GeoSym 2018 Call for Papers!

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I’m very excited to pass along the Call for Papers for the third installment of this great little conference. I’m biased because I was the chair for the second installment in 2016, but this time around it’s in great hands with my good friends and colleagues Savannah Collins-Key, Emma Walcott-Wilson, and others from the GeoGrads. Savannah was an outstanding co-chair in 2016, too; I’ve gone on record before about all the work she did organizing the paper sessions and basically ensuring that I didn’t burn the whole thing down.

Also, this year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, is one of the biggest authorities on climate and landscape in the Southeast. His name has been getting bigger on a near-monthly basis in the meteorology and Weather Channel world, so you really don’t want to miss the chance to see him speak in this smaller-scale setting.

At any rate, it’s free to submit and participate (a rarity among any kind of academic conference), and you have the rest of December to get your papers ready. Paper deadline is January 1st, 2018, and the Poster deadline is January 15th. More information can be found at the departmental website here or on the Facebook Page here.

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A Brief Look Back at the Oral History Association Weekend in the Twin Cities

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As predicted, I had a fantastic time in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Thanks to my friend and former colleague Liz for being a great host and accompanying me on a tour of Paisley Park, thanks to the Oral History Association for putting on a great little conference and bringing Staunton and Alice Lynd to speak, and thanks to the Twin Cities for just being so cool. I know I should have expected as much from the metropolis that somehow produced (among many, many others) Prince, Dillinger Fourand Mitch Hedberg.

It’s going to take me some time to go through all the photos, sift through all of the links to other great oral history projects in the pipeline, and write anything substantive about the conference and my time up there. But, I’m grateful I decided to go and present this year.  I learned valuable new interviewing techniques, as well as a diverse set of recently uncovered histories including that of the Anoka State Hospital, the cultural landscape of 20th Street in Saskatoon (short documentary here), Denver’s legendary Band Box Record label, the NoDak* press (documentary here), and an enticing program to help keep everything in order, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS).

The best decision I made all weekend, however, was joining a guided tour of the American Indian cultural corridor on Franklin Avenue. Just in time for Indigenous People’s Day on October 9th, we walked through North America’s strongest urban concentration of native american (in this case, Ojibwe and Dakota/Lakota) life. Our guides, Alan Gross and Tom LaBlanc, did not mince words when it came to the States’ and cops’ perpetually horrid treatment of indigenous Americans, which was as refreshingly honest as it was cringe-inducing.

Also, bonus respect is due to Adrienne Cain’s meticulous use of Prince GIFs in the OHA twitter account and inspiring me to do the same above (but I’ll probably tone it down in the coming entries, though…maybe).

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this somewhat brief update, and if you’re from the OHA, feel free to pass this along via email, social media, or even word of mouth. Here are some extra pictures from around Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their outskirts this weekend. I can’t wait for my next excuse to go back. Next time, I’ll actually remember to bring some of the Ben Irving postcards, too.

LINER NOTES

* I’ve never been to North Dakota (outside of passing through it on a train trip in 2013), but I picked up this shortened term for it in 2011 from a MPLS friend who grew up there, and it stuck with me. NoDak/SoDak. You’re welcome.

Oral History Association Meeting This Week in Minneapolis

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For the first time in six years, this week I’ll be returning to the land of Prince, Mitch Hedberg, The ‘Mats, D4, Hüsker Dü, Extreme Noise, the North Stars Wild, the Juicy Lucy, and so much more. I couldn’t be more excited to be back in a place with (1) temperate weather and (2) stuff that’s actually open on Sundays. North-Country paradise!

This will be my first year attending the national meeting of the Oral History Association, and my first oral history conference in general. I look forward to all of the historians I may meet and the variety of valuable lessons I’ll get to learn in quantitative methods, digital archiving, and anything else in which OHA members specialize. For anyone interested, I’m presenting “Memories of Violence and Punk’s Challenge to Oral History” in a session called ‘Oral History at the Intersection of Place and Culture’ this Thursday at 2:15pm, Conrad B Room in the Hilton Minneapolis, right downtown. Program Link.

Otherwise, I’ll be all over the place per usual, hitting landmarks and buying records. If you’re in the Twin Cities, I would love to see you and catch up.

Ben Irving Visits Historic Westwood Tomorrow (9/15) at Noon

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I’ll be bringing my presentation about the life and somewhat-unintentional legacy of Ben Irving (and our collective digital heritage) to Knox Heritage tomorrow for their ‘Lost & Found Luncheon’ series. This will be my first time presenting about Irving in Knoxville since I presented a (heavily truncated) version of the talk at Pecha Kucha last November, and my first time presenting the full version since Western MA last Thanksgiving. I’m very excited to bring this to Historic Westwood.

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More info on the event is available at their website, which I’ll paste below. You can also RSVP to the Facebook event, which I found just now.

Lunch is available on a first-come, first-served basis at 11:30 a.m. The talk will begin promptly at noon. Please RSVP to Hollie Cook at hcook@knoxheritage.org or at 865-523-8008. FREE. ALL ARE WELCOME.

California Excursion Part II: Three Comedy Videos to Supplement #EmoGeo

On the third day of the the Emotional Geographies Conference (or EmoGeo), I was in the fortunate position of chairing the 11 AM paper session for Jared Van Ramshorst and Natalia Equihua, who presented research on the overarching concepts of humor and love, respectively. The two other papers slated for the session needed to cancel, which gave Jared, Natalia, and the conference attendees more time to present and discuss their work. In between the two, I remarked how fortunate I was to be chairing such a positively-tinged session, giving the dark overarching timbre of much literature that mixes emotion and place.

That being said, Jared and Natalia’s papers both presented an array of hardships for their informants. Jared discussed his work with Central American migrants who were captured and detained in Southern Mexico, but used humor to foment ‘collective solidarity through shared vulnerability.’ Natalia presented her qualitative research on women who left Mexico and moved to Canada motivated by love. Many of these women faced the expected cultural and administrative obstacles, which led to a great commentary and discussion on the intrusion of the State on the nebulous concept of love.

1. Anton Jackson vs. the USCIS

During our discussion about the strange level of bureaucratization of love, I could not stop thinking of two things. The first, which I mentioned while chairing the discussion, was the affidavit I needed to write and submit last year on behalf of two of my best friends in California. She is American; he is Canadian and sought a Green Card to work legally in the States. They had been married for almost four years at the time, yet they were not interested in having kids or buying a house, which happen to be the two State-sanctioned expressions of “true love.” Never mind the crude heteronormativity and market-gouging there; it just seemed demoralizing that a Federal government refused to believe that they could really be married and love each other without those often-prohibitive investments.

The second thing I remembered was a classic In Living Color sketch where a woman of Caribbean origin (T’Keyah Keymáh) has the drunken vagabond Anton Jackson (Damon Wayans) pose as her husband as a ploy to get her green card. Like most of the racial, political, and observational humor on that show, it made fun of a common political tension that existed in the early 1990s and in many corners still does. Despite the sometimes dated humor and cultural references, I find myself using In Living Color a lot during lessons on race, class, and geography.

2. Little Mosque on Signage and Language Hierarchy

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Craig Stone talks about the ‘linguistic landscaping’ of the CSULB campus.

After lunch, Alexandra Jaffe and Craig Stone led the group in what may have been the single coolest presentation all week: ‘I Appreciate and Respect You’: Linguistic Landscaping of a College Campus. Jaffe, an Anthropologist, had already presented her research on the consumable tourist landscapes on Corsica, which anybody who has been to this site before (or read my dissertation, for that matter) knows is a subject of particular interest for me. On Friday, she joined forces with Craig Stone, the head of CSULB’s highly acclaimed American Indian Studies department, to talk about the hierarchy of languages and the political/emotional manifestations of signage (ditto re: subjects of interest to me). Both Jaffe and Stone wore their Cal State Puvungna t-shirts for the occasion, which made me wish I had packed mine for the trip.

Anyway, the conversation about the value of humor in understanding emotion and place was still fresh at this point, so my mind jumped to an episode I had seen recently of the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. In Season 2, by the time the characters had been established and allowed to develop a bit, one of the show’s protagonists gets a dream gig as interim Mayor for her hometown of Mercy, Saskachewan. Unfortunately, a couple of hosers accidentally crash a tractor into the town’s welcome sign, setting the show’s A-story into motion. The whole series, which is definitely a bit cheesy (but what lovable sitcoms aren’t?), is available on Hulu, and you can watch “Welcome to Mercy” here with a subscription or free trial.

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3. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog vs. French Canada

While on the subject of signage and the emotional geographies inherent in conflicts over language and place-naming further in East in Canada, I flashed back to my college years, when Conan O’Brien did a week of shows in Toronto. He sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to Quebec to talk to French Canadians about their culture and the idea of secession, and the results were predictably awkward and hilarious. I’ve actually used this clip as an introduction to our unit on Canada in World Regional Geography classes. If crude late-night TV humor won’t land you in hot water with your administration, I’d recommend it as a great way to introduce themes on Canada and ‘Canadianness’ in a funny and entertaining way.

California Excursion Part I: #EmoGeo 2017 in Long Beach

Last week, I returned to my alma mater Cal State Long Beach for the biennial Emotional Geographies Conference. This was the first time the heavily-international conference had been held in the United States, having been as far afield as New Zealand in the previous decade. As conference co-chair Deb Thien remarked, Long Beach had been selected as the host prior to the once-unimaginable political occurrences of the past year. A lot of members opted not to travel to the US for such reasons, which was disappointing at first, but it gave the conference a great silver lining. It enabled near-100% attendance for every paper presenter and a genuine intimate setting where it was possible to meet and actually have a meaningful interaction with everyone else there. At conferences like AAG or even smaller regional conferences, it may be impossible to have meaningful interactions with anyone, much less dozens of people devoted to your same sub-field. Such are the advantages of small conferences.

Bike Valet at the Art Theater

Via cobalb.com. A friend and I caught a screening of ‘Citizen Jane’ (a documentary about one of the 20th century’s great prophets Jane Jacobs) on Wednesday night. It wasn’t bad, but I mostly appreciated the two hours of down time in an air-conditioned theater.

Also, I can’t remember how much I’ve gone into it here, but Long Beach, California is a pretty sweet little city. Granted, nowhere in North America but LA’s shadow is a city of over 500,000 people “little,” but it can’t help if Los Angeles (45 minutes or 7 hours north, depending on what time you get on the 405) makes everything about it seem relatively laid-back and put-together. Also, seaside paradise San Pedro is a short drive across the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

I was able to present some of the emotional geography facets from my dissertation research on Wednesday morning. The diversity of papers and subjects was impressive; in just one session, the conference attendees learned about trans visibility in Roller Derby, queer spaces in Palestinian hip hop culture, DC punk’s impact on Paris, and the contested history of Long Beach’s rancho system (link for video).

It was also a real treat to be able to hear Liz Bondi speak about the relationship between psychotherapy and geography in her keynote. Another presenter, Mancunian Natalie Moss (who I mistook for Welsh based on her accent, for some reason) discussed the heavy psychological toll that human research can take on both the informants and the researchers, arguing for the value of therapy in praxis.

I’ll write more soon with some thoughts on the abbreviated paper session I was fortunate to chair on Friday morning and the bizarre places it steered my brain. For now, here are some pictures I took over the three days. More photos taken by Long Beach student Ken Fichtelman are available via Dropbox here.

#AAG2017 Recap Part II: Boston, 1935-1952

I have a bad habit of over-planning, making grand plans that would be inconceivable to complete in whatever short time span I’m presented. Of course, this results in me spreading myself too thin on occasion when on the road. I mentioned in the first Part that my AAG Boston experience was somewhat truncated, so if I was going to pursue a couple of re-photography sites, I would need to act strategically.

This meant that I needed to sacrifice at least one morning of the conference, which is never an easy decision to make. I also needed to take weather into consideration, since pouring rain and 50-degree weather (which would encapsulate the entire day and night Thursday) would not lend themselves to a hypothermia-free walkabout. Because it appeared that the rain would hold off for most of Wednesday and I had not committed to any sessions until that afternoon, I decided to start off my conference in side-project territory.

After visiting registration early, buying an AAG hoodie on the way for a fantastic deal (I forgot, somehow, to pack something suitably insulated or warm for early April in Boston), I set out eastbound on Boylston Street toward the Common. Though I would normally take a detour through the park, the lagoons were drained and half of the paths were covered in mud. Some would still probably be interested in this “anti-tourist-gaze” dynamic, but because my time was somewhat limited and I needed to make it to Cambridge by lunch time, I kept walking. My first site, conveniently, sat right at the far corner of the Common at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets.

The Hotel Touraine / 62 Boylston

My great-grandfather Ben Irving sent this Hotel Touraine postcard home from Boston on December 1, 1943. The information on the back of the card indicates this building was “erected on the site where John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, lived, and his son Charles Francis Adams, Minister to Great Britain during the Civil War, was born. Opposite Boston Common.” It does not provide any dates, but according to the National Register of Historic Places, it went up in 1897 and operated as a hotel until 1966, when it closed down to become an apartment building. Its early-20th century charms included an impressive little hotel library.

The farthest I got into the building was the security desk, as you’d expect with any private residence. I spoke for a few minutes with the desk clerk Mike, who took my card and told me he would pass it along to anybody in the leasing office with a historical interest in the building (nobody was there at the time). He also told me about one elderly resident named Elaine who he understood had been a resident of 62 Boylston (as it is currently known) since 1967, the building’s first full year zoned residential.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building on the SE corner of Boylston and Tremont is now a Starbucks.

J.W. McCormick Post Office & Courthouse Building

Here was where my day got interesting. This postcard, which has been damaged since I inherited it a few years ago, was mailed home from Boston on September 24, 1935. The caption on the back reads “NEW FEDERAL BUILDING AND POST-OFFICE. Boston Postal district is the fourth largest in the United States. Postal receipts of this district aggregate more than $13,000,000 a year.” According to the US Inflation Calculator, that amount inflates to $231,344,014 in today’s currency (cumulative inflation 1,679.6%), which is impressive either way, given how much more communication was done via the Post back then (and how much more efficient the system was).

At the end of my PechaKucha talk about the Ben Irving postcard collection, I implored my audience to “always, always, always” ask (I think I used “always” three times for Marge Simpson-style/’part of us all’ repetition/emphasis). After snapping that surprisingly challenging photo of the building from the far corner of the intersection, I wandered into the main entrance, which is probably impossible to discern with the construction scaffolding wrapped around the first level of the building, but it’s there in the center. The security guards were hardly warm and cuddly, but the first couple of whom I spoke to near the metal checkpoints offered suggestions for who to seek out upstairs.

Immediately after the checkpoint, a set of steps leads you up to the second floor, where I took that photo of the sign that they never bothered to junk when the news stand shut down (date unknown). Today, the EPA’s Boston offices sit in that space, and a couple EPA employees with connections throughout the (somewhat vacant) building were happy to show me around.

One EPA employee (whose name I forgot to write down) brought me up to the third floor and introduced me to Jim Sheehan of the GSA. We chatted for a few minutes, and he told me that, contrary to what I had assumed, the McCormick building actually pre-dated the WPA era. I had only assumed it was a WPA building since a 1935 postcard was showing the building off, but he told me it was an easy mistake to make. I would later find the GSA’s broadsheet about the building, which had more information that I should have probably looked up before going there.

The EPA employee brought me by the old post office window bay, which had long fallen out of use, but were virtually untouched for decades. He also brought me upstairs to a beautiful old courtroom that had also fallen out of use since the era of the Anderson vs. Cryovac, Inc. battle in 1986 (which would inspire the Jonathan Harr book A Civil Action, which inspired the 1998 John Travolta movie of the same name, which was filmed on site in said courtroom). Most of the legal texts had been removed from the shelves, but enough remained to lend the room a slightly creepy semi-used aura. The Depression-era brass/steel doors that led to the original judges’ chambers were also among the coolest I had ever seen; nobody really knew the last time half of them had been opened. In retrospect, it’s probably better that I forgot the EPA employee’s name since me saying any of this may get him into trouble.

So, yeah, if you’re curious about a place, always ask. The next destination was a bit more confusing to find and a bit less security-heavy.

Boston’s Old City Hall

Because I care about my readers, I’m not going to subject you to any images of the brutalist atrocity that the city government moved into post-redevelopment. Nope. None at all. Let’s focus our gaze instead on this 19th century building, tucked away around the corner from the Old South Meeting house. The Meeting House, by the way, was the first building the the U.S. designated for historical preservation, and remains today a key reference point. I actually bumped into my colleague Jordan Brasher across the street from it, as he was headed to meet an old friend for coffee nearby. I wasn’t expecting to run into any geographers that far away from Hynes that early in the conference week, but I clearly wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the window to wander.

Anyway, the postcard there on the left is one of the later items in the Ben Irving collection; he sent it home from Boston on January 21, 1952. The front caption is visible above, and the rear caption reads “Boston City Hall located on School Street dates back to 1865. A Latin School stood here in colonial times, later the County Court House. Statues of Benjamin Franklin and Josiah Quincy stand at the entrance. At the rear is the City Hall Annex.” The statues are still prominent, but I’m not entirely sure what part of the building constituted the Annex.

As I was taking the photograph(s) recreating the postcard shot from the corner of Province Street, the scrums of tourists wandering around the sidewalk in front of the Hall diverted a bike messenger, who crashed into a pillar and flipped over his handlebars onto School Street. I was looking away when I happened, but I heard it as it happened, and walked over to check on him as he slowly got up and got back on his bike.

As one should be able to make out from my picture, the street level entrance of the building next door is now a Starbucks. The restaurant with the red awning that used to occupy that space was called Purcell’s (difficult to make out on the postcard, perhaps intentional, though Thompson’s Spa is prominently labeled in the background). Sean McCullough, who worked in the Old City Hall’s management office downstairs, told me that the Starbucks kept the original Purcell’s tiles at its corner entrance, but I couldn’t find them. Also, there was not much room to wander into the coffee shop and inspect the floor without having to order something out of guilt.

Seriously, I could probably compile an entire photo collection dedicated to Starbucks that currently occupy spaces in historic city scenery, but I’m not doing that without serious kickbacks from the Starbucks Corporation. They already have enough free advertising from the customers on Instagram (and I suppose writers who complain about them).

Hopping on the Red Line and moving into Cambridge…

Harvard Square with Lehman Hall in Background

Ben sent this one home down to Brooklyn late in the afternoon of November 15, 1943 (two weeks before the one of the Hotel Touraine). Due to the historic status of Harvard’s buildings and the clearly demarcated and still existent (unlike some squares in Boston) landmark, the site was very easy to identify. I tried to recreate this angle; I really did. But timing and fate prevented it from happening. The best I could do was that shot from the opposite side of the T station entrance from the Harvard gates. I deduced almost immediately that the postcard image was taken from atop the Abbot building, a flatiron-type structure located at 5 JFK Street. Given my longstanding inability to let sleeping dogs lie, I wandered into the Curious George shop to ask the employee if she knew who had access to the roof. Of course they didn’t. I found the entrance on the side nearby and wandered up the stairs (the lift was broken, which was fine since it did not look like anybody used it anyway). The window with the “Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe” (get it?) decal on the third floor would have been a great spot to recreate the superior angle on the Square, but of course Car Talk staff office had nobody home when I knocked on the door.

I wandered up to the fourth floor, where I found a very intimate Dentist’s office (the office was intimate, not the dentist… I never met them so the jury is out on the latter). I spoke with the two receptionists, including one girl with a thick Boston accent who told me I could, in spite of hand-written signs that said otherwise, could go out on the lower level of the roof. Every moment I spent outside, though, I felt like someone on a different floor or in a neighboring building would see me and call the cops. The level they had access to was a flight below the main roof and on the opposite side of the building from Harvard Square. I walked over to the ledge, leaned around, and snapped this photo (right) around the side aiming toward Lehman Hall. It wasn’t great, but it was the best I could do in the circumstances. The entrance to the top roof was padlocked.

Completely Insane Post-Script

As I mentioned in Part I, my parents came up to meet me, my cousin, and her husband on Saturday. I told my father, who worked for FEMA through the early 1980s, about my visit to the McCormick building. He told me he used to work there. I didn’t believe him, since the GSA and EPA guys told me that FEMA had been located at 99 High Street since the 1980s. ‘No,’ he said, ‘FEMA’s offices were in the McCormick Building when I worked there. They moved to 99 High Street after I left.’ What made this seem crazy was that I have clear memories of going downtown with my mom to visit my dad in his office when I was 2 or 3 years old. This means that I had been in the building before, about thirty years earlier. The only part I can still remember was the cluttered FEMA office (FEMA? Disorganized? Unbelievable, I know), but apparently the building had not changed a whole lot since then. Discovering this all, post-facto, from a short conversation with my father blew my mind.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this! Tune in on Friday for the third part of this AAG/April recap with a bonus re-Photography excursion in the Sunshine State.