I shed 40 pounds this week, and it feels great.
The weight was in the files and materials from the Ethnographic Landscape Study that I’ve been working on for the last three years for Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. The project is now officially finished, and the final report is printed and also posted as a PDF on the park’s website. And so I was able to move the files out of my office and take them to the park for eventual accessioning in their library collection.
Even with an amazing amount of material stored on a tiny flash drive (how did we get along without those things?), there was a substantial pile of paper. That, plus the fact that we were covering anthropology's "historical turn" in my "History of Anthropological Thought" class at Tufts this week, has got me reflecting on the slow, meticulous process of doing ethnographically-oriented research that covers a long span of time.
The laborious pace of that kind of study was in sharp contrast to the let's-get-it-done-now approach of an event I attended right after my visit to the park: a Farm Hack in Ithaca, New York. Farm Hack is part of the expansive and communitarian DIY movement that's making itself felt in many communities of knowledge and practice these days--part Maker Faire, part barn-raising, part engineering design lab (but with really good food). Farm Hack is a project of the National Young Farmers Coalition, itself an outgrowth of the Greenhorns, probably the central hub of information-sharing and activism for the burgeoning young-farmer movement.
I was there as part of a nascent conversation about what's happening at the intersection of new farm activism and existing (or emergent) networks of historical collections and study. Our discussions were fascinating, wide-ranging, and sometimes frustrating, and I left feeling confirmed in my hunch that the gap between the slow-food world and the slow-knowledge realm presents an incredibly interesting tension which could be enormously creative if it can be negotiated thoughtfully. (Beginning to do so, over lunch, are, from left to right, Amy Francheschini of Future Farmers, Severine von Tscharner Fleming of the Greenhorns, Conrad Vispo of the Farmscape Ecology Program, Jeff Piestrak of Cornell University's Mann Library, and Dorn Cox of Tuckaway Farm.)
I'm planning to use my next few blog posts to reflect on all of this, starting with a more detailed piece about FarmHack in the next week or so. Following that, I'll unpack the chapters of the Martin Van Buren ELS a bit, with an eye to the over-arching question that came out of the discussions in Ithaca for me: How can public historians best make a case for the use value of careful, methodical historical knowledge-creation in dialogue with the exploding universe of the slow food and new farmers movements and the sense of urgency that's driving all of us involved in these realms? Stay tuned.