For as much as I have sought out stories of individuals’ flood experiences over the past two months, those stories more often than not turn into stories of community and collaborative response. During my time as an Obermann Public Scholar this summer, I have had the opportunity to engage with Vinton, Iowa and its people in a wide array of contexts: door-to-door canvassing in flood-affected neighborhoods, arranged interviews, telephone chats, facilitated group conversations, and flood resilience games. Through it all I’ve realized I have learned but a sliver of the town’s history and workings. I will never be an expert on Vinton and its flooding—not in the ways its residents are through their lived experiences.
Throughout the summer, I have had the fantastic opportunity to serve as an Obermann Public Scholar at the African American Museum of Iowa. Through the generous funding of the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the help of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, I was given the space to research the ethics of slavery education and create designs for an underground railroad education program. Through this process, I gained a critical awareness about the fraught dimensions and history of teaching slavery in the United States, alongside having the room to learn how to create ethically sourced curriculum.
As I mentioned in my previous post, a great deal of my job as community participation researcher for The Englert is to attend arts events around Iowa City. It almost feels like I’m cheating because I go to programming that I would already be interested in attending anyway. But I promise that it's truly invaluable to the research that Hannah and I have been doing.
African American museums are often born out of lack. Lacking presence in a community. Lacking public awareness of African American impact. Lacking knowledge of the fraught and powerful history of African American influence. However, from the lack, comes activism, profound stories, and testaments to the continual assertion of humanity on behalf of African Americans. This theme of capitalizing on lack and finding community, as a result, unites the African American Museum of Iowa and the DuSable Museum of African American History.
I am writing my post on a very bittersweet day--late this afternoon, I will be driving out to Clutier for my fortieth site visit, the last out of the forty historic sites I am writing on. In addition to working on the write-up stage for the other thirty-nine sites, I conducted my third and final informational interview today, something that I've really enjoyed doing--getting to hear the passion from my interviewees when they talk about why they do what they do, as well as learning about how each person came from their background (of which there has been quite a variety!) to where they are now.
While Hannah and I are interns for The Englert, a lot of our job this summer has been to map out the arts ecosystem in Iowa City and to learn how to make it more accessible to the entire community instead of just a limited demographic. We have thus spent just as much time offsite visiting other arts nonprofits as we have in The Englert offices.
At ninety-two, Dick Claeys is the oldest active rolle bolle player in Iowa and something of a local legend. In the interview I conducted with him, he spoke about his ninety years of experience playing the game that his father brought over with him when he emigrated from Belgium in 1911. This interview was conducted on July 3rd and has been edited for brevity and clarity.
In addition to writing program notes for parts of Hancher's 2019-2020 season, I am also spending a part of my internship recording those concert comments as a podcast, titled, "Tonight's Program." The title comes from Art Canter, who wrote program notes for Hancher for some 30 years, and he always titled his notes in the same way.
When we think of the people that populate a college campus, faculty members are often the first people that come to mind. This is especially true at research intensive universities like Iowa. But when it comes to expanding our knowledge base about all the humanities can teach us, we ignore too many people. For the moment, I want to focus on one group: staff members at the University of Iowa.
What does research look like? Can everything be found in a library or online? What can we gain from experiencing a place that is otherwise fully-documented in books and articles?