Travel Research, Travel “Right”

Ostensibly, I went to the UK for purposes of research.

But one cannot ignore culture–that would go against my anthropological leanings (à la Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry). Thus, I felt it necessary to drink Guinness in Dublin…Heather Ale in Scotland…Brown Ale in England. Of course, my friends, we do not mix business and pleasure; all samplings of locality happened after the books were shut and the laptop closed down And so, on several levels, it was a very successful trip. [see photos]

University College, Dublin

I went first to Dublin, in search for more information on the infamous “birthing machine” that I have been tracking down for two years. (Link to the abstract here.) I came up against some hurdles; the 1922 fire destroyed much archival research, sadly. However, I did turn up some interesting notes at the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland. I still have quite a bit of finalizing to do, but the paper proceeds. The lecture, which Dr. Gerard Fealy of UCD invited me to give, happened on a Tuesday. The turn out was good and the comments extremely helpful. What wonderful colleagues! I enjoyed meeting Gerard and Martin, as well. A lovely time in Dublin–and it so happens the Queen was in town. That did snarl the traffic a bit, but Mark was able to wave at her when her caravan drove by. We spent the last bit of the trip touring, actually, and so saw Kilkenny and the Wicklow mountains–a ruined abbey and various other attractions. I’m not sure how long this link will be active, but you can read a bit more about the project presentation at UCD Health.

Scotland/Highlands

Except for a brief stop in Edinburgh to see a colleague (CMP business), most of this trip was holiday. We began by driving to Perth, then up the east coast beyond Aberdeen. We stopped in Stonehaven, hiked to a ruined castle on the North Sea, and finally made our way to Inverness. Weather was troubled–they shut the Firth of Forth bridge at Inverness due to 100 mile an hour winds shortly after we got through, and the northlands lost power when we arrived in Wick. The volcanic ash cloud from Iceland was also a problem, and a bit of ash could be seen on the cars. We drove all the way to John O’Groats and Durness (a gypsy/hippy/artisan settlement up there makes excellent chocolate). Those are the northernmost points in Scotland’s mainland. A one-lane road took us from there to Ullapool, known for woolens and ferries and crab fishers. We had crossed over to the west, and so headed back to Perthshire, where we ended the trip in Pitlochry, near Aberfeldy and Blair Atholl. Fun had by all. So much fun, in fact, that though this was the bulk of my holiday, I did not do much blogging. I did add a supplemental Scottish Journal post, however, that collects my thoughts from my moleskin  journal. Of course, no tour through the highlands would be complete without culinary exploration–the picture here is of haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatos). [Whiskey sauce and oatcake on the side.]

Leeds/Manchester

My next engagement took me to the University of Manchester, where I gave the lecture again but to history of medicine scholars rather than midwifery and nursing scholars. I stopped first in Leeds, however, to connect with Dr Adrian Wilson and Cynthia. We had a fabulous dinner–with conversation to match. I then trained in to Manchester, to give the Father of British Midwifery and the Mother of Inventions talk.  It was very interesting to see the different things they pointed out, and as before, I found the commentary very useful. This is what makes academics so worthwhile–the sharing of ideas and creative solutions. Due to these speaking engagements (and special thanks to Carsten Timmermann and Neil Pemberton for arranging it), I have fresh ideas for presenting the project in a more publishable form. I also had the chance to meet a number of excellent researchers, all of whom are also truly delightful people. I hope to see them again at the American Association for the History of Medicine (Baltimore this year, I think?)

Oxford

The penultimate leg of my journey brings me to Oxford–back to the Bodleian library. I will be in the Duke Humphrey’s reading room, back-checking two editions of two texts. This is research for the book project (stemming from my dissertation work) on women’s education in the 17th and 18th century. Istayed in George street, not far from Cornmarket Square and across the street from Jamie Oliver’s. I have a separate blog for that. Nice guest house, very tidy, though I would swear it was built over a rave of some sort. Not exactly quiet. (There was a nigthclub downstairs in the adjacent building–funny, as it seems an unassuming burger joint by day). All in all, however, it is an improvement on my last locale. (Whereas I have clean towels, room service and free wifi here, my last Oxford stay was over a bar–during World Cup finals–and next to a bus station. My windows here close, so as to make it quieter. My window there was broken, so I was serenaded that night by inebriated tourists, singing national anthems each to their own tune and in their own language after the football match. You just don’t quite see the world unless you see it from the second floor of a pub.)

Oxford continues in future blogs, where we will pick up London and Paris, too.

April 18th–High Water, Low Ebb

April,Middle–
Slant-rhyme, half-riddle;
Half-open, half-closed,
New bud, old growth–

Fast ebb, oblation:
sed-iment-accu-mu-lation.
Old banks, new flows–
My river,

unfroze.

Middle April is always good for a flood. Winona, a sand-bar peninsula in the Mississippi, is warming up to her title as the island city. We shall keep our heads above water, however, as we have done since the flood stage of 1899…

Of course, here in academe, this is high-water-mark of another sort. Students are scrambling to turn in their final projects, each marvelous creation another drop in a rising tide of work for the professor treading water. There seems no way around it, really; the whole of the semester ramps to this point: This is the denouement, the pinnacle, the critical moment. We cannot flag now–but alas, high water always seems to pair unfortunately with a low ebb of energy and that nagging, niggling lethargy (due, I think, to our spirit’s sense that summer is just round the corner).

And for me, the problem is made a touch worse by my choice of boatswains: phenomenal overestimation of facility and stupendous underestimation of time. I’ve spent the spring preparing for a month-long overseas tour, wherein I will be giving two lectures (one in Dublin, one in Manchester), researching a book project at the Bod in Oxford, and setting up a summer-course plan in Paris (for 2012). BUT, lest I have a moment’s rest, I am also contracted to write a book review for the journal I manage–and of course, to get two more issues out in the meanwhile. Let us not forget the SCBWI, either; their summer conference is in August and I will have to get moving on that if I want to attend…And speaking of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I have revisions on my YA novel to finish. And a book club to start. And a screen play to write. And–oh goodness–classes to prepare for, lest I forget my “real” job!  I will be teaching creative writing again, and am considering re-tooling the course for more of a mixed-media focus… I used to be a free-lance web editor (still am, I suppose; I am building the website for the Winona Fencing Club as we speak).

HIGH tide, indeed.

But what else is there to do in April–or any other time of the year–except to dive beneath the waves and kick yourself to the furthest shore? It’s in my nature to over-do. I have tried for years to settle this Ahab-chasing-white-whale-drive, but in the end you shake hands with your other half and get well over it. If I am truly honest, it isn’t the high tide that worries me at all–only the short window in which to funnel that water someplace useful. Heave-Ho, maties, forget the sand bags and set sail instead.