University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

May 6, 2013: Peter Shea discusses “Studying America on America’s Front Porch”

Brown bag lunch with Peter Shea, Director and Producer of the Bat of Minerva interview series: “Studying America on America’s Front Porch,” a look at one professor who makes history matter.

Monday, May 6, 2013
12 – 1:30 pm
235 Nolte
Interview with Chandos Brown

Peter Shea on the Bat of Minerva ~
One early model for the Bat: Bill Moyers’ World of Ideas. Its goal: to get ideas into circulation, presenting them humanely, slowly, and personally – with their most articulate representatives as spokespersons. I tried to do exactly that, at the beginning.

In this series of interviews, the intention is just reversed.  How are ideas and ideals are taken up, as plants take up nutrients from the soil, as tissues reach out to the bloodstream for particular items.

Most ideas pass you by. Most of the ideas on your bookshelf, in your newspaper, even in your conversation pass you by. They aren’t for you right now. How some item becomes timely, relevant, possible, and beguiling – able to cross over the blood/brain barrier into action – that’s our topic for these discussions. Jesus, as he spread ideas, knew that place matters. Most environments are hostile to anything new; in the parable of the sower, he tells mostly how the seed dies. So, part of our thinking has to be: “how’s the soil?” In the first session we discussed “Re-making the Solar Drive-in” – Springfield drive-in owners decide, ‘Most of our menu items aren’t real food.’ They close up, study, rethink, retool, and reopen with a menu in two columns: “favorites” and “real food.” What was their process? How could that happen? What does this incursion of an ideal into a very conventional place show about what that place (and this time) might permit?  Bat of Minerva interview with Deanne and Steve Bryce. Then we discussed “Jazz the Way The Old Guys Played” – A sax player comes up the hard way, touring with the old guys. He moves to Manhattan because that is the place to prove things. But can he make anybody understand that the way he learned jazz matters? Will the old ideal be forgotten for academic music?

On May 6 we will explore “Studying America on America’s Front Porch” – Colonial Williamsburg dominates Williamsburg, Virginia and shadows the other big thing in town, the College of William and Mary. Chandos Brown, chair of American Studies at the College, was stewed in living history as a Marine Corps kid. In dialogue with the gigantic, Rockefeller-funded teaching machine next door, he makes history matter to some of his students, while preserving his distance from rah-rah patriotism.  Bat of Minerva interview with Chandos Brown.

University people have to care about how ideas are taken up, in the long term, because, if ideas die when exposed to real life, what we do is stupid.

Related Links

Bat of Minerva interviews on the IAS site
The Bat of Minerva at blogspot

Discussions were also held Monday, April 8 and 22, 2013

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