Archive for July, 2009

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Indiana State Fair and the Resource Connection

July 28, 2009

One of the great pleasures of late summer in Indiana is getting to visit the Indiana State Fair, which takes place from August 7-23.

Whether you are taking the family for elephant ears and corn dogs or planning a night out for a great concert, there is so much to see and do during the weeks of this yearly event. The Indiana Humanities Council will even have a booth this year for Hoosier Heritage Day on Aug. 13, so make sure you stop by for a visit. And, check out the model barn, debuting on the 13th, thanks in part to a Humanities Initiative Grant from the Council.

If you look up the Indiana State Fair in the Resource Connection, you get some interesting results, including the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library’s Kid’s Info Page on the fair, an 1887 Sandborn Map of the fairgrounds, and several items from Traditional Arts of Indiana, including the Profiles of 2006 State Fair Masters. Check it out for yourself and do a little research before you visit the fair this year; it might make your experience even better!

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Making it Relevant: Villon the Villain

July 27, 2009

My field trip to the new John Dillinger exhibit at the Indiana State Library has done more than make me reconsider my childhood aspirations to become an international jewel thief; it has reminded me of one of the most valuable gems in all of the humanities – Francois Villon. Rogue, rake, and rascal all, Villon was a second-class criminal who wrote first-class poetry. We may very well even consider him the founder of gangsta rap. As the Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg of medieval France, he celebrated his villainy and criticized his society in such style that baggy, underwear-revealing blue jeans dominated the Parisian fashion scene for much of the 13th century. He shot cops, robbed banks, and generally kicked back and chilled “like it ain’t no thang.” His artistic legacy blossoms within the verses of one of his only known published works, Le Testament.

His biography is the stuff of all the best Hollywood films. Born into an impoverished family, his natural ability earned him an excellent education at the University of Paris. In a tavern one evening, he drew a dagger against an attacker who died from the wounds. Thus began the criminal career that had him banished from Paris, robbing cathedrals for their gold, and leading an infamous band of student thieves all across the French countryside. After years of this life, he was condemned to be hanged. As he awaited execution, his Ballade of the Hanged sprung forth from his pen as a marvelous contemplation on death, exile, and forgiveness – ideas proper for the condemned but just as important for us.

Villon’s supplications, of course, prompt us to consider that mysterious land of death. It is Hamlet’s “undiscovered country,” which has puzzled people for time immemorial and which the intellect seems entirely unable to grasp. Villon, as one condemned by his society, asked what his own legacy would be after he took that journey – and we all will one day too.

One legend holds that when Villon’s executioners went to his cell to bring him to the block, he had disappeared. History proper holds that his sentence was commuted to banishment. Nevertheless, after 1463, his published works and public crimes vanish from the pages of history. At 34-years-old, Villon vanished like a wisp of wind into the unknown stories of our history and culture. While we will never know what happened to the condemned man, Villon’s tremendous contribution to the humanities, and his notorious villainy, remain gifts to us that no thief could steal.

This weekly series (by Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council) will help expose the relevance of studying the classics.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Andrew’s take on Andrew

July 22, 2009

Written by Andrew Glaser. Andrew is a junior majoring in finance at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. This is his second summer working for the Indiana Humanities Council.

I find few presidents to be quite as interesting as Andrew Jackson. Apparently you have to do quite a lot to get your face on the 20 dollar bill. Those acts include:

  • Refusing to shine a Redcoat’s boots at the age of 14 and being slashed with a sword for your defiance
  • Allowing an opponent in a duel to shoot at you first, killing him after that, and carrying the bullet that hit you in your arm for the rest of your life
  • Beating with your walking stick a would-be assassin whose pistols both mysteriously failed to fire

Joking aside, great presidents tend to be remembered and glorified as larger-than-life, but Jackson was a flawed—and contradictory—man. Though he adopted a Native American orphan to raise as his own (the boy died only a few years later), he was a staunch champion of the removal of Native Americans from their tribal lands, arguing that “red” and “white” people could not coexist in proximity. But, as author Jon Meacham insightfully reminds us, “not all great presidents were always good, and neither individuals nor nations are without evil.”

Meacham’s biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, explores the fascinating life of our seventh president, whose views about the presidency still shape the balance of power among the three branches of the federal government. Hate the spoils system? Blame Andy Jackson. Love the president’s power to veto anything he doesn’t like? Thank Andy Jackson.

This isn’t the first biography of Andrew Jackson, but it’s easily the best and most readable, probably because it focuses primarily on his White House years. (Take it from me—I couldn’t even finish the last AJ biography I read. I can only read so much of 18th century Tennessee political life.)

It’s a must read for any history buff—or any aging man seeking inspiration and/or a reminder that 70-something-year-olds can still pack quite a wallop with a well placed cane hit.

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Back to School Musings: Resource Connection and Brown vs. Board of Education

July 20, 2009

As July slowly rolls to its inevitable close, those of you with children are probably pondering the return of school (and all of the shopping that comes along with it).

In 1954, there was a decision made that changed the way our schools would be structured forever. Brown vs. Board of Education was the landmark Supreme Court case that challenged racial segregation in U.S. public schools and issued in a new era of civil rights in America.

If you want to take a minute from your back-to-school shopping and learn a little more about how this case changed not only the educational system in America but the very fabric of our society, check out the Resource Connection’s resources on this topic!

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Making it Relevant: Engaging Emerson

July 17, 2009

“Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar

Whether I like it or not, the classics have no value just because we consider them classics. Sure, they deal with timeless questions that we’re still asking today, but why not just ask what people today are thinking? Ralph Waldo Emerson was a man who was fed up with the dogma of the time. People in his day just read the classics, considered them authoritative, and derided everything else.

Well, Emerson thought that was totally lame. He thought people shouldn’t be so obsessed with the classics that they forgot to come up with their own answers to the great questions. So he took a break from hanging out in nature to deliver a totally awesome speech called The American Scholar.

In this profound challenge to the intellectual establishment of our country, Emerson reminded us that the real answers to our greatest questions lie within our own experience. It does no good, he held, to idealize the experience of others for its own sake. We must rely on our own intuition and our own minds to make meaning and find the answers we need.

Emerson wasn’t telling us not to read or to study the classical texts, but to be wary of the kind of thinking that stunts our minds when we they should continue to grow. The American Scholar has stood the test of time because it rouses us out of complacency and encourages us to take a good, hard look at the food we’ve been nourishing our minds on.

All the same, it looks like the joke’s on you, Ralph. You’ve become a classic! You spent all that time urging people to get over the old tomes, and now you are one. Looks like you were so wise and well-respected, people just had to preserve you instead of looking boldly into the future.

This weekly series (by Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council) will help expose the relevance of studying the classics.