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We live in exciting times. I watch the changing Nebraska environment and ambience and relish its growing complexity. On Thursday March 12, 2015 we had to choose between a Georgia O’Keeffe lecture at the Joslyn, a lecture on kimonos at the KANEKO and a potluck at Gallery 72 feting father and son artists, all were free, two came with food. As a professional historian I see accomplishments and unmet goals, both encouraging and disappointing. We have a crisis of abundance and a dearth of social resources, thus inequality of opportunity and income. We have no family in Omaha. Our children fled to Kansas and Wisconsin and landed in Berkeley and San Francisco. Our work colleagues, religious affiliation, and people with like minded bicycling, art, music, culinary, wine, and liberal political pursuits has made a “family of friends.”
I want to elevate the common, the mundane, the human condition, into the universal, turn the autonomic into the noteworthy and remarkable, as in “who knew.”
My books are my friends. I read, mark the margins, jot down notes, and record how the text enhanced or confirmed my understanding. I am Google computer literate, but lag behind Facebook, Twitter, and whatever. I like sunrises (though prefer to sleep late), Nebraska’s piercing spring sun and rosy sunsets. I am in awe of the flight path of birds in a V formation, the backyard creek with the sound of cardinals, yellow finches, paired doves, woodpeckers, errant turkeys, rousted squirrels, and frequent four-engine behemoths flying low toward Offutt. I see the world through the eyes and sensibilities of an emigrant from England, (my parents escaped the Nazis in the late 1930s), a Vietnam veteran, a recipient of a UCLA education and Creighton law degree, forty years of teaching and thirty of practicing law, and almost fifty years of marriage — a wonderful maturation.
Historical methodology, reading, gathering and organizing evidence transcends time and place. Burma, Southern Africa, England, legal history, print culture, Jewish history, foodways, became playing fields for a process of analysis and narrative, turning ideas into paragraphs, articles and books. I want to elevate the common, the mundane, the human condition, into the universal, turn the autonomic into the noteworthy and remarkable, as in “who knew.”
People should read and write joyously. This is a personal essay, a feuilleton. I wrote these words and approve this message.
Oliver B. Pollak was born in England to Ruth and William Pollak during World War II. His parents were refugees from Germany and Austria. The family emigrated to America in 1952. After living for a while in Ohio they settled in Los Angeles. Oliver earned his doctorate in history at UCLA and his law degree at Creighton University. He has written 10 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and writes popular columns for several publications. He is a co-founder of the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society and has served on the boards of the Nebraska Humanities Council and the Nebraska Center for the Book. Oliver is a member of the Humanities Nebraska Speakers Bureau.
I couldn’t be more thrilled with the direction of my career at the moment! I came to the University of Nebraska at Omaha three years ago as the Renaissance/Baroque art historian. Recently, I received tenure and became the Acting Coordinator for Art & Art History. In March I will journey to Berlin for the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference and in May I take students to London for a study abroad program.
Present circumstances aside, pursuing a career in art history has presented its share of challenges. As the first person in my family to go to college, art history may not have been the most practical major. It involves, as I have learned, travel and language acquisition. While on the surface these appear to be great endeavors, they also take time and money – two things that I did not have, especially since I funded much of my education myself. There were many times in my graduate career that I felt completely deficient and inadequate – for example when I would talk to somebody from Switzerland who spoke four languages fluently. Despite the moments that I chastised myself for aiming for something that seemed so out of reach, I earned a Master’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio and a PhD from Indiana University.
My life is so rich because my soul and brain are constantly nourished by my discipline.
Similar to my graduate studies, my teaching career also had its share of twists and turns. I took a position as the sole art historian at Wittenberg University before completing my PhD. After teaching and writing my dissertation simultaneously for years I did not complete my degree in time to get tenure. With my degree in my hand shortly thereafter I accepted a job at Southeastern Louisiana University where subsequent budget cuts and personal issues encouraged me to seek employment elsewhere.
Despite the tails of woe, the moments of triumph have far outweighed defeat and following a career in art history has given far more than its taken. My life is so rich because my soul and brain are constantly nourished by my discipline. In any given day, I will learn about a contemporary artist, prehistoric Britain, and the costumes of sixteenth-century German soldiers. Equally gratifying is being able to share the knowledge and culture that has so enriched my life with others. Nothing is better than getting a text from a student letting me know that they were accepted into graduate school. More than anything I can teach students that following your passion and remaining persistent does pay off. Yes, the arts can be challenging, but the opportunities to learn and meet the most interesting people in the world are worth all the hardships.
Amy Morris is currently Acting Coordinator of Art & Art History and an Associate Professor of Art History. She was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and received her B.S. in Advertising and M.A. in Art History from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. At Indiana University, where she earned her Ph.D. in 2006, she specialized in Northern Renaissance art. Currently Amy teaches survey courses and upper division courses in Early Modern European art history, including Italian Renaissance Art, Northern Renaissance Art, and Baroque and Rococo Art. Prior to teaching at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Amy gained extensive teaching experience at Wittenberg University in Ohio and Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana.