Summer Camp for Academics

I just returned from the ASLE conference in Victoria, B.C. This is my third ASLE, and it marked the first time this wonderful conference was held in Canada. The ASLE conferences are like no other conferences I’ve ever attended. I always leave these conferences feeling not only inspired, but refreshed. If there were such a thing as summer camp for academics this would be it. We talk about our research and teaching, attend workshops, hear inspiring plenary speakers and participate in panels. We also go hiking, bird watching, kayaking, etc. On any given evening during the conference you can stroll around campus and hear the sounds of ASLEers playing the guitar and singing. There are a significant number of conference-goers who appreciate the finer points of a good pint of beer. This is the kind of conference where you can strike up a conversation with a total stranger and end up making a new friend in a matter of minutes. The dress code is totally casual and there are always vegetarian/vegan options at the banquet. This conference is unpretentious, collegial, totally inspiring and I love it! Far too often I’ve witnessed conferences turn into pretentious pissing matches and I’ve just walked away in disgust. ASLE redeems my faith in academic culture.

I heard many good presentations during this ASLE conference, but I want to take a minute to mention one that stands out above all the rest — the plenary session that featured Greg Garrard and Cate Mortimer-Sandilands. From the outset, both speakers acknowledged that their work came out of very different theoretical and methodological traditions. I suppose they could have argued loudly with one another, stomping their feet and pointing out all the reasons why they felt that the other was wrong. But they didn’t. They opened the session by taking 10 minutes each to describe the significance and the importance of the other person’s work. These were generous and genuine tributes to the work of two scholars who have done so much for the field of ecocriticism. This was incredibly inspiring and I think it serves as a good reminder that differences in scholarly approaches need not result in academic incivility.

For more on the ASLE conference, see these very interesting blogs.

I Miss the Bunnies!

I’m back home in Ontario but my mind is still in Victoria — such a wonderful conference, such a wonderful location. I want to blog about the conference in more detail, but first I need to unpack, do laundry and get some sleep.

After spending several days on the UVic campus I became quite used to seeing all the bunnies. Now that I’m back home it seems strange not to see bunnies hopping all over the place when I look out the window. (For those of you who have never been to the UVic campus, there are dozens and dozens of bunnies running all over the place!) I realize that they do present a number of problems, but as Andrew Revkin (who was a plenary speaker at the ASLE conference) asks, “what can be done about a pest that’s cute?”

I’ve blogged a bit about the graffiti I encountered while at the ASLE conference, so it seems fitting that just as I was leaving the UVic campus I spotted this piece of bunny-themed artwork. Excellent!

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Back from the ACLA

Last week I took my first-ever trip to the state of Massachusetts — I traveled with some colleagues to the ACLA Conference at Harvard. The format for the conference was pretty cool, and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The presentations are grouped into seminars, and the seminars meet each day throughout the conference. So it really is like a bunch of small conferences going on at once, which allows for really in-depth and focused conversations on the topic. I was part of a panel that my colleague Linda organized. Our panel was called “Dead Things” and all the papers looked at cultural representations of death.

We also had time to be tourists in Boston. What a fabulous city!! Everyone we met — from the MBTA transit workers to the people working in the stores and restaurants — was incredibly friendly and welcoming. We enjoyed delicious food and the beer was exquisite!! (I don’t think I’ve ever tried so many delicious varieties of stout) Before we left I had made a list of the places I wanted to visit. Of course, we ran out of time, but some of the highlights we did manage to hit included: The Museum of Fine Arts, The Gardner, the beautiful Central Library, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We had pretty good weather while we were there (only one day of pouring rain), so we enjoyed walking around places like Boston Common and the Public Gardens as well.

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!

Greenscapes 2009 — Call for Papers


Greenscapes ~ Sense and Meaning:
Fields of Dreams (Landscapes of Myth and Imagination)
October 1-3, 2009, Brock University

Our landscapes have long been the unconscious repository of cultural hopes, fears and desires. From the Garden of Eden to Aboriginal Dreamtime, societies have perceived their surrounding natural environment to express cultural values reflected in their myths, legends, sacred texts and belief systems. The occupation, transition, or representation of landscape constitutes an imaginative exercise for both subject and object. Yet imagination is not a consciously controllable process, and dreams can be unsettling portents as well as expressions of wish-fulfillment. We welcome papers that explore landscapes of myth and imagination in real and virtual sites, literary texts, images, and installations and invite proposals on the following topics:

• Landscapes of allusion (texts, myths, folktales, legends)
• Sacred and Secular Utopias
• Profane imagination: ruin, decay and social transgression
• Gardens of the ‘first time’: origin myths and social legends
• Dream landscapes: fear, desire, and exploring the unconscious

Please send abstracts (up to 250 words) and a brief biography to greenscapes@brocku.ca by January 5, 2009.

The conference will take place at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario. Giles Blunt, author of Forty Words for Sorrow, The Delicate Storm, and Black Fly Season, will deliver the opening keynote on the subject of landscape and fiction.

Conference organizers: Keri Cronin (Visual Arts, Brock University), David Galbraith (Royal Botanical Gardens), Sharilyn J. Ingram (School of Fine and Performing Arts, Brock University), Leah Knight (English Language and Literature, Brock University), Katharine T. von Stackelberg (Classics, Brock University).

We acknowledge with gratitude the support of the Humanities Research Institute at Brock University.

For more information, please visit www.brocku.ca/greenscapes

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.

Inspired!

This weekend I attended the NeMLA conference in Buffalo. The panel I presented on was sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature & Environment, and was a wonderful chance to see some ASLE folks in the off-year (ASLE conferences are every 2 years — the next one will be in 2009 in the beautiful city of Victoria, B.C.). Our panel was very interdisciplinary (by design), and we had some wonderful discussions. After the panel I spent much time scribbling down ideas and thoughts I wanted to follow up on. I love how conference sessions can sometimes spark new ideas and new directions for collaboration and research. While I wasn’t able to take in the entire conference, I was glad I attended. I also very much enjoyed walking around the Allentown district of Buffalo. The architecture is so interesting, and the two restaurants I tried (Fiddleheads and Betty’s) were fantastic!

I had planned to go over to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery on Saturday, but last week I heard about the 2008 Niagara Social Justice Forum, so decided to head back to St. Catharines early to take that in instead. It was such a wonderful event! I was especially inspired by the “Hungry For Change” session which included presentations by Linda Krago of Twig & Tree Gardens and Kevin Hamilton, an organic farmer and food activist based out of the Hamilton region. It was wonderful to see such a great turnout for the event, as we gathered to enjoy a delicious vegetarian/vegan-friendly lunch (provided by Strega) I noticed that there was hardly an empty chair in the place.

The two events have left me energized and inspired — inspired to do more writing, inspired to get involved with local groups in the Niagara region, inspired to start thinking about the veggies I’m going to plant this spring. After a kind of gloomy and tiring winter, this was just what I needed!