Intrigued to hear someone speak on the future of reading, writing, and thinking, I took up my husbands’ offer to send me to the One Day University hosted by the Oregonian Media Group here in Portland on Saturday February 28th.
Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego, Prof. Seth Lerer walked us through a short history of the English Language including Old English, Middle English (Chaucer), Modern English (Shakespeare) and American English, with readings from each of the periods – intriguing and entertaining! It was fascinating to hear how “American English” started evolving away from “British English” the minute the colonists landed on our shores, and with the colonists geographically so far apart from each, different regional accents emerged.
Prof. Lerer quoted Noah Webster, in his introduction for ‘A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language’, the first true American Dictionary (1806). Webster stated that “American English language should reflect America – unique and exceptional as the continent”. I wasn’t able to write down all of the introduction read by Prof. Lerer, but Webster also was quoted saying that “American English can’t be regulated, just like the Mississippi River”. What a poetic and thoughtful reflection by Webster. His introduction is so relevant for current discussions about the English language. We can thank Webster for simplifying so many of the English words so they are easier to spell such as “honour” to “honor”, “potatoe” to “potato”.
It was really in the question and answer period that the future of reading, writing and thinking was addressed. Prof. Lerer worked to be as optimistic as possible, saying the language is an always-evolving object, as he had just shown us by taking us through the previous versions throughout the years, but he had to admit that he is not looking forward to having people publish their memoirs in a Tweet. He forecast that there will be many different English’s incorporating words from more distant languages as new, different cultures come to live in America. Reading is evolving from paper to digital, correspondence from a personal letter to a public exchange of information in Social Media and with what content? When one thinks about how the exchange of information has changed in our lifetimes, it can boggle one’s mind to look too far forward.
In researching Professor Lerer, I found that he has published some books, all of which received great reviews, that you may enjoy reading:
‘Inventing English, A Portable History of the Language’, for which he received an Honorable Mention—PSP Awards for Excellence in Literature, Language and Linguistics, Association of American Publishers
‘Prospero's Son - Life, Books, Love, and Theater’
‘Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, from Aesop to Harry Potter’
Prof. Lerer gave a fascinating presentation, as did the other three presenters at the One Day University and I encourage you to attend the next one coming to Portland, Oregon on September 19, 2015.
For centuries histories have been passing down from one generation to the next through verbal stories. I have been told that the Plains Indians had a bison robe on which they would paint a symbol to represent an important happening. After many years and many symbols this became a very precious robe. The leaders would share the stories to the next generations, with the robe reminding them of the stories they had been told to safe keep.
Charles Morrissey, while studying for his Master's Degree at Berkeley in 1956 did research on Charles Beard, a noted historian, and wanted to write a biography of him and wasn't able to pursue it because Mr. Beard's papers were not saved. It made Charles Morrissey realize that without the written record of a person's life history is lost.
Charles Morrissey graduated from Dartmouth University with a degree in History, although in an interview he shared that he really majored in good teachers. Through a series of introductions made from colleagues there and Berkeley where he got his Masters degree, and historical circumstances, Charles created his own position as the first self employed Oral Historian in the United States. He has had many high points in his career, including writing the History of Vermont, A Bi-Centennial History, with transcriptions of interviews with Governor George D. Aiken, and the Ford Foundation Oral History project.
Charles was one of the founders of the Oral History Association and has been educating on the appropriate methods of Oral History throughout his career. He teaches the "how to do it" classes at schools throughout the country, including Portland State University since 1979. He is an inspiration to all within the Oral History/Personal History industry.
I had a similar experience of lost history with my paternal great grandfather, Emil Schacht, who was one of the first architects in Portland, Oregon. Fortunately his construction drawings were gifted to the University of Oregon library and an inventory of all the homes and commercial buildings in that collection was made. When asked by two historians researching Emil's impact on architecture in Portland I was, sadly, unable to provide any papers from his architectural firm or personal life. Several people have researched the homes and structures he designed and an inventory has been published. Now I am working to save other family's stories for future generations.
I am sharing information about good work done in the field of Personal Histories. There is an outstanding series of personal portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that illustrate how the stories of ordinary people can be extraordinary, https://lnkd.in/b2TPasr The series, Forty Portraits in Forty Years, which has been shown around the world over the past four decades, will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art, coinciding with the museum’s publication of the book “The Brown Sisters: Forty Years” in November.
Nicholas Nixon started taking pictures of four sisters in 1975 and ended up marrying one of them and taking pictures of them annually. Nicholas shared that over the years they have grown closer to him and they are more comfortable in front of the camera, even determining how they will pose more recently. What intrigues me about these pictures is a gnawing curiosity to hear the stories of their lives as they have moved gracefully into their golden years. I would love to know what adventures they've enjoyed, and what challenges they’ve overcome in all those years"
Three years after Nixon started his project, I took my first Oral History from my grandfather because he was repeating his story at every family gathering to the point of distraction for everyone and his own inner distress that he may be forgotten. Being my first project and not equipped with a proper transcription machine it was a challenge to transcribe his stories from tape recordings to paper. The smile on his face when I handed him his “book” was worth all the effort we had both put into the project together. I treasure those hours we spent and the special bond we developed to create his treasure.
I was hooked on the process and have been doing Oral Histories ever since. My project became a passion and developed it into a business If you know someone with stories to save for posterity, or who might want to share the stories of their own beautiful photos, please encourage them to connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes for a great 2015!
Connie Shipley Personal Historian cjshipley, LLC