Tuesday, November 29, 2011

DC Humanities Book Reviews: "Free Agents: A History of Washington, DC Graffiti"

Another Review From Humanities Council Intern, Bridget Sullivan

Gastman, Roger. Free Agents: A History of Washington, D.C. Graffiti. (Bethesda: R. Rock Enterprises, Inc.,2001)

Free Agents: A History of Washington, D.C. Graffiti contains the stories of some of D.C.’s most notorious graffiti artists in their own words. Roger Gastman uses his knowledge of and connection to the graffiti world to speak with some of the big names in the history of  D.C. graffiti. The book covers the personal stories of these artists, as well as their creation of a unique graffiti culture in the District. It also includes several pages of photographs of iconic pieces of DC graffiti. The combination of stories and photographs gives the reader a strong sense of the way that this culture developed over the course of the past few decades.
This work showcases the hidden side of DC graffiti. Although Gastman seeks to highlight that graffiti is not merely an act of rebellion or vandalism, he does not shy away from addressing the less glamorous aspects of this scene. Drug use and police conflicts are addressed head-on in the several stories, but they are discussed from a perspective outside the mainstream.  

Gastman’s portrayal of graffiti culture captures its ephemeral nature. He shows that the majority of pieces last for a limited time, and that most artists eventually move on from graffiti. Gastman, again, takes a different perspective, stating that this turnover allows newer artists to make their mark on the city. He also emphasizes the role live music shows played as a forum for graffiti artists.

Overall, Gastman makes the case that the graffiti scene of Washington, DC is a lot more than initially meets the eye. He presents the stories of its history in a way that immerses the reader in the underground culture of graffiti art, both good and bad. Further, he focuses the snapshot images within the wider narrative of both the graffiti scene and the life stories of those involved. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Footage from Joe Howell's Author Talk

Howell Learned About Empathy and Compassion Early and Vividly

Last week, author Joe Howell discussed his recent memoir, "Civil Rights Journey," at a fundraising event for the Humanities Council. Howell's book is a remarkable story of how a young white southerner in the 1960s found himself on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. The story is told first hand through journals Howell kept while he and his wife Embry worked for Head Start in southwest Georgia.

Check out his brief clip from last week's author reading. Howell discusses an early childhood experience that contributed to his decision to join the Civil Rights Movement.

Find out more at Howell's blog - http://jhowell.authorsxpress.com/.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

38th DC Historical Studies Conference Kicks Off this Weekend

Annual Letitia Woods Brown Lecture on the Civil War in Washington

The 38th Annual DC Historical Studies Conference kicks off this weekend with the Letitia Woods Brown Lecture, and a fascinating plenary discussion about a Digital History of the Civil War in Washington, DC. The Brown lecture is titled "Lincoln's Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, DC," and will be delivered by Professor Kenneth J. Winkle of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Civil War is not the only topic of discussion during the 150th Anniversary of the conflict, but it certainly is a major theme throughout the two-day conference schedule. 

The sesquicentennial of the Metropolitan Police Department will be highlighted in a panel discussion featuring department historian Lieutenant Nicholas T. Breul, with Martin Murray, and Sandra Schmidt and moderated by Bill Brown. A session on political collections in DC's archives will be moderated by Yvonne Carrigan, Head of Special Collections and Archives at George Mason University's Fenwick Library. The panel will include librarians and archivists from other area Universities as well as the DC Public Library Washingtoniana Division. Professionally guided history tours will be offered of Lafayette Square and major sites of Prohibition-Era Washington. 

Recent recipients of the Humanities Council and the DC Historic Preservation Office's DC Community Heritage Project Grant will form a panel exploring neighborhood history. Another DCCHP grantee, John Eaton Elementary School, will demonstrate their student-produced, web-based history project. Their session is rounded out by Lucinda Janke, Kesh Ladduwahetty, who produced a Humanities Council funded online exhibit on the Franklin School last year, and Kimberly Springle, Director of the Sumner School Museum and Archives and Humanities Council Board member. It is great to see so much of the great work produced by these dedicated local historians and scholars represented at the conference.

This overview by no means covers all of the sessions offered at this year's conference. With so many great speakers and new ideas, there is bound to be something of interest to just about anyone. Check the conference's blog for more details on the schedule and how to register for sessions.