AHA Meeting, New York, January 2 – 5, 2015

The AHA, believe or not, it is becoming more innovative year after year. For this coming 2015 AHA Annual Meeting in New York City, there has been a call for creative session formats, and the theme is History and the Other Disciplines (wink-wink digital humanities). Even this past meeting has its own Storify! The AHA is trying to be, not only up-to-date and “hype,” but also to understand that times are changing. For 2015, the AHA challenges historians to think outside the box with proposals like “TED Talk”-style presentations, PechaKucha, or digital sessions where “[a]ll sorts of things are possible now that were not even imaginable [before].”

So here it is my call. The deadline for submitting session proposals is February 15. Is it still possible to put together a session with revolutionary (in the digital sense) ideas in only 10 days? You tell me! I am up for the test. I am working on ways to both democratization of historical research through new media with my dissertation on the physicality of memory in Spain during the twentieth century. Remember, you don’t have to submit the full presentation (these are the requirements), so as long as you have an idea based on the research you are conducting right now, or that you project to conduct over the summer and the fall, we can do this!

Besides, it is always fun to go to conferences and all, but I recognize that accommodations can be tricky as we all live under tight budget constrains. Consider that we can always find somebody willing to host us in their couch, or you can open a hotel rewards’ program credit card (I apologize for the product placement but I have the Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase and I got 4 free nights after opening the account; and there several others out there as well)

If you would like to try this with me, send me an email to fpadr009@fiu.edu.

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Why the heck did I choose_____________as my research topic?

Should historians try to change the world? Can we make a difference with our research? Do we want our work to be relevant in our society? How do historians pick their research topics?  Why didn’t I choose I different profession?

These are questions that haunted me as I was struggling through my undergrad years in Spain. When I decided to apply to enter into a PhD program I thought that I had to do something. I came to believe while studying Public History at Loyola University Chicago that historians (without qualifying adjectives) must find a research topic that they are passionate about but that, at the same time, serves a higher purpose than a merely academic one, e.g. collecting dust in a forgotten shelf.

SNL actor Chevy Chase developed the catchphrase “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead” even weeks after his passing, mocking the coverage that his illness received in the US media.

In 1975, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, dictator of Spain and victor of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), died after a long and painful illness. His death prompted a period of reforms within the regime that crystallized in the dissolution of its fascist institutions, and the call  for democratic elections for the first time in forty-one years. In 1978, Spaniards ratified a new constitution, and their political representatives, from both sides of the ideological spectrum, agreed to build the new democracy not on the ashes of the forty-year old war but on the consensus that dismantled the dictatorship.

However, things didn’t run as smoothly as planned.

Continue reading “Why the heck did I choose_____________as my research topic?”

The things we do – Reminiscences from Toronto

“They should go and hang themselves.”

That was my answer during a Q&A at York University history graduate conference back in February. My poor word choice reflected the need for improvement of my public speaking skills. Thanks to the generosity of Loyola University Chicago, my Canadian friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends, I was able to present at New Frontiers with three great panelists under the catchy title of “Memories of War: Transforming Violence.” My paper was based on how Spanish society has coped with the trauma of the 1930s civil war during the military dictatorship of Franco and democracy since the 1970s. Until now, everything seems ok.

However, I chose to stir things up a bit expressing my desire that historians ought to do something more than sitting down, giving the same lectures over and over, and to incorporate current topics into their analysis of history in a socially useful way. Then, a professor from York raised the question, what do we do with those that don’t see any problem with society, that are content with what happens around them? Thus, my impolite and somewhat disrespectful response. But was it? If we are not producing history for our present (sorry for break it to you but if you are thinking that you are leaving a legacy for generations to come, chances are that you are wrong), why are we doing it at all? In academia, some may say “because I can, because I want to, because I get paid a lot of money to do so.” I mean, seriously, is that it?

Disclaimer: I am currently in the path of becoming a PhD student. I might or might not end up working at an university but, in any case, I feel obliged to do my best to make a difference. I don’t mean to sound pretentious but rather avid to learn from my colleagues and work with them. The question to solve is how my (future) research is going to make a difference, which I will leave for my next post.

2 civil wars, Ric Burns, and “Michael Moore Hates America”

On September 18th, PBS aired the film “Death and the Civil War.” Sadly enough, currently only small clips of it are available for free but if you want to pitch in and reduce the impact of cuts announced by Republican candidate Mitt Romney, maybe you want to go to iTunes and check it out whenever it becomes available.

Watch Death and the Civil War, Chapter 1 on PBS.

The aim of this post is to give you some (interesting, hopefully) insights about the roughly 2-hour well-crafted thought-provoking film. Ric Burns (younger brother of the super-famous Ken Burns), presents elements to understand how the Civil War changed forever the American idea of a “good death,” how it was necessary to construct new categories of meaning to justify the atrocious volume of deaths, and how official support responded to the needs of its soldiers, federal or confederate.

I admit it. I have used and abused of the “Ken Burns effect” in my own work about the Spanish Civil War, and I respect Ric overdosing in his brother’s techniques. Wikipedia defines them as the use of “simple musical leitmotifs or melodies” and  “[giving] ‘life’ to still photographs by slowly zooming in […] and panning from one subject to another.” Besides all that captivating zooming and panning, Ric chose the right actors that read letters, journal entries, or official documents from the war. This feature powerfully engages the audience as if we were watching a more sophisticated version of the seven o’clock news. Short testimonies of historians accompanies each section, offering a cohesive interpretation throughout the film.

Now, how does Michael Moore fit in this context? Well, while he is well-known in Europe, and respected as a filmmaker, Michael Wilson unveils a different perspective of his work. In Wilson’s film,  Moore appears as the embodiment of evil because of his twisted ways of presenting “the truth”. In other words, Wilson exposes how Moore manipulates the footage to make the audience believe falsehoods presented as facts. Interestingly enough, while interviewing Penn Jillette, Wilson includes a piece of meta-narrative that questions the ethical approach of his own film as if falling in the same stratagems used by Moore. Then, Wilson empowers the audience with the opportunity to question the ethical validity of his own narrative. It would have been interesting if Ric Burns would do the same in his movie. But he doesn’t. That reality leaves me with a restless feeling of “what could we do?” as historians/public historians to expose the guts of our own historical products. Why are we so afraid to give in “a little”? Wouldn’t it make it a more fair relationship to allow our audiences to make their own decisions about whether the product is good or just a bunch of bologna?