Happy New Year!

Ok, so I’m a little behind schedule, but the sentiment is still there — happy 2009 and happy new academic term to all!

I celebrated the wrap of one year and the start of the next by finishing up two large projects (one which I have been working on by myself and one in which I have had a co-conspirator) that have been hanging over my head for ages. Well, I saw them through to the stage at which they are no longer in my hands and are being read/reviewed by others which, for the time being, is almost like being finished. For this moment they are out of sight and out of mind and I feel like I can turn my mind to new projects.

The projects which I shipped off have been many years in the making and I am finding a mix of both excitement and upheaval in having the mental space (to say nothing of the space on my desk!) to start working on new things. The problem that I am struggling with right now is one I’m sure many folks can relate to — I’ve got so many interests and so many topics I want to read, research and write about. How do I narrow it down to a manageable list? I’ve decided to focus on my upcoming conference papers with the view of turning them into publishable articles and then going from there. There’s also a topic/idea that just keeps rolling around and around in my brain, and it feels a little bit like having the lyrics to a song stuck in my head. I fear if I don’t jot down some ideas and spend some time working on this (even though it is not one of the upcoming conference presentations I’ll be giving) I might just go a little batty!

And speaking of conferences, I’m looking forward to what 2009 brings on this front. In addition to planning and preparing for the next instalment of Greenscapes in the fall, I’ll be presenting at 3 conferences in the coming months. First of all I’m indulging the “wannabe librarian” in me and heading off to the Ontario Library Association’s 2009 Super conference in Toronto where I will be co-presenting a paper (with a “real librarian”) on helping first year students develop research skills. Apparently the format of this conference is quite different than what I’m used to at Humanities conferences, so it should be interesting. Then I’m off to Boston for the ACLA conference. At that event I’m part of a panel that my colleague, Linda, organized on the theme of “Dead Things.” I’m going to speak on the anti-vivisection movement in Victorian Britain at that event. Then in June it is off to Victoria for my favourite conference in the whole world, ASLE. This year at ASLE I’m participating in a roundtable discussion on blogging. Neat-mosquito. (Thanks to jo(e) for setting that panel up.) So, I’m an art historian attending 2 literature conferences and a library conference — hooray for interdisciplinarity!

Back from a Blogging Hiatus

This has been a bit of a crazy summer — lots of goings on and life changes (nothing I feel like blogging about, but I am ok). In the midst of all of this I’ve been on a bit of an unintentional blog hiatus. I’ve missed blogging and catching up with friends via their blogs, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the blogosphere.

In addition to dealing with the above-mentioned “life stuff” this summer, I did manage to present a conference paper at the Science and the Public conference in Manchester. The conference was held at the Victoria Baths at the end of June. It was a really neat conference — very interesting venue and many wonderful papers over the two days. Below is one of the photos I took inside the building — there was so much character and history, a very interesting space to be in!

While in the UK I travelled down to London to do some research at the British Library (one of my favourite places on earth). I also popped into Kew Gardens a couple of times (another one of my favourite places on earth). I was especially excited to visit Kew this year as the new Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is now open. The first exhibition held in this space (an exhibition calledTreasures of Botanical Art) is an exquisite show and well worth the wait. My only disappointment was that the Marianne North Gallery, which is physically linked to the new gallery, was closed for renovations. I absolutely understand the need for the renovations, but I think that being able to see both galleries at the same time would have been breath-taking. I guess I’ll just have to go back when the renovations are complete!

So, now we are nearing the halfway point of August and it is time, once again, to turn my thoughts to the new academic year. I feel I didn’t get nearly enough done this summer. I know that is the familiar refrain that all academics sing this time of year, but I felt that this was, quite possibly, the most unproductive summer I’ve had in my academic life. I’m not going to dwell on it and I know I can’t go back in time and change things, but the next few weeks are going to necessarily be super-duper busy as I attempt to get organized and get back on track. In some funny way I feel like returning to blogging is part of that process.

Web 2.0 and e-learning in the classroom

Over at Read/WriteWeb there are two great posts discussing e-learning tools. All very exciting stuff!

And on the subject of e-learning, I am going to try having course blogs for the first time this year, although it is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. The blog for each course will be a central portal for information, handouts, pdfs of slide shows and other such things, but I’m also hoping it will be a space where students share their ideas about topics covered in class. I think when studying topics like visual culture, where there are so many different ways of thinking about images and ideas, space for exchange and dialogue is essential. I know that not everyone is comfortable speaking up in class, so the blog will provide an alternative way of discussing themes related to the class.

New beginnings

I have enjoyed blogs and blogging for years. As a grad student I blogged about such things as recalled library books, new ideas, worries about the future, my dissertation, and other randomness. This was back in the day when it was not that common to blog or read blogs or even think about posting things on the web for others to see. That blog sort of fizzled out when I graduated and moved to a new location. That blog was primarily a place to write about the uncertainties, excitement and stress of being a graduate student. If I’m honest, it was also a really great way to procrastinate! A few of my friends were playing with blogs at that time too, so it was kind of fun. I did not, however, have a sense of the blogosphere community as I would later come to know it. I don’t know if that was because I was still uninformed about how the whole blog thing worked or if that level of critical mass had not been reached yet.

In my first job after graduation I found myself reeling from the stress of being a newly-minted PhD working as an adjunct in a city far from the one that had come to feel like home. I was lonely, miserable, exhausted and frustrated. One evening when I was feeling particularly low I googled something like “burned out professor” and was delighted to find a number of academic bloggers who were posting about some of the very things I was thinking and feeling. I signed up for a new blogger account, created a profile and jumped right back into the blogging world with two feet. It was exactly what I needed at that time. I was still miserable, exhausted and frustrated (many of the posts were on such subjects as student loan debt, the alarming trend of relying more and more on adjunct instructors in North American universities, and my own insecurities as an instructor, writer and researcher fresh out of grad school), but I no longer felt alone with these stresses. For a little over a year I was very active in the academic blogosphere and I’m sure it helped keep me sane. I posted pseudononymously, not because I was trying to hide my identity but because it was fun to have an online alter ego identity. At the end of that contract I took the blog down as I was moving on to a new job and location and it no longer seemed relevant. The last post was almost exactly a year ago.

At many times over the past year I thought about returning to blogging, but have been pre-occupied with settling into my new job and new location (both of which I love!). I also wanted to spend some time thinking about what I would like my new blog to be if and when I did return to the blogosphere. In grad school blogging was a shiny, fun new way to waste time; when I was adjuncting it was a life line. Neither of those models of blogging are relevant in the same way to me any more. Of course I have goof-off time like everyone else, and it would be Pollyanna-ish of me to suggest that life is all sunshine and roses now, however I could feel a change in the air in terms of my reasons for wanting to blog.

I have spent the past week at the ASLE conference in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I love ASLE conferences — unlike many other conferences, I leave this one feeling happy, refreshed and inspired. This year’s meeting was no exception. I won’t go into detail in this post about all the wonderful things that I experienced at this conference this year (I will save that for another post!), but there is one panel that I must mention here as this is the panel that inspired me to return to blogging. The speakers talked about blogging as an important way to connect with the world around us. In many ways the act of blogging encourages us to notice detail around us with fresh eyes and to think about our day-to-day experiences with our environments, one of the panelists argued. Lorianne from Hoarded Ordinaries spoke eloquently and passionately about how ideas of place are already necessarily intertwined with the personal. Hearing Lorianne speak about these issues solidified a lot of the half-formed thoughts I had been recently having about returning to blogging. With all due respect to all of the other wonderful speakers I have heard at this and other conferences I have to say that this panel was the most inspiring and exciting panel I have ever had the pleasure of attending at an academic conference. To Lorianne and the others involved in the session — THANK YOU!