on doing history

Taking the History and Giving It Back

14 Apr 2013

Lately people have been asking me about the private, pro bono, client-centered histories I sometimes provide for people who have been subject to medical trauma. Providing these histories to individuals -- work that remains almost completely invisible to the outside world -- has been the most consistently satisfying aspect of my professional life. I would love to scale up this work.

What Is History? (A Reading for Students)

3 Jan 2013

Around the time our son was born, our city switched over from conventional garbage trucks to the EZ-Cart system. Under the conventional approach, two sanitation workers would work the truck. One would drive, and one would get out of the truck, lift our cans, and empty the contents into the back of the truck. Under the newer EZ-Cart system, a single sanitation worker stays in her truck’s cab and uses a remote control—sort of a joystick—to direct two large arms out from the side of the truck.

The Fog of Privilege

9 Dec 2009

And I thought to myself, what a position of privilege such a postmodern stance is. What a sign of a working democracy and a stable middle class, that one can make such an argument--that evidence is just cute and naive. This was obviously not a man who had been accused of murder, as Chagnon has been.

History in the Walls

22 Nov 2009

Whatever else I can’t know about why that newspaper from 1938 ended up in the wall of my bathroom, what I can know, better than ever, is that our house has been inhabited before by people like us: people who read the New York Times; people who grow flowers to give to neighbors; people who establish powerful local relationships over shared indulgences downtown; people who probably, like most people, hurt when meaning to help.

Addicted to Oral

15 Aug 2009

It’s really fascinating to me, then, that a lot of interviewees don’t change very much of what I give back to them. I think they are often a bit surprised by that snapshot of their thinking, their memories, at that moment, and treat it as more sacred than I do. In any case, it’s a system that leaves me as close to peace as I can be when I’m asking people difficult questions about uncomfortable times.