What happened to the Combat Zone?

Yesterday evening, Barbara and I went to an excellent talk by author Stephanie Schorow about her new book, Inside the Combat Zone: The Stripped Down Story of Boston’s Most Notorious Neighborhood. Thank you, Joyce Linehan, for hosting this event at Ashmonticello!

If you’re new to Boston, you probably don’t know about the Combat Zone. If, on the other hand, you’ve been here a long time, you might even know its predecessor, Scollay Square. Schorow’s presentation was about these two neighborhoods and their impacts — historical, cultural, and political. Her explanations of the demise of the Combat Zone were much more nuanced (and convincing) than the ones that are often given, but you can read the book to find out about its content, so I want to talk about the presentation itself. (I can’t help it: I’m a teacher.) Unlike the large majority of users of PowerPoint (or Keynote, Google Slides, etc.), Schorow made exactly the right use of the slides, and I applaud her for it. Usually adults and students alike tend overwhelmingly to put far too much text on each slide, forcing the audience to read the text instead of listening to the speaker. Schorow assiduously avoided this trap. As a funny and engaging speaker, she talked off-the-cuff, without apparent notes, using her slides to provide a visual background to what she was saying. The sparse text was important, but it never required a lot of reading. As I like to say to students who use presentation software, “the presentation is not the presentation,” and this was a terrific example of how one should let the talk, not the slide, be the presentation.

So I would give her an A on this presentation. Some audience members, however, would get an F during the question period. Several were off topic, clearly having their own agenda rather than the speaker’s agenda. I hate it when a listener or a reader or a reviewer says something like “Why didn’t you talk/write about X rather than Y?” Schorow had a wonderful response to one question of that type: to a speaker who asked a question of that form, she replied “That’s a great idea; you should research and write that book.” Brava!

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Teaching & Learning