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When ‘locked down’ and confined, the human imagination is capable of some remarkable imaginative activity.
On a recent episode of RTE’s always soothing ‘Sunday Miscellany’ radio programme, which I have listened to since I was a child, a contributor mentioned a couple of literary examples.
Primo Levi – when a concentration camp inmate in Auschwitz – relished the physically demanding task of retrieving water in the camp, for when he performed this task he would recite the feats of Odysseus. Another example is Molly Bloom of Joyce’s Ulysses; while the male characters are busy romping about the town it is in fact Molly – confined to the house for the entirety of the day – who provides the most vivid account of life and loves in the book.
An excellent historical example is that of Hitler’s architect Albert Speer. When Speer was confined to post-war imprisonment in Spandau Castle in west Berlin, he would turn his walks around the grounds into a ‘walk around the world’: a methodically researched journey in which he tricked himself into imagining a rich and varied global landscape unfolding before him.
But what of the imaginative capabilities of the unconscious?
Last week I was emailed by a student support worker, who reminded me that I had spoken to a first year seminar group earlier this year about a remarkable book published in 1960s Germany – The Third Reich of Dreams by Charlotte Beradt – which is all about how people dream, or dreamt, under authoritarianism, in this case under Hitlerism in Germany. The book, summarised in this New Yorker article – https://www.newyorker.com/books/second-read/how-dreams-change-under-authoritarianism – is neither ‘serious’ history and nor is it heavy on the psychoanalytic theory, instead it’s somewhere in between. And it’s all the more readable for it.
The book outlines how dreams change under authoritarianism. How people’s unconscious reacts to their lived experience.
The student support worker told me that since the beginning of the current Coronavirus lockdown, she had been experiencing her most vivid dreams since she was a teenager. For years she had not been able to remember a solitary dream, but now the memorable and sometimes unnerving dreams and nightmares were coming thick and fast.
As a long-term author of a ‘dream diary’, I responded to her email by encouraging her to write down these dreams. I believe that ‘dream diaries’ – although recalling sometimes embarrassing or ridiculous themes – are valuable historical sources, as demonstrated by Charlotte Beradt’s book.
It seems apparent that she’s not alone. I have read several pieces on the enhanced vividness of dreams and nightmares since the start of the Corona crisis, the most recent being this one: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/19/last-night-i-was-james-bond-the-vivid-world-of-lockdown-dreams
The article contains the opinions of psychotherapists, who are debating why it is the case that dreams are becoming more memorable.
At this point, I’m not really interested as to the reasons why this is the case, but rather the small window of opportunity that we now have to record our dreams experienced during this extraordinary time as an historical archive.
This is because – as the Guardian article argues – humans have an amazing capacity to become accustomed to any situation, and the present state of vivid dreaming may not last long as we become more used to the new reality of lockdown.
That’s why it is important to point out a link to a project called Lockdown Dreams – run by a group of postgraduate psychoanalysis students – which is archiving all of this.
Why not contribute?
If not for peace of mind, for posterity.
Review of Peter Hennessy’s ‘Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties’, Irish Times, 12 October 2019
I am honoured to have been awarded the annual Dave Abrams and Gene Banning Pan American Research Grant for research in the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection at the University of Miami Libraries Special Collections in Coral Gables, Florida.
The grant, generously provided by the Pan Am Historical Foundation, honours two of Pan Am’s most avid historians, Dave Abrams and Gene Banning. Abrams, a University of Miami graduate, joined Pan American Airways and worked for forty-two years as a meteorologist, navigator, and Director of Flight Operations for Latin America. He was instrumental in the formation of the Pan Am Historical Foundation after the company shut its doors in 1991, and in finding a home for the Pan Am’s archives and memorabilia. Banning was one of the longest serving pilots for Pan Am. His aviation days started with the infamous flying boats in 1941 and ended with Boeing 747s in 1978. An avid researcher, Banning was a guiding member of the Pan Am Historical Foundation from its inception and the author of Airlines of Pan American since 1927.
The grant has been awarded since 2008, and has resulted in a variety of articles, theses-related work, book chapters, and a wide array of research projects. As this year’s award winner, I will receive $1,500 to support my scholarly research using the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records collection. As part of this year’s award, Special Collections will be hosting an Abrams-Banning grant talk, an opportunity for me to share my research and discoveries to interested scholars and community members and answer questions about the project.
The Project: Pan Am, A Gastronomic History
People today are generally dismissive of airplane food but, at the same time, ignorant of its history.
Pan-Am, once the largest international air carrier in the world, performed a pioneering role in airline food service.
Nostalgia for Pan-Am’s distinctive food service is now such that a Los Angeles film studio hosts a retro dinner on a stage set up to look like a Pan Am double-decker 747 at which patrons divest themselves of upwards of $200 to dine ‘airline’!
But this gourmet glamour was underpinned by both serious science and attention to the detail of fine dining culture.
Food tastes differ at high altitudes and in low humidity the sense of smell is less acute and the scent sharper; dryness of air and low air pressure ensures our taste buds are hindered, rendering seasoned dishes bland. Pan-Am led the way in scientific innovation around these problems, while maintaining high class dining rituals.
This research project explores the changing science and culture attached to food during Pan Am’s global reign, providing the first serious academic study to highlight the company’s gastronomic history.
Before the serious stuff starts I’ll also be checking out the TV series (below) for a few initial pointers!
My national project to rediscover the public feeding schemes of 100 years ago hit the road again last Friday, when over 100 people in Nottingham were fed for free from a menu 100 years old. We had a jazz band, we had music hall numbers, we dressed up and danced and ate. And all in a stunning Victorian venue designed by renowned architect Watson Fothergill http://www.watsonfothergill.co.uk/
The idea is to highlight how social eating is superior to the basic food bank model and how we can learn a lot from how the government did things 100 years ago. So we fed 100 people food from 100 years ago, including period dishes ‘wet nelly’ and ‘trench cake’.
The local television coverage of the evening is accessible here: https://nottstv.com/programme/social-eating-experiment-takes-locals-back-world-war-one-19-06-17/
The point was to rediscover social eating in an area of nottingham (St Anne’s) with a high food bank dependency and a very diverse demographic. The event was held in the city’s Pakistan Community Centre and involved some fairly diverse groups of people including a choir for children with special needs. We teamed up with Marsha Smith of Super Kitchen and ‘Pulp Friction’ (a Nottingham-based charity for young adults with learning disabilities) and the floor was run by Hospitality guru Dr Clay Gransden, ensuring the night provided an opportunity for young adults with learning disabilities to learn transferable skills for the industry (front of house, table service etc).
The entire project has now been nominated for the Royal Historical Society’s Public History Award 2017 and so was judged on the evening by Professor John Tosh (Royal Historical Society).
All the below images are reproduced by kind permission of Richard Mowberry:
Britain goes to the polls this Thursday, to mark #GE2017 I’m talking ELECTION CAKE on #r4today on Thursday morning. #foodforthemany
The above is a link to a piece of research I undertook last year – during the US Presidential election – when placed on a research fellowship in the idyllic Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware, USA.
It’s all about election cake – a New England cake traditionally baked at election time, a large fruit cake, often boozy, which historically served a civic function in sustaining voters at the polls.
The article includes historic recipes for anyone wishing to bake an election cake to mark the crucial UK election this Thursday – but make sure you have enough people to help you eat it, for the election cakes of yore were enormous.
Britain votes this Thursday in a crucial election and I am delighted to have been asked onto BBC’s flagship radio news show, the Today programme on Radio 4, to chat about election cake on Thursday morning.
John Lewis Kimmel, Election Day 1815 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1815), Winterthur collection.
If you can’t tune in on Thursday morning at c. 8:50am GMT, the below links to a video I recorded with the Washington Post about the same topic last year.
Everyone loves a bit of cake and I have fond memories of Winterthur librarian Laura Parrish baking a delicious election cake, which we nibbled over tea, quite sure that Donald Trump would never get in. How wrong we were.
I hope that people listen in to Radio 4 this Thursday where they will be sampling the cake in studio: I also hope that the piece inspires people to get out there and vote …
Below are some heritage recipes if you fancy cooking a good ol’ election cake (all courtesy and copyright of Winterthur Museum, DE, USA):