Sometime in 1996, I sat in the cafe at Schuler Bookstore, likely sipping a hazelnut cafe au lait, and reading around in my Norton Critical edition of Adrienne Rich’s poems and prose, and it’s like a crack appeared in the universe, a shaft of light shone in, and my life was forever changed. (note: I should mention that at about this same time I had a similar experience whilst reading Walt Whitman in the bathtub).
I was a Master’s student, and realizing how much I didn’t know, and how much I wanted to know.
This week, I’m joining 24 other two-year college faculty from around the nation in Alpena, Michigan, where we’re learning about the Great Lakes maritime heritage under the instruction of some amazing faculty with serious street, er, water cred: Jim Delgado, Kurt Knoerl, Jamin Wells, Cathy Green, and John Jensen, to name a few. Many work for the National Marine Heritage Centers, part of NOAA (The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).
From shipbuilding traditions to shipwreck discovery, from native influences to european skirmishes, from past to present, we’re learning to explore the landscape of history and culture. We’re looking to material culture and narrative history, all grounded in specific places with rich, often forgotten history as part of the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops.
We’re diving into the wreck, as Rich writes:
I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed the thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck the thing itself and not the myth... (excerpt)