Against nostalgia

Posted on March 8, 2013 under nostalgia, public history | 4 Comments

Nostalgia can be an emotion that gets people interested in the past and that draws them back to their own and their family’s history.  But it’s a distorting force.  It puts a scrim of sentimentalization over real events and real people and recasts challenging, uncomfortable stories as quaint and harmless.  Nostalgia robs history of its […]

The move

Posted on December 6, 2012 under me | 2 Comments

Friends, since last we spoke I packed everything I owned, drove across most of the country with a yowling cat companion, and arrived safely in the Bay Area, where I am now a curator at the Oakland Museum of California.  My remit is “contemporary history,” and I am excited to think through what it means […]

Support the DIA

Posted on July 30, 2012 under museums

This is a post for my friends in the three-county metro Detroit region, before our primary elections next Tuesday, August 7. On the primary ballot this year in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties is a millage proposal to help fund the Detroit Institute of Arts, our amazing local art museum. The DIA has been suffering from […]

On Relevance and Snow-Storm in August

Posted on July 6, 2012 under book review | 4 Comments

History doesn’t have to have a news peg. Our historical work can be important, compelling, moving, and relevant without making thumpingly explicit connections to today’s news cycle.  Both historical characters and events and our contemporary readers are ill-served by extravagant pleading for relevance.  I’m not saying, of course, that journalists shouldn’t be writing history; on […]

Belated Conference Report

Posted on May 1, 2012 under me, museums, public history

It is a testament to the quality and high level of engagement of this year’s NCPH conference that the web is already full of conference reports; here’s mine. The NCPH/OAH meeting in Milwaukee was full of interesting sessions on vital work in the field, passionate people doing good history, free wifi, and excellent beer. I’m […]


Posted on April 16, 2012 under history of technology, me | 1 Comment

As perhaps you’ve noticed, I am now a contributor to The Atlantic Technology channel.  I’ve recently written about typewriter nostalgia, shorthand, and Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality.  Do subscribe to the channel; there’s a continuous stream of historically inflected work there, as well as historiography of technology disguised as current tech news analysis.

History @Work

Posted on March 26, 2012 under blogs, public history | 2 Comments

I’m sure, dear readers, that you are familiar with our only public history professional organization, the National Council on Public History. You may also be familiar with NCPH’s blog on unexpected exhibit practice, Off the Wall, for which I wrote a few posts about history on the internet. Now NCPH has upped the ante with […]


Posted on February 27, 2012 under blogs, me

A few blog- and Suzanne-related notes: This spring you’ll see me in Milwaukee at the NCPH/OAH conference (for which a hashtag has not yet been determined).  Our panel “Museums and Makers:  Intersections of Public History from Steam Trains to Steampunk” will be Thursday, April 19 at 10:30. Be there.  The conference program is online now. […]

Curating the kraken

Posted on February 1, 2012 under museums

While much ink has been spilled on the role of curation and curators writ large in contemporary culture, it’s useful to have a reminder of the power of the curatorial enterprise–to radically revalue objects, to change their contexts and transform them into something else, into artifacts. China Mieville’s Kraken (2010) explores the way curation can literally rewrite […]

From Garfield’s Porch

Posted on November 8, 2011 under history of medicine | 7 Comments

I am not a political historian. I’m proof that it is quite possible to get an advanced degree in American history and know very little about presidents. James A. Garfield is famous for having been assassinated—and in the history of medicine, he’s famous for having been killed by his doctors rather than his assassin. But […]