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.

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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.

Music Geography 101: R.E.M.- “Cuyahoga”

I recently assigned the students in my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.

While I do consider R.E.M. to be the quintessential Southern American rock band and the very paradigm of indie-to-mainstream success, I had not thought of the geography in their lyrics much before last semester. This is odd, I know, as they recorded and released “Stand,” perhaps the most blandly geographic song ever heard on the radio (that dance, though…). However, one of my students in Fall 2014 pleasantly surprised my TA’s and I with this song when her paper came up. It not only provided a breath of fresh air from the torrent of “Walking in Memphis” submissions we had, but it also inspired me to dig deeper into Michael Stipe’s Southern mysticism.

R.E.M., despite becoming one of the biggest bands in the world in the 1990s, never quite shed the “college rock” association. They formed in Athens, GA, which could qualify as one of the best college towns in America. The music scene at the time was already on the map due to a campy dance-rock culture that could only have thrived in a relatively warm place full of wierdos. Someone told me recently that the band would throw snack cakes out to their crowds at the 40 Watt Club early on; some of those snack cakes are still preserved as mementos/possible eat-this-and-win-$10,000 hangup pieces.

As for Cuyahoga, it’s a county and river in Ohio. The band’s geographic references obviously didn’t stay close to home (Mike Mills’ wonderful song “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” being another case), but this one gave Stipe an ample opportunity to talk about pollution. Famously, the river outside Cleveland caught on fire in 1969, signaling federal cleanup dollars and a whole lot of embarrassment for the city. It was a great joke on The Simpsons, but a terrible reality for the rustbelt city of so few sports championships.