Sunday, June 29, 2008

July 4 - And The Guest Author Is . . .

The Arline Allen Kinsel Brown Collection

Denise Levenick
The Family Curator

Many of us find ourselves in the position of family curator. How each of us deals with that position is often the true story. This Friday, July 4th, Shades will publish an account of one family curator and the unique way she preserved her heritage while educating a new generation of historians.

Denise Levenick has a longtime interest in her family history. Stories of her maternal grandmother growing up in Colorado and Kansas nurtured that interest and a steamer trunk full of letters and photographs sparked her odyssey.

Somehow, I became the keeper of “other people’s stuff” (as my sister would say). I prefer “The Family Curator.” The papers, baby books, chipped china and amateur artwork usually come with a note like this one, “If anyone ever keeps any records for posterity I just bet it will be you. In fact, it could even be put on the computer.”

Denise, a native Californian, has worked as an editor and journalist since publishing a neighborhood newspaper in grade school and has taught both journalism and literature in Pasadena schools for 19 years.

In June, Denise completed her eleventh year at Mayfield Senior School, a Catholic all-girls high school in Pasadena, California, where she taught junior and senior honors courses in Women’s Literature and American Literature using new media in the classrooms with course web pages, blogs, podcasts, and slide shows.

I have pursued my grandmother’s life story both inside and outside the classroom since 1975 when I first wrote a college essay about my maternal grandmother, Arline Kinsel Brown. At that time, my aunt possessed an old steamer trunk filled with Arline’s papers. She rather reluctantly allowed me to borrow a few letters and photos for my paper, and when I read them I knew that Arline’s story was different from that of my friends’ grandmothers.

In the trunk were scores of letters, news clippings, not one but three marriage certificates, property deeds, rent receipts, family trees, letters, sepia studio portraits and more.

Denise began the task of transcribing the letters in the summer of 2007, as soon as school ended for the term, but by spring she had barely made a dent in the stack of correspondence. Her blog, The Family Curator, was started to keep a record of her progress.

When Denise described the project to her students, she found they were quite interested and enthusiastic. She felt this would be a wonderful opportunity for a creative final project focusing on primary sources and textual analysis. Over a period of about two weeks, students worked to transcribe nearly one hundred letters from the collection. They learned about archival procedures, deciphering archaic handwriting, and understanding colloquial expressions. They also practiced close reading and gave Denise many thoughtful ideas to pursue.

Join us July 4th, for Friday From The Collectors when Denise Levenick tells the story of this experience and shares her photographs with Shades.

Denise Levenick is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara in Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies, she has an M.A. from Claremont Graduate School in English with an emphasis in American Literature. Denise is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the National Council Teachers of English, the American Literature Association, and the Southern California Genealogical Society.


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