The Whimsy of Academic Conferencing: A Debrief

As promised, here’s the run-down from the NASSR 2018 conference I just had the pleasure of attending.

N.B.: I wrote a (quite dissimilar) debrief for the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus blog which discusses what I consider a vital movement within the field. You can access that post here.

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A few quick notes for the non-Romanticists out there: “NASSR” stands for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism. The society holds an annual conference, as you may have ascertained, somewhere in North America. This year’s conference was at Brown University in Providence, RI.

Romanticism itself is the study of a very loose period of time that can range anywhere from the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions (late-18th century) thru the Napoleonic Wars, Restoration, and well into the 1830s. Some would even contest that Romanticism ends when slavery is abolished in most British and French colonies. It depends who you talk to.

I won’t get into the reasons why Romanticism is unique or noble or a literature worth delving into. That’s your prerogative.

What I will do, though, is a quick debrief from the conference with some highlights and lowlights.

 

Highlights:

-people were just really…nice. As Hemingway (not a Romantic) would say, it was a “clean, well-lighted place.” The importance of a friendly, conducive environment cannot be understated.

free food around every corner. Refreshment trays lined the conference’s main hall each morning, complete with coffee, tea, and water. Graduate student events meant I had two pizza lunches free of charge. The Bigger Six & Grad Caucus social offered apps and one free drink ticket, and opening and closing receptions offered apps and free drinks altogether.

 

Lowlights:

scheduling mishaps meant that Monday’s itinerary was shortened from two time slots (which would fill out the morning) down to one (which meant the conference finished at 10 a.m. on a business day). Monday’s panels had no shuttle from the hotel, no refreshments, no book fair, and a considerably weaker turnout.

-sheer volume of panels—and I mean a half-dozen at a time—meant that even if I attended the conference dawn til dusk, I missed over 75% of the information shared over the weekend.

 

In practical terms, the conference was stressful. I edited my paper and presentation (to be delivered Sunday at 1 p.m.) until approximately Sunday at 10 a.m.

I do not recommend doing this. However, from conversations with other junior scholars, this seems to be a routine anxiety. In fact, conversations with other junior scholars and even some well-established faculty confirmed a lot of my suspicions about anxiety re: the  quality of one’s scholarship, the precarity beyond graduate school.

Most overwhelming of all was their commitment to resilience, decolonization, and the amplification of so many voices within Romanticism other than that handful of English guys.* I repeat: world-class literature is not just for the Western Anglo-European male.

This may seem obvious, and yet for so many people contributing to the scholarship on this period and many, many others, it isn’t. This is not my idea. This is something that has been repeated by POC for a very long time.

I called this post “the whimsy of academic conferencing” to show how easily I am swept into the universe of one fairly small, absurdly specific, and overly committed community in a way that makes it feel so very populated, blurry-lined, and in the midst of change.

There is a lot more to think about in the coming days.

Talk soon,

Claire

 

*Romanticism has been, by some, boiled down to what are called the Big Six: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, William Blake, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. It’s now widely accepted that considering these six to be emblematic of the period is historically inaccurate.

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