Wednesday, December 16, 2015

7 Questions With Ron Smith and Mary O. Boyle, Authors of Prohibition in Atlanta: Temperance, Tiger Kings & White Lightning

Although Ron Smith and Mary O. Boyle have both long held a dream of writing and publishing a book, the dream came to fruition because a commissioning editor for The History Press made contact. They’d been maintaining a blog about beer in the Atlanta area. The editor found some history articles on the blog and asked if Ron would consider writing a book on Atlanta beer to be part of their American Palate series. Ron recruited Mary to be co-author and they brewed up a book.

Ron’s background is in biology and environmental sciences, though he’s long nurtured a deep interest in history. Mary started in accounting and then segued to information technology. Both are detailed researchers and believe that snapshots of the moment do not cover the complexities of where people and places developed from. This is especially true in the South, where much of the history was literally burned away.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
RS: As a kid I always liked Revolutionary War history. However, working on my family genealogy in my 30s got me moderately hooked. Researching for the books set that hook.

MB: I’ll give Ron primary credit for stoking my interest in history. I tend to be a here-and-now or looking-to-the-future person, and Ron’s thoughtfulness about the past has strengthened my appreciation for it.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
RS: My family has interesting historic moments. One in particular is that my Great Grandfather served in the US Army during the Civil War. That’s pretty dramatic when his home county was overwhelmingly Confederate. Also, my father worked on the Apollo missions that put humans on the moon. So, it’s a bit of a “Forrest Gump” story (not the major players, but right next to their shoulders).

MB: My fraternal grandma--whom I spent a lot of time with as a child--would talk about traveling for days in a covered wagon as a little girl. She also recounted that my grandfather hung her by her dress on the coat hook of their door once when she was being ornery as a 16 year-old bride. It made me realize that to truly understand someone’s multi-dimensional view of the present, you must tap into their stories of the past. The same is true for places and organizations.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
RS: Over the last 18+ years, I have worked next to cultural resources professionals (archeologists, anthropologists, architectural historians, etc.). I have learned a lot from their work, papers, and presentations.

MB: I tapped history in a different way…by being able to remember problems and solutions of the past to help solve tricky technical problems in my IT work. You can save a lot of time if you remember and honor lessons already learned!

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
RS: To me it’s understanding context. X affected Y, and became what we now know of as Z. This can be seen in the blending of people, their cultures, their food, their drink, to become something new…like New Orleans.

MB: In some ways, I think humans elevate themselves when they explore, document and preserve knowledge and artifacts of history. The richness of life is lost if we lose track of the events and developments that shaped who we are. Understanding the past can help dispel a lot of faulty assumptions, too, or at least make them less powerful.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
RS: The US “Roaring Twenties” and the Gilded Age that led up to the 1920s. In my opinion, modern America was developed in the 20s: modern advertising, social change for women, wide-scale credit, “off time” for the average worker, and casting off of Victorian mores.

MB: Hmmm. I’m not tied to a specific time, but I am intrigued by events where the role of women in society changed. I love learning about particular women or groups that defied the norms and shook things up. Oddly, then, I have to give a lot of credit to Frances Willard, who in leading the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union fought for equality and took a much higher public profile than was typical for women.

6. Tell us about your book Prohibition in Atlanta: Temperance, Tiger Kings and White Lightning.
The beginning of the book was really the prohibition chapter in Atlanta Beer. That was by far the hardest chapter to write, but we kept distilling the information to a workable chapter. The feedback from readers was very positive, yet we knew that we’d only been able to present the Reader’s Digest version. In Prohibition in Atlanta, we were able to give a more thorough visit to the very long history of prohibition in Atlanta—which goes back to General (Governor) Oglethorpe’s ban of “demon rum.”

The book is about the ups and downs in regard to perceptions of alcohol, but to frame those cycles we discuss the religious, gender, race, and political climates across decades (a couple of centuries, really). There are some unexpected connections, such as that the women active in the temperance movement were also highly influential in securing voting rights for women. From the standpoint of the alcohol industry, reviewing this evolution certainly helps explain the messy remnants of blue laws and local option that exist today across Georgia.

7. What history related projects are you working on currently?
RS: I keep researching beverage history as I can. I’m currently reading Wood, Whiskey and Wine: A History of Barrels by Henry H. Work. Fascinating--and it might be useful in future writing. Maybe something more light-hearted about the history of drinks is in the shaker.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

7 Questions With Gretchen Henrich, Director of Interpretive Education at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Gretchen Henrich joined the staff of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in 1999 as the Children’s and Family Program Coordinator. She has a degree in Zoology from the University of California, Davis and began her education work in zoos. In her 25-year career, she has developed both humanities and science education programs in museums.

As Director of the Interpretive Education Division, she is currently responsible for managing interpretive programs and services as outlined in the Center’s Interpretive Plan. She also works on exhibit element interpretation, hands-on exhibitions, visitor service elements, and evaluation throughout the museum.

1.         How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I would say I really got hooked on history later in my life than most. I struggled with history in school, nobody was able to light that spark in my early life. I was an animal lover, good at science and math, and I couldn’t see the relevance of history to my life or future career path. I think my true fascination with history came when I started working at the Center. The Center, where I currently work, has five museums that cover art, cultural, and natural history. The tangible objects in the museum revealed stories and meanings that helped me begin to understand history and its value. Because the museum’s collections are so diverse, I was beginning to learn about aspects of history from many sources. I was no longer learning history facts from a book, but I was challenged to look at history from lots of perspectives through a variety of resources. I am continually taught history through museum objects, fellow staff members, artists, Plains Indian tribal members, and scientists. I have such a comprehensive set of historical resources at my fingertips here at the Center, I am hooked!

2.         What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
After growing up in San Diego, I returned to the place in Wyoming where my mother’s family has roots. I am learning about my family history by being immersed in the local area. I now live in a house overlooking a man-made reservoir that flooded the town of Marquette where my great-grandparents lived. I run into people that continually give me little snippets of my own history through their stories. I recently discovered, through my coworker’s family research that I have a distant cousin working with me here at the Center!

3.         How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I talk about history every day here at the Center. I love challenging students and adults to think about historical topics in a way that they may not have thought about them before. I like to present lots of perspectives and listen to how they process that information and form their own opinions about events in history.

4.         Why is studying/knowing history important?
I think that sense of individual identity that you get from studying history is important. Why do I have the beliefs I have? How do those who came before me shape what is happening in my world now? How do the events of the past effect society as a whole?

5.         What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
While working here at the Center, I have developed an interest in Plains Indian culture and history. It is interesting to observe throughout history how cultures clash, blend, evolve, and hold on to traditional values. I have met some fascinating people that have been willing to share their tribal cultural values and history with me and learning about their perspectives has enriched my understanding of history.

6.         What is the mission of the Education Division Buffalo Bill Center of the West?
Interpretive Education at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West embraces innovative, engaging, and thought-provoking methods of understanding cultural and natural objects and resources. The Center’s interpretive specialists blend far-reaching ideas of the West with experiences that set the stage for compelling stories of the West that unfold in an informal learning process.

7.         What are the greatest challenges and rewards of your job as Director of the Interpretive Education Division?
I think the greatest reward is when I hear someone say “I never thought of it that way before.” Or when a child says, “this is really cool.” It is so fun to watch the light bulb go on! I think the challenges for the museum field in general are remaining relevant to an ever changing audience. As a new generation begins to learn in different ways and with technology changing so fast, it is hard to keep up!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

7 Questions With Amy French, The Roaming Historian

Amy French holds a Ph.D. in history. She is a tenured history professor and owner of Roaming Historian (a company offering travel and historian services). When she's not in the classroom, she and her husband enjoy traveling the world's most treasured sites, cities, and cultures. As the Roaming Historian she encourages others to explore the past with her one place at a time.

1.   How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
When I was almost four years of age, my parents took me to see the Egyptian exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum. I was mesmerized by the artifacts, but the piece that fascinated me the most was a mummified cat. I immediately pelted my parents with questions about it. Why was it mummified? Was it their pet? Did they worship it? My parents encouraged my curiosity by purchasing a subscription to an archaeological journal (they didn't have a lot of stuff for kids back then), which I devoured monthly. They continued to take me to museums and center our family vacations around historical sites, so I have my parents to thank for cultivating my life-long love of history.

2.  What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
The past seems to command my present. I'm always looking to explore historical sites or sift through archives. I like to think that I live in the moment, but whose moment I live in is a different story.

3.   How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I'm a history professor so history plays a huge part of my career. My husband and I also own a company, Roaming Historian, which allows me to share my passion for history with a broader audience than my college's student body. As the Roaming Historian, I encourage others to integrate history into their travels. I help travel destinations promote their history to travelers and offer other travel services, as well as history services (research, consulting, speaking engagements, etc.). I am incredibly fortunate that I have two positions, which I love, that let me share my passion for history with others!

4.   Why is studying/knowing history important?
Besides the fact that it is just the coolest subject on Earth? Studying history opens up a world of possibilities and inspires us to be great (or not to make the same mistakes as others). Through learning the past we build an appreciation of other cultures and become engaged, global citizens. I love having a complex, diverse past to explore, and studying history continually sharpens my abilities to think critically and analytically.

5.   What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
It is difficult to choose just one era, but an aspect that I greatly enjoy is labor history, especially that of women. Coming from a working-class background, I was the first in my immediate family to go to college. My grandmother had a scholarship, but her father wouldn't let her accept it because she was a woman. I identify with the history of laborers and want to tell the story of people who are like me.

6.   How and why did you get to be the Roaming Historian?
Initially, I started writing about my travels for my friends, family, and students. As an avid watcher of travel shows and reader of travel articles, I noticed that a lot of them included history or were about historical sites. Since these were popular shows and magazines, I saw an opportunity to share my passion and expertise with a broader audience—so I became the Roaming Historian. As the Roaming Historian, I offer travelers ideas and opinions from a professional historian; I'm also able to offer my professional services in a variety of other ways.

7.   What are some of your greatest memories of trips you’ve taken as the Roaming Historian? 
Rome is the city where I connect to its past most deeply, but Athens is a close second. As I wandered down Rome's cobblestone streets, my spirit felt at peace. It felt like I was home. I love Rome's culture: its food, historical sites, joie de vivre, and respect for heritage. Athens is another great city where I have wonderful memories. Climbing the Acropolis and gazing upon the Parthenon gave me chills. I couldn't believe that I was visiting the birthplace of democracy, and that I was standing where noted scholars may have once stood. Both are fantastic cities! Ephesus, Turkey is another great memory. To wander through a huge archaeological site fulfilled my childhood dreams and made me realize that my life had come full circle. I still have the same insatiable curiosity for the past that I did when I was a child. Thankfully, my professional and personal lives allow me to live my dreams daily.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

7 Questions With Amanda Read, Co-Host of the History Author Show

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?

I think I loved history from the moment I could pay attention to stories. I grew up as an Army child, home educated and living abroad, who was curious about the behind-the-scenes of just about everything. Sometimes I felt like all the interesting things happened before I was born, and that I just missed out on the world's highlights. My imaginary games with my siblings often involved historical themes.
 2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
When my mother began reading aloud Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series to me when I was around 5 years old, I got excited about the notion of everyday experiences being meaningful history. After all, every bit of the past was once in the present! I started keeping a journal with attention to detail as if my writing might one day be meaningful, historical documentation. Naturally, I was partial to the written word. Sometimes I would make copies of letters I wrote to friends, and saved every letter I received (even the envelopes so I'd remember what postage looked like over the years, apparently). To this day I have a habit of not wanting to delete e-mail correspondence, because after my research experiences I think of how frustrating it is to only find fragments of letters and notebooks through which to understand life in previous eras. Ha!

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in history and am working on a biography of USDA Chief Chemist Harvey Wiley (1844-1930), a project that started out as a screenplay. It's a story that tells of the classic tension between science and politics, and the origins of America's large federal bureaucracy, with a chemist and suffragette's romance throughout. My dream is to create historical drama films, bringing lesser known stories of the past to life on the screen for modern audiences. There's a special place in my heart for the Biblical epic, always yearning to give people a better understanding of the ancient world. But even in my freelance writing and journalism, history never ceases to play a role. When I report on a current event, I like to consider not only "what is the story?", but "what is the backstory?" What happened explains so much of what is happening. 

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
History gives us the opportunity to learn from the life experiences of entire generations. As a relatively young country in the grand scheme of things, the United States of America in particular has a deep well of knowledge in other countries' histories from which to draw when it comes to government, and therefore (in my humble opinion) has less excuses for error! I think studying history also helps keep current events in perspective. Whenever I get irritated by a glitch in a contemporary convenience (like weak internet connection), I have to remind myself how people had to wait on communication across long distances for so many ages! We need to be grateful for the innovative work that some people pioneered generations before us. We have so much more time for leisure than most of them did, but we aren't always using it as productively as they might have dreamed.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
That's always a tough question for me, because I have such eclectic interests. But I keep coming back to the 17th-18th centuries, known for being the age of reason, enlightenment, and revolution (but having a lot of human folly mixed in there too). Perhaps I can blame this interest on the biographies of Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal that I read when I was 9 years old. I particularly like studying what I call the "genealogy of ideas," discovering how many policies and cultural practices today are rooted in the thoughts of philosophers and other intellectuals that go back many generations. The enlightenments are naturally a big part of that study.

6. What is the premise of the History Author Show?
I once wrote (much to a history professor's appreciation) that the story of history, in a way, is a story of the historians themselves. Whenever you read about people of the past, you're reading not only about the characters within the events, but the interpretation by the characters who are recording and analyzing the events. The History Author Show interviews those characters who research and write history today - or as our host Dean Karayanis says, "we bring you the people who build the time machines."

7. What can listeners expect to hear in your shows?

Expect to hear deep conversation, laughter, vintage music, and some talented voice over artists bringing history to life!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

7 Questions With Matthew Harffy, Author of The Serpent Sword

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD. The sequel is THE CROSS AND THE CURSE.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.

1.       How and/or when did you get hooked on history?
I think living in Europe and having parents who would take me to amazing historical sites sparked an interest in history from a early age. I grew up in England and lived in some fabulous places that were steeped in history. We lived for a few years in the village of Norham in Northumberland, where I would play in the ruined Norman castle on the hill overlooking the Tweed valley. Later we moved to Spain, and went to places such as Toledo, with its cathedral and castle, and the monastery palace of El Escorial. Being surrounded by such rich history, how could I not be hooked? 

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
My wife loves history too, so when we travel anywhere, we are both interested in visiting local monuments and museums. That, and our mutual love of books, are constants in our relationship and we have tried to instill the same passions in our daughters. 

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
History is of course a major part of my writing career. I've only published one novel and it is historical fiction, so I spend a large proportion of my time researching history and reading other historical fiction novels.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
Knowing history is important because by understanding the past, we can try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. It is the typical answer, but I think it is really true. It is a pity that more people don't seem to care about the lessons of the past.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
For the last few years I have been immersed in early seventh century Britain researching for my novels. It is a fascinating time, with Christianity emerging as the primary religion of the British Isles. It is a time of clashes between the Germanic peoples known as the Anglo-Saxons and the native Britons. It is a time where the island of Britain is splintered into several small kingdoms, each vying for supremacy. England as a concept did not exist and the land would not be unified for many centuries. It is a dark age of battles, heroism, intrigue and religious conflict. It is a wonderful time to write about, with so many stories, and so little in the way of hard facts. Perfect for a novelist.

6.       What drew you to the world of the Bernicia Chronicles?
As I have said in the previous answer, the period is full of interesting characters and powerful stories. The land of Bernicia itself is what nowadays is called Northumberland, along with part of modern-day Scotland. I lived there for a few years as a child and I fell in love with the rugged landscape, rocky coastline and ruined castles. It is so barren in places, it is easy to imagine Anglo-Saxon warriors trudging through the windswept hills of the Cheviots towards the fortress of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh), atop its crag of rock, standing sentinel over the iron-gray waters of the North Sea.

7.       What will history lovers get out of your books?
They will get a feeling of total authenticity as they sit beside the protagonist, Beobrand, on mead benches in smoky halls while scops sing epic tales of dragons and night-dwellers. They will feel the rush of terror and excitement as shieldwalls clash. They will be taken on a journey into the dark past of the British Isles as Beobrand searches for his brother's killer, seeking to bring justice to an untamed land. And readers will learn of the history of those faraway northern kingdoms as the Angelfolc (the Angles) fought to gain control of the land from the Waelisc (the Welsh) who inhabited the island before their arrival. 


Bamburgh Castle at dawn

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

7 Questions with Jim Auchmutey, Author

Jim Auchmutey, author of The Class of '65: A Student, A Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness, is a veteran journalist who worked as a reporter and editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. He writes about a wide range of topics, from food and sports to religion and politics. He's currently working on a history of barbecue for the University of Georgia Press. He's a fifth-generation Georgian.

1.      How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I've never not been interested in history. I grew up in Atlanta and started elementary school during the Civil War centennial years, which coincided with the height of the civil rights movement. Atlanta was at the center of both of these epochs. I wanted to know why my home town had been conquered and largely destroyed during war, and why all these people were marching in the streets and willingly going to jail. I didn't understand until later that they were part of the same story. In addition, my father was a Naval officer in the Pacific during World War II and participated in a dozen landings, culminating in Okinawa. So as you can see, I felt personally connected to three of the biggest events in American history: the Civil War, the civil rights movement and WW2.

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
History haunted me from an early age. When I was a boy and the family would be driving somewhere in Georgia, we'd pass a history marker and I'd yell from the back seat, "History sign!" and make us pull over so I could read it. The knowledge that something significant had happened at that spot was enough to make my skin tingle.

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
A newsroom like the Journal-Constitution's always has a lot of transients and newcomers in it. I was the guy they asked about local history, the one who took important new hires on tours around town. As often as I not, I wrote about subjects that had to do with our history. To name a few things I wrote about at the AJC: the Leo Frank case, the 1906 Atlanta race riot, Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil War in Georgia, lots about the Confederate battle flag, our Southern food traditions (especially barbecue) -- just about everything I did had to do with history in some way.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
This is so obvious to me that I may have a difficult time explaining it simply. To understand anything, you have to understand what has come before and why things are the way they are. The past is a great teacher.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I find that we're most curious about the era that came just before we became aware -- the world of our fathers and mothers. My parents grew up on farms in rural Georgia during the Depression. I have always been fascinated by how their lives went from mules and outhouses to cars and postwar suburbs in Atlanta. I'm most interested in the 1930s to the early 1960s, and the enormous changes that a state like Georgia went through during those years. I wrote a lot about Atlanta's postwar boom and about the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and '60s. Again, things that are just beyond my memory. (Well, I do remember seeing "colored" signs when I was very young, but they are a distant image in my mind.)

6.      What interested you in the Koinonia community and what makes its story unique?
I heard about Koinonia during my first job out of college, with the Presbyterian Church's denominational magazine, and visited the farm soon thereafter to write a story for The Atlanta Constitution -- my first out-of-town assignment for the newspaper. You could still see the bullet holes in the siding where Klansmen had shot into the farm buildings during the 1950s. I found that sight very moving. I guess I should fill in some background: Most people today, if they know of Koinonia at all, know of it as the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. Before that, Koinonia was one of the most controversial and embattled religious communities in America. The farm was established in 1942 on the principles of pacifism, communal sharing and racial brotherhood. In the eyes of many locals, that made them draft-dodgers, communists and race-mixers. During the 1950s, the farm was boycotted by local businesses and attacked by nightriders, who vandalized its property, shot at its residents and bombed its produce stand twice. It's an amazing story of persecution and perseverance. But I didn't know the whole story. 

7.       Tell us about your book The Class of '65: A Student, a Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness?
The part of the story I didn't know is what happened to the Koinonia children when they entered the public schools of Sumter County. The Class of '65 is about one of those children, Greg Wittkamper, the only Koinonia kid at Americus High the year it admitted a handful of black students (1964). At the beginning of school that year, Greg, who is white, rode to class with three of those students in a black funeral home limousine. He wanted to show his support for them. In the previous three years, the civil rights movement had mobilized in southwest Georgia, in Albany and then Americus, and Greg had been involved in the demonstrations like others from Koinonia. A mob met the funeral home limo with rocks and verbal abuse. For the rest of his senior year, Greg was a treated like a pariah -- a traitor to his race. He was spit on, assaulted, tripped, shoved down stairs. When he picked up his diploma at graduation, his name was booed and he was chased off campus by a group of toughs.

More than 40 years later, some of the white classmates who had stood by while Greg was abused tracked him down in West Virginia, where he had lived for decades, and wrote him beautiful letters apologizing and asking for his forgiveness. Had they really changed or were they just looking for easy absolution as they entered their twilight years? Greg went back to Georgia to find out. What he discovered was inspiring, hopeful and more than a little sad.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

7 Questions With Rita Gabis, Author of A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet

Rita Gabis is the author of two books of poetry, co-author of a book on the craft of writing, and currently at work on "A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet" — a memoir due out from Bloomsbury US in the fall of 2015. Her awards include residencies at Yaddo and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as well as grants from the Connecticut State Arts foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). Her publication list includes Harvard Review, The Massachusetts Review, Poetry, and most recently Salamander and the anthology "Lit from Inside: Forty Years of Poetry from Alice James Books." She lives in New York City where she teaches Creative Writing at Hunter College.  Her latest book is A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet: My Grandfather's SS Past, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth, in which she investigates her grandfather’s hidden past during the Holocaust.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I became "hooked" on history at a very young age.  I was always a voracious reader and some of my favorite books as a young girl were biographies of historical figures.  Harriet Tubman, Abigail Adams, and George Washington Carver are just a handful of many I read eagerly.  I loved the feeling of being given access to a different life, time, and place and vividly recall sitting on the carpeted floor of the library near the history and biography shelves with a huge stack of books beside me.

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
The role of history in my personal life is immense.  I am the child of first and second generation immigrants from Eastern Europe, Jewish on my father's side, Catholic on my mother's.  As a teen, I discovered the writing of James Baldwin and his quote "know whence you came and there is no limit to where you can go" became a favorite.  To me both then and now, the quote means, know the personal history of those who brought you into this world, and know as much as you can of the world they and those who came before them were born into. Without that, self-knowledge is hard to come by. In addition, my mother was a great traveler and in preparation for each journey she schooled herself deeply in the history of places as varied as Egypt, China, and Turkey. Today, she is no longer able to travel, but the places she explored and their distinct histories are among her most valued treasures.  Through her I learned that history is a door to a deeper experience of the life we live in the moment.  

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
In my professional life as both a writer and a teacher of writing, history is vital.  I have just finished writing a family memoir after five years of sifting through historical documents in several different languages and conducting interviews with elderly people about their experiences before, during, and after WWII.  Beyond that, when I teach creative writing I my students read many different kinds of writers.  If the writers I assign are not contemporary, I always ask my students to learn about the time period in which the writer lived and wrote.  That historical context is not always necessary to fall in love with a poem or a novel or a short story, but sometimes it can give the reader/aspiring writer wonderful insight into both the author and the work of art.  It also helps the writer understand how she or he is influenced by their own time.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
Studying history is essential!  First of all, it makes your world larger and when your world view is deeper and richer, your ideas and your sense of self and possibility become deeper and richer as well.  History forces us to ask what kind of people we want to be in the world in our own time.  When we read about lives lived before us or events that took place before our time we become more aware of the fact that people impact the world(s)--both large and small--they live in.  What do we want our impact to be?  How do we want the world to change?  What part of history do we wish we could have taken part in?  What historical period or event do we hope never happens again?  Often these questions help to shape the choices we make about what we want to study in college or make our life's work about.  The history of a crucial vaccine might make you want to become a medical researcher/scientist.  A knowledge of the history of slavery might compel you to become a civil rights lawyer!

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
My "favorite" period in history…well "favorite" is perhaps the wrong word.  My latest book is about the Holocaust, the German occupation of Eastern Europe during WWII, and local collaboration in the massacres of both Jews and non-combatant Poles during that same war.  As I said earlier, for five years I immersed myself in this horrific time period.  In order to write my book, I had to learn everything I could about the terrible atrocities that occurred in a particular region of Lithuania, an Eastern European country roughly the size of New Jersey.  In addition, I had to learn about the broader history of the country to understand the lasting impact of earlier wars and occupations.  Much of what I researched was heartbreaking, I also learned about acts of great courage and compassion.  We live in a world where genocide continues everyday, so I feel that the work I did for my book which is about the past, helps me to understand the present.

6.       Tell us about your book A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet: My Grandfather's SS Past, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth?
As I mentioned earlier, I come from a blended family.  My Lithuanian Catholic mother emigrated from Lithuania to the United States with her father and her siblings several years after the war.  My Jewish father's parents came to the United States from Eastern Europe via London around 1910 after a wave of pogroms or mass killings of Jews in the Ukraine and Belorussia in particular convinced them that it was too dangerous to stay in Eastern Europe.  I had always been told that my Lithuanian Catholic grandfather fought against the Russians who invaded Lithuania before the Germans and who arrested thousands (including my Lithuanian grandmother) and sent them to prison or labor camps in what was known as the Siberian gulag.  But after my Jewish father died, I found myself wanting to learn more about his history and the history of the Lithuanian side of my family.  I began doing research and eventually asked my mother what exactly her father did during the war.  This is how I learned that he worked under the Gestapo as a Chief of Security police.  The security police in Lithuania were responsible for finding Communists, runaway Jews, and anyone involved in sabotaging the German occupation force and the German war effort.  Many members of the security police were part of shooting squads active particularly at the beginning of the war.  These squads murdered 95% of the Jewish population of Lithuania by shooting them at sites all over the country where pits had been dug and then covered up with dirt and lime when the killing was done.  

7.      What prompted you to undertake project and how did it change you?
Researching and writing "A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet: My Grandfather and the SS, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth" changed my life in many ways.  It forced me to confront a multifaceted, horrific reality about a family member I had known and loved.  It challenged me to do my research carefully, to not jump to easy conclusions, to travel to the country where my mother and her father were born many times and learn as much as I could about the country's history both during my grandfather's early life and many decades before.  I had to ask myself what being "half-Jewish" and "half-Lithuanian" meant to me.  I had to write about my grandfather's actions during the war as his granddaughter but also as a researcher.  I had to let as much of the "truth" as I could discover be more important than the bonds of family and the silences within my family.  I set out with a simple question:  did my grandfather hurt anyone during the war?  I interviewed people who told me of the most difficult events in their lives.  I had to honor the trust they placed in me and at the same time, continue to check their stories against other stories, documents, the work of many other historians.  Memory is a wild card.  But memory is also who we were, what we lived through, who we have become.  I was determined that the war stories people were courageous enough to tell me would not be lost and that my grandfather's actions be presented within the framework of his history--his childhood, his young adulthood, who he hoped to be, who he became.