Dancing with the Dead: The Transcendent Pleasures of Historical Scholarship.

I thought I would write something for this blog about one of the things that I love about the book project I’m working on now, but then realized I had kind of said it before, so here’s a quote from that older piece, lightly edited and altered:

“But there’s something else that drew me to nineteenth century studies. It’s the same thing that drives my love of collecting nineteenth-century photographs: reviving, if only fleetingly, the dead. Taking their vestiges and trying to arrive at some understanding of their world and their lives. I’m as wary as anyone here about fictionalizing the past but there is great pleasure in experiencing a kind of insight into the past that allows you to feel it as something real, and not as something distant and expired. In other words, I am talking about flashes of insight that you may not be able to quantify in your scholarship but which feel more transcendent. (Ok, so shoot me for saying it.) I dance with the dead because I treasure the intimacy of defeating death and time, if only for a fleeting moment, poring over an old newspaper or an old diary. An illusion perhaps, but a beautiful one nonetheless…”


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