Month: October 2017

The Zine Has Hit the Streets

Volume 1 of the Learning from Lexington zine has hit the streets, folks.

How will the zine affect our “on the streets” interviews?

For a prime example of the “on the street” model of interviewing you can listen to the spring 2016 podcast Word On The Street produced by Shira Singelberg and Andy Holter… “Bring the Recs back!” “It all begins and ends with the people… it all begins and ends with us.” “There’s a lot of love here.”

Visual Arts major and graphic designer Markele Cullins did a solid job of pulling things together to feature the students research. The zine includes a selected timeline including some memorable past vendors (James and Eliza Herndon) and places (Tubbs Restaurant and Lounge) as well as how the Market has changed because of fire, development, and politics. The most useful aspect of the zine is a summary of the changes planned for Lexington Market.

Do you know about the changes planned for Lexington Market?

We have been taking the zine to the streets not only to get the word out about the potential changes… but also to listen to how people feel about those changes.

Last Wednesday’s class (Oct. 25) we took the zine to the Market to begin our field work. We had done a few interviews on the previous Monday but ran into some trouble with security about recording. Once we explained we had secured permission from Stacey Pack, we were good. So, when we saw Stacey in the Market we got some business cards, which we refer to as “get out of jail free” cards. One of the issues certain people have is with Market security. For example, how the Market “rules” do not allow people to sit down on the first floor of and people are rushed to finish their food. There’s a 30 minute time limit posted by the only seating area (located in the upper level of the arcade). Why doesn’t the market want people to sit, to linger, to enjoy and linger in the space? We have some ideas. But…

Our focus for the next few weeks will be talking to people “on the streets” as well as in offices… we are also interviewing Robert Thomas, Baltimore Public Market, Inc. executive director, this week. Markele is interviewing his grandfather about his memories of Lexington Market. To really explore an issue you have to talk to everyone possible… from the boards rooms to the streets.

If you want a zine or (even better) if you have a Lexington Market story to share, email us at baltimoretraces@gmail.com.

See y’all in the streets.

October 25 class “debrief” at Alewife

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The ups and downs of public humanities projects… on “research” Monday

Mondays are my research days; however, as chair of my department and while working on a complex class project with my students, I must take a broad definition of “research.”

This morning began grand. I walked the ten minutes from my house to meet my students as they prepared for their first day of fieldwork. As Christina and I were waiting for the other students LM security approached and told us that we could not sit up here (we were on the second floor of the Arcade) if we have not purchased food, which seems a bit “problematic” within a “public” market space to me… and especially since we had not even been sitting there for five minutes before being approached. I politely told the security guard that we were waiting on more people who were joining us and I was about to go and purchase food and drinks. She was cool with that.

So, I ran down stairs and got some Konstant’s coffee (the best!) and four doughnuts from the Berger’s booth (AMAZING… and Berger’s is really busy in the morning). I saw Stacey Pack, the communication manager and friend to our class, with a film crew. She said that the Market was working on “telling their own story” in a short film. Wonderful! The more stories (past and present) we can tell about the Lexington Market at this moment of impending change the better. However, if we have “learned” anything about the history of the Lexington Market it is that it has always been changing with the city and that change has always been contentious. Change is hard.

Last weekend when I read many of the numerous news tidbits in the Sun on the LM in the 19th century, I noticed how some contemporary issues have existed for well over 100 years. Going back to at least the 1830s street harassment of “ladies” was an issue around the Market. Bustling city streets are a great amalgamation of our shared humanity. From 6:30am to closing at 6pm the Market and its environs are some of the most lively and beautiful places in all of downtown. Humanity is on display and it is glorious.

As I bolt back up the stairs with coffee and donuts, Adam and Liz have arrived. I make sure they have all they need and tell Christina that I put two batteries in the zoom recorder case since the power was a bit low. Adam remarks, “You know it takes four batteries, right?” No. I did not know that… because having student teachers (like Christina and Adam) take numerous Baltimore Traces courses and then return as fellows means that they know more about certain aspects of our project than I do. We all learn from one another. Making mistakes is often the best way to really learn something. Okay, four batteries… got it. Adam always has his recorder and a dozen batteries in his gear bag any way. We won’t even speak about what I did to the earphone cord Adam fixed for me last semester :O

With a delicious cup of Constant’s coffee in my hand, I walk home to get back to my “research.” After answering emails and putting out the little fires that always seem to flare up on a Monday morning right before advising season begins, I write Calvin (another Traces fellow) to get the files to make the final zine edits. Simple, right? Let’s just say it does not go well.

Something I can work on (other than navigating photoshop and the Adobe suite better) is delegating responsibilities to the students/fellows. I have to let the control of the final steps (always the most difficult) go sometimes and let the project really be the students’ project.

Well folks… that’s my “research day” when I am teaching a Baltimore Traces course. Remember my advice: Don’t work too hard!

Next week: Do they get zine 1 to press before Wednesday’s class? What are the next steps for fieldwork? And, will Professor King ever actually understand the Adobe suite? And why is everything always so complicated?

UPDATE… Markele Cullins is a brilliant designer and we got the first volume of the zine completed in time for Prof. King to make the 5:30pm shuttle home… YAY! Go Team.

Expanding Humanity: Seeing Traces

During our last class, I clarified that our main goal this semester is to “Learn from Lexington” as outsiders/students and present our research on what we have learned to the public at the end of the semester. We are exploring the history, culture, and stories of the market and need to be upfront and ethical in our work. We do not want to cause or solve problems, or even offer solutions or make interventions or changes. We want to explore, document, and learn and then share with the public.

In class we discussed the history and role of zines. We learned from Chole Arnold’s A Brief History of Zines in Mental Floss (November 19, 2016) that the first zines were science fiction fanzines from the 1930s, which speaks to the role of zines in sub/counter cultures in the U.S. The community of science fiction zine writers and readers even successfully fought to save the Star Trek television show from being cancelled in 1968. We also discovered, by following links and confirming with Lindsey Loeper in Special Collections, that UMBC holds an extensive archive of these early science fiction and fantasy zines. There is power in building community around zines as seen by their role in punk and riot grrl subcultures of the 1980s and 1990s. Jenna Wortham’s New York Times article from February 28, 2017 Why the Internet Didn’t Kill Zines explores that power in today’s oversaturated media culture. Zines also connect to the (tenuous) survival of print in a city like Baltimore where a digital divide (inequitable access to digital culture) still exists.

Shakar Mujukian (producer of a zine about queer and trans Armenians) told Wortham via email “just because technology can fully replace something doesn’t mean it should” and described zines as the “precursors to personal blogs” (which have been in decline over the past decade). Here’s an especially relevant section from Wortham’s article:

Devin N. Morris, who edits and publishes 3 Dot Zine, told me that he sees self-publishing as a political and radical act. He’s a young queer artist from Baltimore, and the zines he creates reflect that experience and create a historical narrative that otherwise would be ignored. For him, the act of creating a zine is more about defining his reality on his terms and legitimizing it than it is about the novelty of making indie media and distributing it. It was a sentiment I heard from almost every zine creator I spoke to. Morris, who recently hosted an indie-press fair at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, said that zines have a way of encouraging people to have “inspiring interactions in real life.” He described a hunger to physically interact beyond simple likes or direct messages. Social apps weren’t made to inspire that desire; they were created so that there would be no need.

Wortham’s last line is especially relevant for the goals of the “Learning from Lexington” project: “The internet is especially adept at compressing humanity and making it easy to forget there are people behind tweets, posts and memes.” Indeed, urban redevelopment projects are also “especially adept at compressing humanity” and forgetting that there are actual people attached to even an old an imperfect building (like the LM). The “human connection” comes from taking a blank space built in 1952 and giving it a sense of place from years of interaction and use. The Baltimore Traces project is committed to documenting these traces left on the landscape and to critically engaging the past as a productive way to think about the future of a city. When we went down below the Market into the Tubbs night club and deeper down into the catacombs, we were in a sense going back in time by inhabiting a place long gone… but not forgotten.

Both the series of public history zines the students are working on and the podcast they will create from the voices of individuals who are kind enough to share their time and their stories with us will be a pause in the movement of these traces of the past through the act of cultural documentation. That is why students are reading Folklife & Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, shared by Michelle Stefano) for our next class.

The real goal of this course, and public humanities courses in general, is to expand humanity and to make sure we never forget the people behind the traces written on a place. While expanding humanity may seen lofty and huge… it is really only another way to say that we want to learn… and then share… some traces people left on a place. This semester that place is the Lexington Market. And the fact that the building will be torn down within the next three to five years, does not mean that it does not matter. There will still be many traces left behind. We hope to add to the collection…