both.
(Note: Preservation Today was a previous iteration of “Voices of the Past”)
Stories this time:
The March edition of Past Horizons Magazine is now out. The magazine features articles on field school opportunities and how to make archeology accessible to the disabled. According to its publishers, the goal of Past Horizons is to give everyone a voice in heritage. In addition to the magazine, Past Horizons Heritage Media features a blog on archeological discovery and a YouTube-style video sharing service. Past Horizons is based in Scotland.
The U.S.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation is developing a new online community (now defunct). According to the Trust, this new community is designed to ignite interest in places rich with heritage, history and culture. The site will allow participants to interact around the heritage of town’s and cities, allowing vacationers to quote Travel With Purpose. The Trust is now holding a pre-launch recognition program that offers special benefits to those who sign up for the site now. Participants will have the opportunity to share travel experiences through reviews and ratings and photographs. The community will be a part of the National Trust’s subsidiary, Heritage Travel Incorporated.
The Trust is also using Facebook to raise funds for its rebuilding effort in the Gulf Coast. Facebook’s new marketplace feature is launching an initiative called “Celebrities Selling for a Cause.” Actress Jennifer Coolidge is selling a custom-made dress she wore when starring in the film Legally Blonde 2 and donating the proceeds to benefit the National Trust’s “Rebuilding New Orleans” project. You don’t have to be a celebrity to participate. Anyone can buy an item or sell one on behalf of the National Trust and all the proceeds will go toward our efforts along the Gulf Coast.
The Smithsonian Institution recently held a two-day gathering exploring how to make the organization’s collections, educational resources, and staff more accessible, engaging, and useful in the digital age. The event, called Smithsonian 2.0, brought together professionals from the web and new media world to meet with Smithsonian staff members. Together, they worked to envision generate what a digital Smithsonian might be like in the years ahead. Speakers included representatives from Facebook, Myspace and Microsoft. Professionals in the museum field are welcoming the Smithsonian’s interest in social media. The event was the brianchild of G. Wayne Clough, who became the Smithsonian’s new secretary in July. According to Clough, the Smithsonian intends to aggressively pursue a participatory web-based presence following the conference.
The UNESCO office in Lima, Peru is seeking international specialists to aid in the development of heritage site management plans for the Pachacamac archeological complex and the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca and Pampas de Jumana. The heritage plans would include establishing priorities for halting site deterioration, reviving building and land use techniques, and raising community awareness about the historical and cultural meaning and importance of both sites. The project is being conducted in agreement with the National Institute of Culture of Peru.
The Obama administration recently unveiled the new Whitehouse.gov website. According to Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media for the White House, the new site is being built on the social media principles of communication, transparency and participation. Among the site features so far are a blog, a comment form and a briefing room. Obama, who currently has four and a half million Facebook friends, used social media extensively during his campaign for the presidency.
And finally, Preservation Today now has its own Friendfeed room. The room will allow fast-paced discussions on the latest in heritage preservation. Sign-up is quick, easy and free.
All you have to do is visit our shownotes site at preservation today dot com and click the “News Stream” link at the top of the page.
by Dylan Staley
Drawing from the same ideas that fueled last week’s blog post about Voluntourism, there are many other opportunities to volunteer your time to the cause of heritage.
But the question is this: Where do I find these opportunities?
Past Horizons is a service that seeks to aggregate many different archeological opportunities for people of all skill ranges to get involved with the field of archeology and heritage preservation. The website is host to countless descriptions of projects going on around the globe. It’s not limited to the United States or the United Kingdom; its project listing includes projects from Belgium, Romania, Tunisia, Bulgaria, and numerous other countries (around sixty-five in all!)
But Past Horizons is not just about helping you to find that perfect project. They also have a beautiful digital publication of the same name that uses articles, images, and even video to bring you the latest in the world of archeology. The latest issue is 46 pages of the most interesting and captivating news in the field of archeology: from the discovery of the 118th Egyptian pyramid to the restoration of El Pilar, an ancient Mayan city.
Past Horizons also produces a weekly podcast called “Archeology News Weekly.” Just like the digital magazine the podcast is composed of, as its name would imply, the latest in archeology news.
While all this information may be astounding, what is even more so is the basic idea that governs all aspects of the site: the idea that people wish to become more involved with the world they live in. Everyday, we wake up in the most interesting place in our lives. While we may get bored with the sights of everyday life, Past Horizons seeks to kindle a love of our world within us through engaging news and opportunities to give back to the world we live in, and preserve our heritage for generations to come.
For more updates from Past Horizons, visit their blog.
David Connolly has also done work with both Past Horizons and Preservation Today. Click here to view episodes from his live video blog of the archeological dig at Jerash, a dig that is also featured in the January ’09 issue of the Past Horizons digital magazine.
Thumbnail by Wessex Archaeology on Flickr