Presenting and Representing the Past: “Where am I in this history?”

by Landry Chiles, BU English Major

At 10:00 on September 19th, in the Janet Ayers Academic Center, our three guest speakers met for a discussion panel. Dr. Gregory Hansen opened the  panel by telling us of his background. He is a Professor of Folklore Studies at Arkansas State University. He has worked in academia and the public sector. His interest in folklore first began as he observed “contemporary manifestations of folklore,” including urban legends such as “believing in rats at Kentucky Fried Chicken.” His interest would later shift to studying “contemporary forms of traditional culture” and “accounts of living history.”

L to R: Dr. Gregory Hansen, Dr. Martha Norkunas, and Dr. Gregory N. Reish

Dr. Norkunas is a Director of the Oral History Concentration in the Public History Department at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). She has a background in folklore as well and is an author of several books about oral, gender and race history. She read prepared comments which raised the question: what do we know about the past by listening to the individual life story?

Dr. Reish is the Director of Popular Music at MTSU. He is a musicologist; in which he dedicates his studies in the genre of bluegrass from an anthropologic perspective.

After the introductory panel ended, their discussion began. The first topic discussed was, “How does music and landscape function to maintain a scene of culture?” Dr. Hansen answered this question first, bringing up the purpose of a music venue, which functions as a cultural backdrop of a specific era or genre. Furthermore, he said that the most historically common venue was a home, where people at house parties would “roll the carpet up and put on some music to square-dance.” He also mentioned that the venue is analogous to a body representing music history; to extend this metaphor, then music itself would be the voice. Dr. Hansen’s final remark raised the idea of an experience created by a venue: “As you would walk through these venues or buildings of the past, you would essentially be walking in an enclosed museum that captures artifacts and anachronisms from another era.”

Dr. Norkunas raised a different aspect of landscape by first asking the question, “what do people mark as a sight or memory in the life of a community? Which of the things that are marked from the organic, cultural, and vibrant memory of a group’s oral tradition ultimately die?” She states that whenever we are alive, we are not actively marking details of these events or places into stone. She goes on to say that this is the same with culture groups, that when the life of a vibrant memory begins to disappear from a community, then we need to start marking the landscapes of where these memories occurred.

Dr. Reish then mentioned a struggle that his colleague is currently having. This colleague of his is attempting to find a photo of the facade of a venue on Jefferson Street in Nashville. This place, fifty years ago, was once a popular nightlife stop; he has hundreds of photos that have been taken inside the building. Dr. Reish claims that this is because nobody at the time was concerned with the importance of what the outside looked like, they merely cared for the shows going on inside. Despite the fact that this venue no longer exists, it was once a booming stop, but remembering and archiving buildings such as this one is problematic once the oral tradition tends to disappear.

This is a general thematic problem is one that historians face whenever attempting to catalog the past. Dr. Norkunas made the final comment for the event, telling the audience to be wary of commercial history. She said that in our capitalist past, are the only things that sold well the ones that will be remembered? She continues, “So if it sells, is it considered important? Also what constitutes events or locations from the past as worth noting? In the Tennessee State History Museum, women are notably left out, aside from the suffrage movement, but women have been so much more involved in history than just that.” The entire history of immigration to Nashville, ethnicities from dozens of other regions in the world, have been omitted, as well. She claims that this is problematic because since these groups have been left out of our museum, the questions of who they were, where they came from, and why they chose Nashville specifically are not asked. She then reminded us to always question, and ask, “Where am I in this history?”

The audience thanked our wonderful guests by applauding!

A Reflection of the Past

By Josie Needham, BU English Major

On Tuesday, September 18th at 5 p.m., Dr. Gregory Hansen from Arkansas State University began his presentation at Belmont University’s Humanities Symposium by evaluating the idea of values in each individual’s life then broadening into the topic of culturally accepted traditions and how past heritage and folklore have helped shaped the present. He introduced the common misconceptions of folklore and the lack of attention that people pay to it due to negative connotations in modern society. His own stories of being by the riverbank near his house, asking his father questions about not only the present, but rather the past sparked the advent of the discussion about beliefs and values that are carried out by word of mouth, customs, and literature.

Dr. Gregory Hansen

Dr. Hansen’s fascination with the concept of preserving heritage regardless of its representations, exemplifies his ultimate belief that rewriting the past would be a shameful thing to do. He mentioned the controversial statues in parks that revere previous generals who in fact, owned slaves. One audience member proposed the commonly argued idea that, “If the past is not how we want it to be, why do we represent it instead of destroying such monuments that offend others?” Dr. Gregory Hansen did not hesitate to answer and rather explained that regardless of he hurt it causes some, the past must be preserved in order to grow and develop for the future. His notion that traditions ranging from music and literature, to offensive symbols such as the confederate flag, are what have made the past, which is immutable. He believes that we need to accept the heritage that has been formative and continue to progress as a moral society. Preservation without destruction of the past that destroys heritage is crucial to move forward because it shows the truth in a light that is not necessarily out of reverence but rather as representation of what has happened. If history was destroyed, a platform to encourage reform would not exist and the mistakes from the past would remain less condemned.

Confederate Statues New Orleans
Statue of General Robert E. Lee being removed in New Orleans

Dr. Hansen did not fail to captivate the audience’s attention with his idea that the past is not changing but rather it is changing how the future will look. Many questions about the
offensiveness of the past carried through verbal and representational folklore and the pain it has caused on the present were asked and debated, but Dr. Hansen made it clear that condoning and accepting are two very different things. Heritage and folklore help the truth be revealed and altered without discounting for a better future.


“Challenge the Liars”: Fighting Holocaust Denial

by Taylor Hopper, BU English Major

On September 17th at 2:00 p.m. Dr. Douglas Bisson, a history professor at Belmont University, gave a presentation at the Humanities Symposium on the inside of the minds of Holocaust deniers and how to prove their ideas wrong. Throughout Dr. Bisson’s talk the room fell silent and the crowd sat in astonishment at the extensive amounts of deniers and how they formulate their arguments.

Dr. Douglas Bisson

Dr. Bisson opened with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, “we must establish incredible events with credible evidence”, which summarizes the major theme of the talk; in order to prove the Holocaust deniers wrong we must find the credible evidence and know when to use it. According to Bisson, Holocaust denial is the “explicit repudiation of the fact of the extermination of six million Jews” and those who deny the Holocaust have a set of core beliefs. These core beliefs include claims that far fewer than six million people died in the Holocaust; that there were no gas chambers; that the extermination was not systematic; and that the holocaust in its definition was a myth. Bisson says that if Holocaust deniers can “disrupt the narrative [of the Holocaust] then they can achieve their goal.” After the Holocaust and the Nuremburg trials, it became illegal in thirteen nations to deny these events, yet Holocaust deniers still spread their lies and while the first deniers were the Nazis they now take the form of everyone from internet trolls to religious leaders and politicians..

According to Bisson, in order for us to prove these deniers wrong, we must use intentional and non-intentional evidence. Intentional evidence is considered to be narrative sources and non-intentional evidence is physical documents. For the case of Holocaust denial the Nazis destroyed most of the non-intentional evidence, so for many years the only evidence available was survivor testimonies and Nazi confessions during the Nuremburg trials. However, later in history 346 death books, Nazi records of the deaths in the different internment camps, and the Kalendari, a day-to-day record of the actions in Auschwitz, were discovered and allowed for the intentional evidence to be proven credible. While both of these types of death documents survived, the death books were collections of death certificates of registered prisoners that had names and causes of death; however, the causes of death were mostly fictitious and did not include deaths from the gas chambers. The Kalendari, in contrast, had exact time and place of every movement inside of the death camp and because of this we can get an accurate estimate of just how many people were systematically murdered throughout the Holocaust. Bisson used these texts to show the audience how to shut down the deniers and show them the facts.

The subject of Holocaust denial and the arguments and evidence that comes along with it is so vast that any summary of it would be an injustice; however, it’s enough to say that Bisson blew my mind in less than an hour. Bisson’s talk was full of passion and incredible wisdom and for forty minutes the crowd sat in silent disbelief that ignorant deniers still exist prevalently in our world today. We must listen to Bisson and take his advice, because we cannot “passively accept lies, but [we must] challenge liars”; the only way Holocaust deniers will be shut down is with the historical truth.

The Monteverde Lecture, Take 1: “the Pasts that are still with us”

by Joseph Markferding, BU English Major

Dr. Doug Murray delivered the Monteverde lecture on September 17 at 10:00 a.m. in the fourth floor conference room of the Janet Ayers Academic Center.


In “Haunted–The Pasts that Are Still with Us,” Murray explored how the past crops up in our living present, and how the future is in ways destined to repeat the past. The talk was broken up into multiple different sections, with the first major talking point centering on the changing landscape in England. Recent increases in heat in England have revealed ancient architectural outlines in certain grassy areas; these crop marks remind us of the pasts that still remain. In this section, Dr. Murray brought up the concept of the palimpsest, which in essence is a page that is written on and rewritten over many times. The concept of the palimpsest corresponds to the way we view our history, as a single page written on over and over again.

The second talking point transported us listeners to Washington D.C., to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Murray explored how Isaac Franklin, a slave trader, had past ties with Adelicia Acklen (the person responsible for building Belmont Mansion), and provided Acklen with money and slaves. Murray then described the efforts to reconstruct of the stories of forgotten slaves, such as Eva Snowden Baker, who played a part in taking care of the Acklen family children and of the Belmont mansion, .

In the conclusion of the talk, Murray asked the crowd to keep in mind three things. He asked us to keep in mind where the ghosts of the enslaved are found on campus; to know strategies of annihilation; and to know ways that we may be replicating the past. I found this portion of the talk to be extremely powerful, and it had me thinking of all the different ways that we as people do unknowingly replicate our often unsavory pasts. Additionally, it had me scrupulously analyzing the surrounding environment of Belmont, and asking many questions about the current culture and environment that it provides. I questioned the legitimacy of that environment, and questioned whether the environment was something that I was proud to be a part of. For an answer, I look into the past and see what has taken place before me and then view the current environment through those eyes.

Image credit: David Curtis

Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Students Help Celebrate Dr. Paine’s Retirement

Last Friday in the Massey Board Room, faculty, staff, and students gathered to celebrate Dr. John Paine’s  37 years of teaching and service at Belmont and to wish him well in his retirement. Dr. Marcia McDonald was the master of ceremonies, and interspersed readings from several of Dr. Paine’s favorite writers among the many faculty and student reminiscences.

The following resolution, approved unanimously by the English Department, provides a good though still somehow insufficient summary of his enormous contributions to student and faculty life at Belmont:

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has served the Department of English at Belmont University for 38 years as Professor of Literature and Professor of Language and as Chair of the Department,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has served as professor of undergraduate and graduate studies, teaching exemplary classes in modern, comparative, classical, European, and Japanese literatures, literary theory, and French language and literatures, and teaching courses in the newest frontiers of literature,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has served the School of Humanities, the CAS, and CLASS with patience and commitment to high standards on numerous committees and planning groups, including curriculum committees and tenure and promotion committees,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to France and sabbaticals for scholarly projects,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has served Belmont University as its first director of Study Abroad, inaugurating a range of programs for students in all majors at the university, and first venturing into new territories himself to establish study abroad programs and actively participating in NAFSA,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has served as the campus liaison to the Fulbright commission, consulting, guiding and supporting numerous faculty and students in their applications for Fulbright grants

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has served the scholarly community by publications and presentations in comparative literature, by his editorship of the Journal of the Short Story in English and the Japanese Studies Association Journal, and his membership in scholarly organizations including MLA and JSA,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine has mentored numerous undergraduate and graduate students, among our best and brightest, over the years, guiding their inquiry and questions, sustaining their drive to write an excellent paper or thesis, and supporting their aspirations for further scholarly study, and continuing connections with them after their graduation,

Whereas, Dr. John H. E. Paine is an exemplary campus citizen and community member in his home town of Franklin, TN,

THEREFORE, the Department of English affirms the nomination of Dr. John H. E. Paine to the status of Professor Emeritus, congratulates him on his stellar career, thanks him for his leadership in the department for into four decades, and most of all, thanks him for his generous spirit, his intellectual energy, and his wisdom that he has shared with us individually and collectively.

Nine Inducted into Sigma Tau Delta

PrintLast Wednesday, nine BU English majors were inducted into Sigma Tau Delta, the international English Honors Society. Family, faculty, and friends gathered to watch the cording ceremony. After opening remarks by Sigma Tau Delta sponsor Dr. Charmion Gustke, the honorees were corded by faculty members. Congratulations to these wonderful English majors!

L to R: Samantha Binnie, Rachel Petty, Hope Moore, Zenna Daker, Chris Tully, Lindsey Knapp, Jacqueline Skokna, Audrey Fenstermaker, and Dr. Charmion Gustke
Dr. Gustke and Kathleen Albritton

BU English Majors Share the Joy of Reading at Family Literacy Day 2018

As usual, Belmont BU English majors were out in force for Family Literacy Day this past Saturday, sharing their love of reading and books in general!