“This advice is half-joking, but only half. For Auden is reminding his Harvard audience that all the official apparatus of the university is extraneous to its highest purpose, which is to cultivate freedom and inwardness. It is a message that still needs to be heard today, when the expense of higher education forces so many students to look at it as an investment, rather than an adventure.”—Adam Kirsch in A Poet’s Warning | Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2007
“Mr. Hancock recounted, for example, one extraordinary moment in Stockholm in 1967, during a performance by the quintet. “This night was magical,” he remembered. “We were communicating almost telepathically, playing ‘So What’”—one of the group’s signature pieces. “Wayne [Shorter] had taken his solo. Miles was playing and building and building, and then I played the wrong chord. It was so, so wrong. In an instant, time stood still and I felt totally shattered. Miles took a breath. And then he played this phrase that made my chord right. It didn’t seem possible. I still don’t know how he did it. But Miles hadn’t heard it as a wrong chord—he took it as an unexpected chord. He didn’t judge what I played. To use a Buddhist turn of phrase, he turned poison into medicine.””—The Genius of Miles - WSJ.com
“Humanists and scientists alike, trained in the language of survey research, tend to ask of data sets: “Is it a representative sample?” I doubt there is a single dataset of interest to historians that is. But while attempting to normalize away the biases in a sample is the best scientific solution to the problem, the humanistic approach is to understand a source through its biases without expecting it to yield definitive results.”—Sapping Attention: Reading digital sources: a case study in ship’s logs
Dolores Schwalb took care of over 50 physically and mentally disabled children over the course of her life. Dolores talks about her first child, who she took in at the age of 3 and still cares for today.
“These days, when people are alone, or feel a moment of boredom, they tend to reach for a device. In a movie theater, at a stop sign, at the checkout line at a supermarket and, yes, at a memorial service, reaching for a device becomes so natural that we start to forget that there is a reason, a good reason, to sit still with our thoughts: It does honor to what we are thinking about. It does honor to ourselves.”—Sherry Turkle in The Documented Life - NYTimes.com
“In the digital universe, knowledge is reduced to the status of information. Who will any longer remember that knowledge is to information as art is to kitsch—that information is the most inferior kind of knowledge, because it is the most external? A great Jewish thinker of the early Middle Ages wondered why God, if He wanted us to know the truth about everything, did not simply tell us the truth about everything. His wise answer was that if we were merely told what we need to know, we would not, strictly speaking, know it. Knowledge can be acquired only over time and only by method.”—Leon Wieseltier Commencement Speech at Brandeis University 2013 | New Republic
“The words ‘fudge’, ‘nonsense’, ‘oh’, ‘pooh’, ‘sentimental’, ‘superficial’, ‘stupid’, ‘very stupid’, ‘trash’ are among the many pencilled annotations dotting the pages of John Stuart Mill’s personal copies of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays.”—Mill and Emerson: Sense and Nonsense | History Today
“Most problems in writing come from the anxiety caused by the unconscious realization that what you write is you and has to be held out for others to see. You are naked and shivering out on that limb that seems likely to break off and bring you tumbling down into the ignominy of being accused of inadequate research, muddy unoriginal analysis, and clumsy writing. So you hide yourself behind jargon, opacity, circuitousness, the passive voice, and a seeming reluctance to get to the point. It is so much safer there in the foliage that blocks the reader’s comprehension, but in the end so unsatisfying. No one cares because they cannot figure out what you mean to say. How much better it is to stand up before the firing line and discover that no one ordered your execution.”—Lynn Hunt in The Art of History: How Writing Leads to Thinking
“David Lowenthal reminds us that the past is a “foreign country.” A foreign country, not a foreign planet. To replace naive historicism with a rigid sense of disconnection is to play mental musical chairs, to give up one reductionism only to adopt another.”—Sam Wineburg
My post for the New York Times Disunion blog on Emancipation Park, Sabine Pass, and Civil War memory in Houston. For more, see the online exhibit and digital archive on the subject built by students at Rice University in 2011.