A new semester starts tomorrow, and I’m thinking of my grandmother, Marjorie Good. She was an artist, whether she held a paintbrush in her right hand or used her left hand to play boogie-woogie on the piano.
I’m thinking of her right now because she was also a teacher. She taught English for nineteen years at a public high school in the Western Suburbs of Chicago. She retired before I was born, but her stories resonated with a deep love for the material and for her students. Sometimes in the middle of a tale, she would stop and smile, remembering a particularly gifted young woman, or shake her head over the teenage boy she was never quite able to bring out of his shell.
She started the media studies program at her school, teaching film courses as electives and always bringing music and art into the classroom. She loved laughter and jokes, wrote her Master’s Thesis on humor in Shakespeare, calling it “Hamlet Plays the Clown,” and every year would dress up as Harpo Marx for Halloween.
She died on January 2, after four years of battling multiple myeloma with more grace and good cheer than most people can muster on their healthiest days.
Tomorrow I teach my first class as an instructor of record (as opposed to Teaching Assistant) at the University of Virginia. I created this class, slaved over the syllabus, and was really looking forward to calling her afterward to tell her how the first day went. Instead I’ll wear her necklace that my mom gave me the day before the funeral. It’s reminiscent of a Celtic wedding ring, and she wore it almost every day.
I believe great teachers live on in their students. I will do what I can to ensure that she lives on in me.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my husband and I took the A train the length of Manhattan up to one of my favorite spots in New York City — The Cloisters — home of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Medieval Art Collection. Even more than the art, I love the building, a medieval-style cloister built in the 1930s to house the collection, featuring beautiful courtyards and contemplative spaces, blending architectural styles, and in many cases, salvaged sections of buildings from several centuries once located all over Europe. Stain glass windows from Italy shine light on an altar from Spain in a room where the wall sconces display icons from Germany. Then you walk through an archway into an indoor courtyard supported by columns brought from the courtyards of ten other cloisters, now long gone.
Although I was on vacation, I couldn’t help but see the Cloisters as a metaphor for digital humanities. We are digital architects, creating new spaces to display the glorious works of the past and structuring the fragments to see new patterns in disparate sources. If we do our jobs right, the digital edifices should enhance not detract from the sources we seek to analyze and share. The framework of each project is tailored to the subject matter often with special nooks for contemplation and introspection.
When a person dies, it’s as if a library of irreplaceable volumes has burned to the ground.
My grandfather died this past Saturday. He was an extraordinary man who escaped Nazi Germany and survived the blitz in in London. He worked on antidotes to nerve gas, helped build the first production sites for antibiotics in Southeast Asia, was a representative to the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization, and lived a life of integrity that few can match. He also crafted extraordinary meals, including a roast goose that would bring tears to your eyes.
He didn’t talk about his experiences or accomplishments much, and though I knew him all my life, most of the stories I have about him I heard from my father, uncle, or grandmother. He was an eloquent speaker, but believed that deeds spoke louder than words, so he preferred to let his actions speak for themselves.
For years I talked about asking my grandfather if I could interview him about his life. Right now I wish more than anything that I had that tape, but it never got made. As a historian, I understand that not everything can be documented, that all sources are inherently partial, and that records in any form can be lost, but I still wish I’d screwed up my courage and asked for the interview. As his granddaughter, I am so grateful for the insights, lessons, and memories he gave me, and I know that they are more than enough.
Rest in peace. Your stories will be told.
Welcome to the Maiden Voyage of Packets: Musings on Information Exchange, Historical, Digital, and Otherwise. Here you will find posts on a range of issues, including: history, database design, digital history/digital humanities, and web/graphical design. I will do my best to post regularly (read: twice a month), but I am currently writing my dissertation, so if there is a long gap . . . that’s the reason. I’ve been planning this blog for months, so come on board and we’ll get underway.