Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shameless Self Promotion #2

Hong Kong Royal Asiatic Society: Sharon Oddie Brown
Tuesday November 22, 2012

The next speaker at the Royal Asiatic Society is an unusual choice. She failed history in High School, and then steered clear of all such courses at university. Fortunately, the lack of paper credentials has never stopped her in the past. She has had a range of disparate careers: as a Director of Outdoor and Environmental Studies for the YWCA, as the manager of a bar that was profitable enough to pay off its mortgage, and as the author of a book on home palliative care, Some Become Flowers: Living with Dying at Home.

Aside from her professional work, Sharon has designed several additions to buildings, including a four story circular tower. She researched the engineering requirements, and drew up the blueprints. She and her husband then did most of the construction work. This and other buildings she has had a hand in either building or adding to are all still standing.

In the mid-1980s, she was elected twice as a Mission City alderman. In that decade, she also became a good enough shot with a 22 rifle that a bothersome bear took note and thereafter left her strawberries alone. In the early 2000s, the volunteer financial and legal work she undertook in Roberts Creek contributed – with the help of many others - to the first rural cohousing community being successfully built in Canada. It came in under budget.

The history bug is one of her more recent obsessions. It was triggered by an intricate, double-walled silver bowl that her grandmother had smuggled into Canada in 1924. When Sharon’s father died in 1995, her curiosity about why this bowl had been given to one of her ancestors led her to the story of Sir Thomas Jackson and his brother David. Both men were her great- granduncles, and both were key players in the early days of HSBC in Hong Kong and Japan.

Sharon’s curiosity also resulted in her finding seventy-seven letters written by her great-great grandmother, letters that had once been lost for decades in a bog in Ireland. It also led her to the tale of a gypsy telling the fortunes of a man and a boy - one who would be known all over the world, and the other who would die a dastardly death. The gypsy’s prediction is only one of the many stories that she will relate at the Thursday evening talk. She will also display more than a hundred family photos and have available copies of several news clippings from the mid to late 1800s in the early days of the Colony of Hong Kong.

Her web site and blog are visited by thousands of people on a regular basis. Her method of research is idiosyncratic, but has recently been given a name: crowd sourcing. This has become an accepted method of historical research, since wedding the power of the internet with collaborative sharing can clearly produce results that cannot be realized in any other way. She has shared thousands of documents, photos and articles on her web site and blog. If you ask her, she will confess that although this approach requires an indecent amount of time and effort - it is also one heck of a lot of fun and well worth the candle.

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