Making Present Teen Spirit

sound cityWhat does the phrase Making Present mean? This past week I facilitated a discussion regarding the Sacrament of the Eucharist with a group of colleagues. The theological explanation of this sacrament struck me that when Catholics share the Eucharist, they make Christ present in a very public way. Each Sunday people of faith walk to the front of their community, receive the bread and wine which makes present Christ’s sacrifice. This sacrament is a powerful action and an often repeated memorial to that event.

I then questioned how and if this phrase relates to the study of history? Do we make present history only when we participate in active memorials? Now there are many directions to carry this analysis but I am going to connect to 80s and 90s music, one of my passions. Just a few days before the discussion mentioned above, I watched an engaging documentary directed and narrated by Dave Grohl of first Nirvana, then Foo Fighters fame, called Sound City (Listen here for Interview ).  I was not a huge Nirvana fan (I am a much bigger fan of the Foo Fighters today) and their song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” did not move me to wear the flannel shirts and torn jeans that typified the Grunge era. I do, however, appreciate the impact this band had on the music of my late teens and how it redirected music from where it was in the 80s. As an aside, this photographer argues that perhaps Nirvana signified the end of Grunge and not the beginning proving that virtually every topic in history is open for debate.

sound boardGrohl’s Sound City documents the now defunct Sound City Studios, its famous soundboard (right) and interviews most of the legendary bands that recorded there. These bands include Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, Weezer, Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana. Grohl reflects that without this sound board which he acknowledges, “enhances” and “embellishes” but does not change sound, Nirvana’s revolutionary Grunge album, Nevermind, could not have been produced. This handmade sound board, called a Neve, still uses tape but was state of art in the early 70s before computers took over the music recording business. Grohl comments, “…we’re living in an age where you can manipulate or change any of that to make it sound any way you want. You can make yourself the greatest singer in the world or the best drummer in the world with the aid of technology. So a place like Sound City, which was just a big, beautiful room where you would hit record and capture the sound of the performer — a place like that isn’t necessarily in demand anymore.”

grohl and mccGrohl and his Foo Fighters find all of the Sound City bands willing to gather, reminisce and record on the Neve including an amazing song collaboration with Paul McCartney (Right). Grohl marvels at that moment he was composing music with McCartney, who as a Beatle influenced him most, with Nirvana’s living bandmates who lead him to stardom. Quite a personal circle of history. The Neve and Eucharist are examples to begin a conversation but it seems that making present indicates that you must take an action to memorialize an event or object and give it more meaning. When one receives the Eucharist, they are walking up, and participating in a sacrament, which is by its definition an action. “Sound City” shows musicians gathering and recording music on the Neve which results in a lasting memorial collection of songs. Just talking or reading about these events or objects are not enough to make them present. We have to “do.”

Name some examples (personal or in in society) that you have seen when the past is truly made present? Can you think of particular countries that make present their history more than others? Do you have any objects at home that can capture an era or story from the past & how are they used or remembered? Grohl stated he thought the sound board would end up in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in a display case. That leads to another question: Do museum displays make present history or simply remember it (is there a difference)? Some of you will want to link a site in your answer that shows what you think is an exhibit or event that truly makes present history.


28 thoughts on “Making Present Teen Spirit

  1. For the past to be made truly present it must make people feel like they are experiencing the historical event. For example the fourth of July consists of fireworks, parades, and the singing of patriotic songs. These things make people feel a strong pride for their country and proud of the people of the past who helped the United States come to fruition. While they are not in the battle they still have the same pride that those solders had.

    A museum tries to inform people about the past but is this truly making the past present? Well it all depends on how the museum displays their exhibits. The Milwaukee public museum is a good example; they created a replica of old town Millwaukee.( While walking through it you feel as if you were living in that era. This is making history present. An example of not making present history is putting a historical object in a glass box with a little description of what it is. You do not get the same experience that you would if there was a whole exhibit capturing the event in which this historical item was used.

    One of the best examples of making present history are Civil War reenactments. These reenactments are very true to the time period they are from. This is proven by the clip from Conan that we watched in class. In this clip Conan uses modern day items like chopstick during the reenactment which makes the other reenactors upset. One of the reasons that the Civil War is still such an important event in the South is because Sothern’s can experience how their ancestors felt during the Civil War by taking part in reenactments.

    History is made present very often in modern society which is very beneficial because it helps people to understand historical events much better.

    • Great examples, Peter! I agree that museum exhibits vary in making present a topic. Museums are moving away from the traditional display and placard and into more experiential modes of interaction. Some use animated displays, QR Codes and even sensory experiences like smell. The field of Public History (which is different from academic history) focuses on making people engage and act with history and Old Streets of Milwaukee is a good example. You get bonus points for bringing up Civil War reenactors but all historic-era reenactors are attempting to make present a specific time period. A lot of people reenact to memorialize a relative’s war experience – to feel what they may have felt. Some say this is why the World War II era is becoming more popular to reenact than Civil War. As the WW II generation passes away, living descendants who knew these veterans want to memorialize them or make present their war experiences some how. We are so removed from the Civil War, it is becoming more difficult to have a connection to it and its popularity is beginning to wane.

      • Mr Lese, I disagree in a sense to your final statement. Especially recently, I’ve noticed movies, books, and shows based on the civil war. Even a few video games! Sometimes popular culture brings an old idea back for a while. For example, the movie “Lincoln” was obviously a huge success. Most people were probably not thinking about the Civil War before this movie came out. It also changes people’s perspectives to see the Civil War directly out of Lincoln’s eyes. In a sense, that makes the Civil War present.

        • I agree, there is a huge population that is interested in the Civil War, perhaps more than any other American war but in this discussion, memory and interest differ from making present. I am thinking of numbers and popularity, WWII reenactments are increasing and there is most likely a connection to that generation passing away from us. People recognize what has been lost because we knew these veterans when they were alongside us, whereas the Civil War is falling further and further behind us in personal connection. The height of interest in the Civil War was soon after the last veterans had passed away. I hope movies, books, even video games continue to remind of historical events and get us to think about the meaning of those events. Making present the Civil War could include going to a historic site/battlefield. I think of the Honor Flights (click link below for trailer) which take WWII veterans to the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC. Being with the veterans, listening, and recording their experiences is making present as well as the veterans themselves making present their personal experiences. Do you think reading a primary source makes an event present?

          There is a fine line here and to be honest, I am a bit uncertain where some of these experiences fall exactly between remembering and making present but it is interesting to think through them. Great points and comments! Keep it up.

  2. On a more personal note I find society does a great job with memory. One of my parent’s best friends was killed in a car accident. Interestingly enough he was childhood best friends with Jeff Emit the bass player for Pearl Jam. All the families pooled together to help the wife and daughter of the victim. On his birthday Pearl Jam had a concert. The concert was set up for friends and family to attend in honor of their friend that had past. Not only though did Pearl Jam honor him at their concert, but they put him on the concert poster and sang Happy Birthday to the victim. I just find that those extra things like singing Happy Birthday makes his memory very present to Jeff and the close family and friends. This example is not exactly history related, but it gets at the heart of it. It also has to do with 80s/90s rock.

    • This is an excellent example of memorializing and making present (and a nice grunge tie in). Death tends to be a very common way we share that makes present those loved ones we lost. Concerts, speeches, even walk-runs are all actions to memorialize. There is action or doing there. The Eucharist is a weekly memorial to the death of Christ. People go to grave sites of loved ones to be near their burial to remember. Objects from the deceased are held onto or worn. Thank you for sharing your story and for the record, I am more of a Pearl Jam fan than Nirvana.

  3. In order to “make present” an object or idea, the object or idea is seems to have characteristics of another object or idea. An example of this personification is how David Grohl speaks of the Neve board makes the sound come to life, shaping the music to become “bigger and warmer” – such as for rock music. I found it interesting how Grohl refers to the Neve as the “Cadillac of soundboards” and how this fine piece of equipment was located in a “dump” of a studio. If Grohl would not have bought the soundboard, then there would be no way to “make present” what has already happened because the board would be in a museum. Museums seem to only preserve history and remember it as a thing of the past. There is no way to recreate history and make it present by looking at something.

    One example of something “making itself present” is a cell phone. Although it is not adored or anywhere near sacred, a cell phone makes a connection between two people. Phones make the user feel connected to the outside world, and allows for anyone to be “made present” by connecting with them. Developed 40 years ago by a man named Martin Cooper, the first cell phone (the Motorola DynaTAC) enabled a person to stay connected with others from anywhere. With the increase of technology, humans today are not only making calls to one another, but are even able to connect with each other face to face. Facetime, which was introduced by Steve Jobs in 2010, enables people to literally make themselves present. The way that humans “make present” an object or idea (in Facetime’s case: a person) is more literal compared to the Eucharist.

    Lately I have been thinking about dreams and how one’s mind cause “make present” a scene. Sometimes a dream turns into a “deja vu” moment, where what was once a dream turns into reality later in your life. I have had multiple cases where my dreams were exactly the same as in real life. These dreams make my future “present”, as I am given information about what will happen to me. My strange case of deja vu happened about three years ago, and I remember it in such detail that I am able to tell it today.

    My deja vu experience:
    Three years ago, I had a dream that I was in a corn field. This corn field was very different from others because there was a large, fully grown pine tree in the center of the square field. In this dream I was with my friend Charlie and his two brothers and sister, whose faces were clear and easy to recognize. Arriving at the corn field, the five of us decided to try and reach the pine tree. Together, we traveled through the corn maze until we came to a halt. I still to this day remember this scene: while the other three people were ahead of us, Charlie’s little brother fell as he turned right. His knee was scratched and bled a bit, but he continued on. From this point of my dream we (as a group) successfully made it to the pine tree.

    This dream became a reality about a month later, as I went camping with Charlie’s family. Everything that happened in my dream became a reality, and the details of the maze were equivalent to the actual maze. Through my dream, the future was “made present” and then the dream was made “literally present.”

    Finally, through cell phones, humans today are able to connect with each other and “make present” one another. Dreams and deja vu are also make things seem real, and later these seemingly present scenarios are made literally present.

    The history of the cell phone:

    What deja vu really is:

    Timeline of Facetime:!date=2010-09-12_20:05:09!

    Theories of dreaming:

  4. Personally, and in society, I can think of one HUGE example. Family traditions. Year after year each and every family has traditions, whether it focused around a holiday or a summer camping trip. I know that my family has thanksgiving at our house every single year. We are not only acknowledging the past by doing this, but we are acting on it, recreating it in a sense.

  5. In class learning is an active memorial of people, places, and events. Not only do we talk about the names, but we learn their significance. We are actively putting facts and information into our minds while reviewing the past. Talking about a specific person, place, or thing adds to it’s significance to today’s society. We can relate and connect events that occurred in 1919 and 1920 (The bombings) to today’s bombing in Boston. On another note, playing a cover of a song is making the song present. Playing old songs on a guitar or drums is making that song present. Putting the feel of that era into the air through sound makes the original artists creation present. We are remembering and acting on old songs by playing covers of songs.

    • Interesting idea. I think you are right that covers are making present a older song but does it matter if they alter the song at all or make it more modern? Can you think of an original and cover and link them?

  6. I think that we forsure make hitory present today. One example is the way we remember 9/11. Every year there are programs on televison and websites put up special things to memorialize the victims. These videos, adds, etc. are ways of making Americans remember the terror and all the emotions we were feeling that day. But we also can feel the pain that the people watching it felt that day. When Mr. Lese showed us the video from the NYU dorm in the beginning of the year I felt sick watching it. It probably was not to the extent of the people filming it, but it still puts us in the same position.

  7. Without a doubt everyday we remember history and make it present. Mostly through holidays, birthdays, museums, events, and funerals. I think the most important one is funerals. When my grandma and grandpa died we made them present by remembering all the things they liked and incorporating them in the ceremonies. They always told my family to remember the good things about there past and not the bad. To smile and laugh instead of cry. We remembered them and to this day make them present in our traditions.

  8. To make the past present is a strech in any means to recreate something that happened many years ago. However, I think that in todays society we come really close to try and make past events more present in places like museums and reenactments. I do not believe that we can experiance the true life-like conditions that occured during events like the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and 9/11. The new museum on Ground Zero in New York is a prime example on making the past present because by having a museum where the event actually took place only adds to the experiance of bringing back the past.

    History is really not made present when there are just artifacts behind a glass case with a little note card as Mr. Lese said in class. Rather it is made present by either restoring or by remaking the scene of the past. It is important to be able to truely experiance the full understanding of what really happened in that date of history instead of just reading a text book or looking from the other side of a glass case. By being able to touch, smell, and see the life-like experiance that happened in that day in history. An example that I think of is the Titanic exhibit that came to the Milwaukee Public Museum when they featured a gaint iceberg to touch and take in account of the size of the iceberg that hit the Titanic. Also, being able to smell the perfume that was found on the ship and to see a giant piece of the hull was a really good artifact to make history present in a museum.

    Certain things do not really make history present in todays society like a video or a description in a book. But, by being able to make a realization about what really happened and what the people went through makes it a lot better to understand what all went on during that day in history.

    • Ryan, Would you be able to provide a link that shows the Titantic display or maybe the Ground Zero that shows these exhibits that makes history come alive? Very good post.

  9. I would like to follow up the request to name ways that we make the past present. One good example of how we make the past present is war reenactments. War reenactments use all 5 of the senses to allow viewers to be put in the shoes of a soldier in wars like the Civil War or WWII. For example, when I was in fifth grade I was taken to a Civil War reenactment at Cushing Park in Delafield as a field trip. There we were able to taste the hard tack bread eaten by soldiers in the Civil War, touch the weapons used (cannons, guns, swords etc.), smell the gunpowder, see the intense violence between the sides, and hear the deafening booms of the cannons and gunfire. I truly felt as though I was in the 1800s when I was there.
    Also, like you said in the class discussion, many people today reenact in WWII reenactments so that they can honor their family member who has suffered in the war, and to be put in their family member’s shoes when fighting in the very gruesome war.

    Another example of ways that we preserve histories is through holiday celebrations such as Thanksgiving. During Thanksgiving, millions of families have a feast for dinner representing the historic first Thanksgiving meal. We honor the Pilgrims and the Native Americans by doing what they did that evening.

    Finally, any sort of group or family tradition is a good example of making the past present. Literally, traditions are the passing on of traditions to generation after generation. Traditions involve repeating an action during a certain time in order to preserve history and to share it with the generations to come. Traditions involve actively doing something that has been around for awhile, while museums are mainly used to just be aware of prior cultures.

  10. I think buildings are a huge way of making present the cultures from years ago. Just walking through the city of Milwaukee or any other city, Roman, Greek, and Gothic structure is everywhere. The Gothic style appears in many churches around town. Many business buildings have huge Roman or Greek pillars. These buildings with their ancient forms, make present the ancient cultures of Rome, Greece, and other ancient civilizations. Nothing else in society can make present things from so long ago. Architecture can make present buildings and structural forms from as long back as you can go. Museums can display items from ages ago, but those items don’t connect well because they are sitting in glass cases. Architecture is all around us in our daily lives. I did a project last year for Mr. Parsons where we had to take photos of Roman and Greek architecture around Milwaukee. I could have taken hundreds of photos of Roman and Greek architecture. We don’t pay attention to it, but we make present those cultures all over the place.
    Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance
    This is a link (that you may have to copy and paste) of Northwestern Mutual downtown. The building has Roman pillars and many other Roman features.

  11. When I think about making something present I first off think about the Eucharist as mentioned. the Christ is made present in the Eucharist. in other ways I see things being made present are in memorials and museums. One can experience historical events with in modern museums. now a days museum are trying to recreate historical events just as they occurred in their time. This literally makes present the events being portrayed in these modern museum exhibits.

    • Yes, this is true but find a link that shows a museum that is successful at making present history. Not all do this but many are beginning the process. Thanks for the comment, Ted – keep them coming!

  12. I find it really interesting how Dave Grohl took the initiative to not only remind us all of the soundboard, but also made it present by letting more bands experience its abilities once again.
    The closest modern-day example of “making present” something that has happened that I have experienced is the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. You can always read about the Holocaust or hear stories about it, but the Museum itself takes you into the perspective of the men and women in the concentration camps.
    One of the most powerful examples to me was seeing the bunk beds that people were forced to sleep in.( For a picture see You are literally standing next to where enslaved Jews slept and suffered. To me, that is totally making the Holocaust present because you not only are learning about what happened during the Holocaust, you get to see it first hand and almost feel like you were there.

    The soundboard is similar because Grohl did not choose to store it away, put it in a museum, or just talk about it. He chose to have bands that we know and love today record on it and fully experience it.

    I think it’s important that we do this often. Sometimes history may be forgotten, and making things present (instead of just talking about them) reminds us of exactly why the events or objects are worth remembering.

  13. To make something present does not mean to look at or observe, it means to memorialize, use, or participate in. Artifacts of a war in a museum does not memorialize that war, but reacting that war in a fake battle would memorialize, or make it present. When I think of making present my mind instantly races back to visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. with my 8th grade class. This event in my life struck me as “making something present” because the museum made you feel as if you were in the concentration camps that the Jews had to endure. The Holocaust museum did things such as, making you stand in the train cars Jews were transported on, having the temperature set to 85 Degrees, and broadcasting the sound of a furnace out throughout the building. These are only a few examples, but clearly display how the Holocaust Museum “made present” the experiences, or feelings of the Holocaust. By the museum making us endure the heat, listen to the furnace, and walk in the train cars we are commemorating the Holocaust and those who suffered by “making present” the event of the Holocaust, and what people had to endure. Below I have posted a link to the website where you can find more information on the museum, and elements of it described above.

    Link to Holocaust Museum:

    In addition, America and society “make present” or memorialize things more often than one may believe. First, in society we “make present” the actions of people, or events during holidays. An example of this would be Christmas. During this holiday we “make present” the birth of Christ. We not only give gifts, and attend mass, but also do things like reenact the story of the mangier, and the three kings. By doing the reenacting, attending mass, and giving gifts were are “making present” or memorializing the birth of Jesus.

    America as a country, “makes present” much of our history, much more frequently than other nations. Unlike China, or Japan, the U.S has a much shorter history in which a handful of well remembered events have taken place. This makes it much easier to “make present’ or memorialize the event or people. As a country we remember wars, and battles by reenacting them, which “makes them present” by our participation in them. An example of this would be the Gettysburg reenactment which takes place every year over four days in July. The people who participate in this reenactment are a prime example of those who “make present” a battle. The link to the website with information on the Gettysburg reenactment is posted below.

    Gettysburg Reenactment Link:

    Are battles or wars the only thins “made present” in American history? Most certainly not, one things that is made present today the most is also something that brought us together as a nation just a short 10 years ago. I’m talking about the terrorism acts of 9/11. Today the the 9/11 “ground zero” museum is open to the public and “makes present” the actions of 9/11. This museum incorporates many “elements” from the attacks including parts of the twin towers. One way the act of the plane flying into the building is made present miraculous. The architect of the the building for the museum made it so that on 9/11 every year, at the same time when the attack happened, the sun lines up directly with the building right were the plane hit it. This “makes present” the physically attack of 9/11, and I hope to be able to be a part of that group that has “made present” the attacks by visiting the museum and participating in the activities, and memories present there.

    9/11 Museum and Memorial Link

    In conclusion, to “make something present” is to memorialize that thing, activity, memory, or event. Not to look at it, one must participate in the action in order to “make it present.” This is why reenacting the story of Jesus’ birth is to “make it present.” Watching a reenactment of it although, is not making it present. To “make something present” is very special, and heartfelt activity, I hope to make present in my future as many good memories, and experiences as I can remember.

  14. I believe that in a museum they do not make present most items they display because they do not let you experience what it was made for in the past. When you see something in a museum you may get a lesson on what it was used for and why it is important but you can not truly experience the meaning of it. Making something present is to bring back its memory into the modern world like how these bands were brought back to record their albums again on the soundboard that launched their music into the public. In my life I have seen things from the past brought back like clothing styles for example. Also in the music industry older bands are recording new songs to bring their music back into the public eye. So over all I believe that just displaying something in a museum will not effectively make it present, to be made present it must be shared with the public so that others can experience it the same way that it was used before.

  15. 1. Motown museum in Detroit
    a. You are able to walk in the same building that Motown started and look and touch the instruments that artists used back then
    b. The Movie 42 and Django, “Accidental Racist”

    2. Obviously the U.S. and maybe China with their festivals and art.
    3. My family has individual scrapbooks of my 2 sisters and I. They did this so we could see what were like as a baby and child.\
    4. Museums can make history present. It just depends on what kind of museum it is. If the museum is more hands on and has a lot of details in the exhibit, then it can make history present.

  16. Yellow for Greg! Greg is a huge inspiration to many of us at MUHS and I really feel the campaign of going Yellow For Greg is “making present the spirit.” Greg feels the support like no other and everyone is making it present. The color yellow has gone nation-wide to many high school, college, and pro teams. This is making the color yellow “present.”
    he day when MUHS went Yellow For Greg was a very special day. This picture ( shows a packed chapel showing support for Greg. We are making history when you wear yellow. Greg is a true inspiration to many.

    “Making history present,” in this situation, is only beginning. The yellow campaign is only starting. I think we will most defiantly remember this time as a true testament to God working in our lives. God is making history with us and we can only thank him more and more each day. #YellowForGreg

  17. One way of making the past present in today’s society is through family traditions. By practicing these traditions, we bring ideas and thoughts of the past into the present. On a personal level, my family has many traditions that we’ve kept from the past. Every Thanksgiving that we have with my Mom’s side of the family, we eat together at one table, all 20 of us, and share our thanks for the family. My grandparents have told me that they’ve done this tradition since they were teenagers, which was over 60 years ago.

    As a Chicago sports fan, it’s hard not to make the past successes of teams present in my life. Chicago sports has been in a decline in the past decade, with the only major sport champion being the NHL’s Blackhawks in 2010. Usually when a city or a state’s teams are unsuccessful, they look to the past successes to help them through tough years. Chicago Bears and Bulls fans often celebrate teams of the past with reunions at games or documentaries about championship teams. That brings the past successes, like the 90’s for the Bulls and the 80’s for the Bears, into the minds of young fans who haven’t been able to celebrate winning teams. For their 25th anniversary in 2011, President Obama, an huge sports fan, hosted the 1985 Bears championship team at the White House.

    For Cubs fans, the memory stretches even farther back, primarily because the team hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. Cubs fans keep old players like Ron Santo and Ernie Banks near and dear to their hearts because simply, they don’t have many good players to cheer for these days. By retiring their jersey numbers and putting their numbers up as flags at Wrigley, Cubs fans will forever make the past present at every home game.

    • Great example. Sports are an excellent way we memorialize and make present! Halftime shows often consist of bringing old teammates out, showing their jerseys or trophies. These athletes also speak to the crowd about an event and show replays on the scoreboard — all ways to memorialize. Many stadiums have hall of fames or statues, retro gear. Thanks for the comment and links.

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