January 13, 2016 § 2 Comments
As you may have heard, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide won the college football championship Monday night, defeating Clemson 45-40. This has led to all kinds of discussion down here in ‘Bama about whether or not Coach Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all time. See, the greatest coach of all time, at least in Alabama, is Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary ‘Bama coach from 1957 until 1982.
Bear won 6 national titles (though, it is worth noting the claim of Alabama to some of these titles is tenuous, to say the least). Saban has now won 5 (only 4 at Alabama, he won in 2003 at LSU). I don’t particularly give a flying football about this argument, frankly. But as I was watching the game on Monday night, everytime I saw Nick Saban, I just felt sad.
Nick Saban is a reasonably well-dressed football coach, so there is that. But, he looks like he should be playing golf. Poorly-fitting pants and and a team-issued windbreaker. He could be worse, he could be Bill Bellichk of the New England Patriots, who tends to look homeless on the sidelines. But that’s not saying much, is it?
Saban and Bellichick are a far cry from Bear Bryant and Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach. Bryant and Landry both wore suits on the side lines. Bryant did have an unfortunate taste for houndstooth, of course. But Landry stood tall in his suit and fedora.
There’s something to be said for looking sharp on the sidelines. I miss these well-dressed coaches.
January 8, 2016 § 7 Comments
I’m reading a bit about theories of place right now. And I’m struck by geographers who bemoan the mobility of the world we live, as it degrades place in their eyes. It makes our connections to place inauthentic and not real. We spend all this time in what they call un-places: airports, highways, trains, cars, waiting rooms. And we move around, we travel, we relocate. All of this, they say, is degrading the idea of place, which is a location we are attached to and inhabit in an authentic manner.
I see where these kinds of geographers come from. I have spent a fair amount of my adult life in un-places. I have moved around a lot. In my adult life, I have lived in Vancouver, Ottawa, Vancouver again, Ottawa again, Montreal, Western Massachusetts, Boston, and now, Alabama. If I were to count the number of flats I have called home, I would probably get dizzy.
And yet, I have a strong connection to place. I am writing this in my living room, which is the room I occupy the most (at least whilst awake and conscious) in my home. It is my favourite room and it is carefully curated to make it a comfortable, inviting place for me. It is indeed a place. And yet, I have only lived here for six months. In fact, today is six months sine I moved into this house. I have a similar connection to the small college town I live in. And the same goes for my university campus.
So am I different than the people these geographers imagine flitting about the world in all these un-places, experiencing inauthentic connections to their locales? Am I fooled into an inauthentic connection to my places? I don’t think so. And I think I am like most people. Place can be a transferrable idea, it can be mobile. Our place is not necessarily sterile. It seems to me that a lot of these geographers are also overlooking the things that make a place a place: our belongings, our personal relationships to those who surround us, or own selves and our orientation to the world.
Sure, place is mobile in our world, but that does not mean that place is becoming irrelevant as these geographers seem to be saying. Rather, it means that place is mobile. Place is by nature a mutable space. Someone else called this house home before me. This house has been here since 1948. But that doesn’t mean that this is any less a place to me.
August 27, 2015 § 5 Comments
Alabama is one of the forgotten states. The chair of my department calls it a fly-over state, a place you look down upon when flying from Miami to Chicago. The only time Alabama ever seems to enter the national discussion is when something bad happens here, or when the University of Alabama or Auburn University’s football teams are ranked in the Top 25. But otherwise, Alabama only makes the national news when bad things happen. It’s like Alabama is the butt of a joke the entire country is in on.
Not surprisingly, I find this problematic. Alabama is a surprisingly diverse place, both in terms of racial politics, politics in general, and culture. Like most states, the population and culture is not homogenous. Where I live, in Northern Alabama, the area is more culturally attuned to Nashville and Tennessee as a whole, rather than Birmingham or Montgomery.
The town I live in, Florence, is an amazingly funky little college town. We have a bustling downtown with restaurants, cafés, nightclubs, and stores. There are a series of festivals here and the people of Florence take pride in their downtown, which has been rejuvenated despite the fact the city is ringed with stripmalls, including two Wal-Marts. Like many other towns and cities across the state, Florence is the beneficiary of Main Street Alabama, dedicated to the revival of the urban cores of the state.
Across the Tennessee River are three more towns (Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia) and collectively, the region is known as The Shoals. Anyone who knows anything about music knows about the rich musical history of the Shoals area. Every time I turn around, I see more potential public history projects.
One thing that we are involved in is the Alabama Cultural Resource Survey. This project is a collaboration between the Public History programme here at the University of North Alabama and the Auburn University History Department. Since I arrived in Alabama last month, I have been to a series of meetings around Northern Alabama talking to people about the survey and its importance in leading up to the 2019 Alabama Bicentennial. This project is unique, I cannot think of anywhere else in the United States or Canada where such a project has been undertaken. We are asking the people of Alabama to contribute to a telling of their history for the Bicentennial. Eventually, this survey will migrate over to the Archives of Alabama website.
So far the response has been impressive. Alabamians are anxious to tell their stories, multiple and multifold as they are, to have them entered into this massive database for themselves and their descendants to use.
But this isn’t the kind of thing that Alabama makes the news for. Maybe that’s a good thing, we can keep all the good stuff going on in our state to ourselves.