History: Playboys, Tough Gals, and American Firsts

I’ve written almost 90 entries for the Clio website now. Some of my favorites have been:

  • The James Gordon Bennett Memorial in NYC, in which the founder of the New York Herald and his owl-obsessed, public-indecency-causing playboy son are discussed.
  • The Engineer’s Club building in NYC, where Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison both hung out and, ironically, where Tesla received the Edison Medal in 1917.
  • El Polín Spring of San Francisco, where African American/Latina Juana Briones (1802-1889) gave medical aid to sailors and soldiers before leaving her abusive husband and going on to become one of the area’s most successful farmers and business owners.
  • Matthews Hall at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the first American Indian received a degree from an American university in 1665.
  • Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, the first hospital in America (founded by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin) and home to the country’s first surgical amphitheatre, first hospital apothecary, and first medical library, as well as being the first hospital to treat psychological illness as a curable illness instead of as a spiritual affliction.
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Elevation drawing of Pennsylvania Hospital by William Strickland, 1755 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

I’ve been working on Philadelphia entries quite a bit lately (did you know it was originally colonized by Swedes??), and having a grand old time with the yellow fever epidemic. Why a person like me, who hates any kind of squishy disease (in either living or dead people) and only likes skeletal remains, should be so interested in outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera, I don’t know. But I am. Yellow fever and cholera have a horrible morbid fascination for me, as do terrible medical ideas of the past (like bleeding patients who are dying of internal bleeding or treating opium addiction with morphine). It’s part of why my undergrad thesis centered on the medical use of mineral springs in Kentucky. Still, I’ll avoid going to the doctor for my own shots as long as is humanly possible. They had to give me Valium to give me my last Tetanus shot. Go figure.

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Working for History

I’ve added to the mix of archaeology, editing, research, and writing I’m normally up to by getting a part-time job posting at The Clio, an online non-profit educational resource for historic research. (Read between the lines: it’s FREE to use). I’m writing about five entries a week, and having a blast finding out about historic places and cultural centers all over the country (so far I’ve mainly written about the DC, NYC, and Providence, RI areas). Here are links to some of my posts on The Clio:

New York City

Washington, D.C.

Providence, Rhode Island

What I Did on My Summer Vacation….

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View from the roof of St. Isaac’s Cathedral

I spent the last 3 weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Now, if you’re thinking that 3 weeks is not very long for a study abroad semester, you are (a) correct and (b) not aware of how much can be packed into 3 weeks with sufficient effort and enthusiasm.  Ha!  I’m happy to say that, for just about every page of my beautiful DK Guide to St. Petersburg, I can point to at least one listing and say, “I’ve been there!”

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One of my favorite paintings in the Russian Museum

I’ve written a series of articles for SRAS (the School of Russian and Asian Studies, the organization which ran my program) – a pre-departure research article (previously posted on this blog) about Russian artist Aristarkh Lentulov, and the following 2 articles about some of the museum studies experience gained during my trip:

1. Archaeological Collections and Curation at the Hermitage

2. Painting Restoration Methods of the Hermitage

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A stormy day over the Hermitage Museum

My final article, a trip summary, has not yet posted to the SRAS blog.  In the meantime, let me say that I absolutely loved St. Petersburg.  It’s a beautiful city, and going in the summertime (when the sun only goes down for a few hours per night, at most) was fantastic!  The amount of art, architecture, and history you can encounter within one block in St. Petersburg is overwhelming.  My travel journal is around 45 pages (single-spaced!) and right now, I honestly can’t think how to sum up that much experience in one little blog post, so I will leave it at my articles and a few photos for now, and post parts of my travel journal from time to time in the next few weeks.IMG_0887

On the Oreninbaum Estate

Write Like You’re Getting Paid to Do It

New topic for Sara D vs. Reality…whining about writing for a grade.

So I’m trying to put together a speech for one of my classes.  I am not having luck with my topic research.  What I’m trying to do is a speech on the politics of literature, specifically dealing with the historical persecution of authors, with a focus on how and why a government decides a work is subversive.  It isn’t going well.  I can find lots of specific examples, but almost nothing in the way of an overarching, comprehensive look at the subject.  And for a 15-minute speech, I’m not going to be able to turn 500 examples into my own overarching, comprehensive study, because that would be a freaking thesis project, not a 15-minute speech.  I am frustrated.

Mostly I’m frustrated because I was excited about this topic, and now I’ll probably have to change the focus of my speech so I can use the TONS of stuff I’ve found on censorship and book burning and so on.  Same general topic, just not the angle I was going for.  I suppose the moral of the story is that, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, prose or speech, sometimes what you set out to write just doesn’t work, and you have to be flexible about it.  Even if you have to pout about it for a day or two before getting back to work.  And maybe it’s a good idea, if you’re not writing for school, to pretend that you are.  Yes.  Pretend you have a professor and your grade depends on getting over yourself and writing it anyway, and your financial aid for next year depends on your grade, and if you don’t follow through your GPA will suffer and no one will give you any money for school.  Pretend those things whenever you want to sulk about your writing.  It does wonders for lighting a fire under a writer’s ass.