This morning I was struck by a stunning quote from Henry Glassie’s 1978 essay “Meaningful Things and Appropriate Myths: The Artifacts Place in American Studies”:
“Historians must plunge their thought in alien time, immersing their brains in past facts. But the facts will lead outward in ever-enlarging circles of context, tipping as they widen, spiraling backward and forward from vaporous beginnings to the present, blinding in its brightness, and spinning inexorably into the future which historians help to make and in which they must live.”
First allow the movement of that passage to soak in. Now read it again, replacing the word “historians” with “dancers,” and consider that truth.
Prior to attending the Summer Institute I had the opportunity to chat with Liz Lerman on the phone about my own research interests, particularly the idea of using dance as a method to study history. Our conversation was energizing and I frequently revisit my notes from it. In this particular essay Glassie makes a case for the role of literature and art (among other things) in the understanding and interpretation of culture and history. His essay surprisingly touches on so many of the content questions that have come up this week in class, as well as my personal questions about the greater impact of dance in different contexts. Tomorrow the Summer Institute is offering a lunchtime session on how to take the tools that we’ve gathered over the course of the week into our various disciplines and communities. I’ve really been looking forward to this discussion and look forward to sharing what I learn.
Editors note: Bimbola Akinbola, a PhD student in the American Studies department at the University of Maryland, is blogging daily about her experience as a participant in this year’s Summer Institute. You can read her other blog entries here, here, here, and here. –S.L.