The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 1

Summer is in full swing and the Smart Women want to talk about what each of their summers looks like.


I’ve already had a full summer’s worth of life crammed into my summer so far, but why not live in the fast lane?

I just got back from Barbados, where I presented on the Caribbean holdings of the Slave Societies Digital Archive at the Association of Caribbean Historians’ annual meeting. Let me tell you, this group of scholars is amazing. About half come from institutions in the Caribbean itself, and the rest from everywhere else. They do simultaneous translation so that people who don’t speak English, Spanish, and French can hear the latest scholarship of the full region and ask questions of people a language barrier would prevent them from asking. And they are the only scholarly organization that I know of, that has a end-of-conference fete written directly into the constitution. Our right to party is constitutional! And what a fete. You haven’t lived until you’ve been part of a group of scholars who can both bachata and whine.

Isaac Badenya Thomas, myself, and Charlton Yingling in one of the JCB’s reading rooms, pouring over 17th century Caribbean maps.

And then before that, I was at the John Carter Brown Library for this brand new program they have rolled out: the Collaborative Cluster Fellowship. For this one, two old friends of mine and I wrote a joint application to work on a project together analyzing old 16th and 17th century Caribbean maps for some of the same silences we see in the documents. You see, when you study indigenous or enslaved populations in the Atlantic World, there’s so much that the people who wrote most of the documents that were saved just left off of the record. It’s the same with mapmaking, and these silences speak louder than words, so we found a lot to interrogate. We also got to explore Providence and the surrounding areas, and I particularly enjoyed some of the quirkier attractions near there- H.P. Lovecraft’s grave,  Lizzie Borden’s house, the entirety of witchy overload that is Salem, and a place called Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, Massachusetts. I saw it on a road sign and the steering wheel just turned of its own accord.

Being back in Nashville is good, but busy. Two years ago, my supervisor and I wrote a few grants to overhaul the Slave Societies Digital Archive. We wanted to save it from obsolescence and buy the time we needed to make it searchable, upload all the additional documents we had waiting, and get an updated website that would be easier for people to use and require less bandwidth. The NEH and ACLS generously supported our efforts, and we are coming up on the due dates, so want to tie up all loose ends to ensure that we delivered on all of our promises, and then some.  These are people’s histories, people’s ancestors. They deserve our very best efforts of curation.

So this summer will be spent tying up loose knots, ensuring the archive will have plenty of support going forward, and preparing for the 2018-2019 academic year.

I’m also going to be making a lot of calls to my representatives, because I’m not about to enjoy a productive summer while the nation cages children away from parents at the border in what is effectively my name. I’m just not doing that. This summer, I want to be big enough to care about the pain of others while still getting my work done. This global trend toward the right is terrifying and unacceptable. I want to both fight it, and fight for my life.  Fight for normalcy and my dreams. Turn resistance into a part of my every day.

So I’ll also be writing. I’ve managed to carve out some time for my nonfiction book, which felt amazing. A friend of mine recently reminded me of the difference between important and urgent.  It’s easy to live a life of responding to urgency- deadlines, things that have a shelf life, things that have to get done yesterday. But in living like that, we often forget about what’s important- the things that enrich our lives, and move our dreams forward.

This summer, I hope wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, you find time for what’s important.

3 thoughts on “The Smart Women’s Summer, Part 1

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