Monday, September 28, 2015

Introducing Boffin and Geek

           To what end do we blog?

           For those of you who are mad – or sweet – enough to follow us on our pilgrimage let me explain my part in this blog (and the potential risks involved in reading it).
           For my part the goal of this blog is to take you with us on our journey.
           Over the next four weeks Rosie and I are taking a journey through the landscape of New England with its rich history and culture. We are discovering a place – in my case for the very first time. But, this journey is also an inner pilgrimage to understand more of the American heart and mind - particularly the complex relationship that exists between political and religious history in the United States.
           I am fascinated and baffled by American culture. I’ve been stewed like a teabag in British history but my understanding of American history is limited. I have had the privilege of teaching lots of North American students over the last ten years. One of the many things I have learnt from them is our common use of the English language creates an illusion of similarity that masks profound differences between British and American perceptions of culture, society and political life. My hope in visiting the ‘source’ of so many formative moments in the making of modern America is to bridge the gap in my historical understanding but also to try and get inside the American mind as I encounter the history, life and vitality of this amazing place.

           A note on blogging:

           Those of you who know me (Sarah) will be surprised that I am venturing into the land of blogging. Where I come from the word blog and the word bog have an inseparable quality that is difficult for a woman of English sensibilities to overcome. Those of you who know Rosie will not be surprised that she is teaching me to break new ground technologically. After all, technological exploration becomes a core value after eleven years at Microsoft just as Ludditism becomes a way of life after too many years in academia. Essentially what you will find in this blog are two very different people, from two very different cultures encountering a location with a shared passion for learning.
           We will tell you about our intrepid explorations but we will also tell you an interior story of reflection and pondering. Come with us if you can – be selective if you like, either way – we invite you into a conversation about America taking place between a ‘contemplative geek’ (Rosie) and a ‘history boffin’ (Sarah). We will do our best not to lapse into the morass of post-modern narcissism in this blog by ensuring that we present our journey with you in mind.

           Reflections on Pilgrimage:

           Imagine setting off on a pilgrimage in 1098. The first act of faith would be to entrust what you leave behind to someone else’s safekeeping. This is a salutary reminder with which to begin.

           Boffin and Geek’s Reflections on America: 

           Today The Arnold Arboretum in Boston witnessed a tutorial on American politics. As we meandered between the trees I learnt about the relationships that exist between city government, state government, federal government, counties, the legislature and the constitution. And for good measure on the way back in the car Rosie added an addendum on the financing of political organisations.
           I couldn’t help asking if the Declaration of Independence was written by wealthy elites to consolidate power in the face of an overbearing colonial government and the threat of a disaffected underclass – both white and black? I’m reading Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (1999). It’s a pretty compelling book that reframes the American Revolution with a good dose of history from below. The political structures of America suggest a complex negotiation between local and central power. Local, municipal and national identities vie for space in the loyalties and affections of the people. What is hard to understand as a Brit is why on earth America only has two political parties. Does anyone know the meaning of the via media in America? Either one leans towards a centralisation of power or towards the devolution of power into individual states. This polar leaning - Republican and Democrat - seem to involve two different readings of American history that are hard to reconcile with one another. Are there any other ways of reading the Founding Fathers?


           Where better to begin than Plymouth – the Rock and the Mayflower?

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