The End (of Sabbatical) is Nigh

And just like that, we are at the end of 2015! I’m always amazed at how fast a year whips by, but I was especially aware of it this year. When I began my sabbatical year back on January 1, 2015 a year felt like a nearly endless expanse of time. Perhaps I thought that this year would be different. Perhaps I thought that being on sabbatical would slow down the passing of time, that if I took the time to read, to savour, to think, that I wouldn’t feel as though the weeks were flying by. I was wrong.

So, now I’m in the final days (7 left!) of my sabbatical, although as my friend and colleague, Gregory, pointed out the other day, I am, in actuality, “like everyone else at Brock now, on holiday break.” I suppose he has a point given how quick I was to jump in to sabbatical mode this time last year.

It has been a good year. It was a busy year and when I look back at where my days went, the list looks something like this:

Over the course of the year I also was constantly reminded about what sabbatical (in an academic context anyhow) is and isn’t.

  • It is a gift. I felt so grateful to have so much dedicated time to work on my book manuscript. I sat with it day in and day out for months. I immersed myself in the project in a way that would have been impossible without sabbatical. I put in long hours and worked 7 days a week on the manuscript for a good chunk of my sabbatical time. People kept telling me to “take a break,” but I had been gasping for time to really sink myself in to this work and I wasn’t going to tear myself away from it until I had a full and polished manuscript ready to send to the press.
  • It is a privilege. If you get to take sabbatical you are very, very privileged. Do not forget this. It is important to check your privilege and to be careful how you talk about your sabbatical with others.
  • It isn’t a vacation. I am sure I had friends and family who were genuinely baffled by the fact that I couldn’t drop everything and come for a visit or go on a leisure outing this past year. As mentioned above, I am sure that I actually put in more hours at my desk this year than I regularly do during the years I’m not on sabbatical. When you are on sabbatical you are hyper aware of how rare and precious this time devoted to your research is. I know I won’t get another sabbatical for a while and I didn’t want to waste a single second of it.
  • It isn’t a magic “cure all.” I think I was guilty of imagining sabbatical to be this blissful, stress-free year. I might have imagined that I was going to sit at my desk, think lofty thoughts, and become a better person. When I imagined my sabbatical I didn’t imagine the days filled with writer’s block, panic, and stress related to “imposter syndrome” (“what if I don’t have anything interesting to say after all?”). My imagined version of sabbatical also didn’t include getting sick, debilitating migraine headaches, sick pets, sick friends and family members, bad weather, travel woes, and financial worries. But, guess what? All of those things were also part of the year–of course they were, because sabbatical isn’t a magic bubble!
  • It is a limited amount of time. At the start of sabbatical it may seem that you have SO MUCH TIME to do ALL THE STUFF. But, in reality, it is only 365 days, just like any other year. I did get many of the things I set out to do crossed off my list, but there are other things (clean out the basement, reread all the Sherlock Holmes stories) that I’ve not yet managed to accomplish. I guess I still have 7 more days!

It has been a good year, but I am looking forward to going back to teaching  in January. I love my classes and I am excited to teach in the beautiful new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.

Conference Travel and Some Amazing Vegan Food

I can’t believe it is mid-April! The weeks have been flying by. I’ve been working away on the book manuscript, but I also have been doing some travelling.

First I went to the 2nd instalment of the “Living With Animals” conference at Eastern Kentucky University. I went to this conference two years ago, the first time it was held, and just loved it. It was such a great mix of people–a truly interdisciplinary gathering of people who shared common interests. The second version of the conference was just as good. I heard some excellent papers and especially enjoyed hearing Julia Schlosser’s keynote presentation about her artwork.

One of the things I really like about this conference is that there is a good amount of the program dedicated to teaching animal studies, so there were great presentations about pedagogy (I especially liked Jeannette Vaught’s presentation called “Animal Infiltrations: Teaching Animal Studies in Traditional Courses”) and a roundtable discussion focusing on ideas for setting up animal studies courses and programs (both Human-Animal Studies and Critical Animal Studies) at the post-secondary level. As was the case two years ago, we had some excellent discussions!

I also travelled down to Denton, Texas to attend the “Moral Cultures of Food” conference at the University of North Texas. When I saw the call for papers for this conference I knew it was one I wanted to go to. Not only did the topic appeal to me and relate to my current project, but I also knew that the University of North Texas was home to “Mean Greens,” the first all vegan dining hall. Ever since I first heard about Mean Greens I was trying to find an excuse to go to UNT, so this seemed like a conference I had to attend! The conference was great and, like the “Living With Animals” conference, it featured scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds.

Both conferences had such a good, collegial atmosphere–when people asked questions you got the sense that they were genuinely curious and interested to know the answers. (sadly, not at all the norm at most academic conferences) I met some really interesting people and came home feeling enthusiastic and energetic about working in this area. The “Moral Cultures of Food” conference also included excellent keynote presentations by James McWilliams and Carol J. Adams. (sadly I had to miss David Kaplan‘s closing keynote presentation due to an early morning flight)

I had the honour of being Carol Adams’s houseguest while I was in Texas, and it was there I discovered the recipe for the world’s most delicious vegan mac and cheese recipe. Honestly. This stuff is out of this world. It is a recipe that Carol veganized from a cookbook that her family used. She promises to do a blog post with the recipe, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but keep an eye out for it on her site. [Update: here is the recipe!] It is so ridiculously good. I’ve made it twice since returning home. In fact, all the food she served was incredible–she even cooked up a full vegan version of a Texas barbecue.  Amazing!

And speaking of amazing food in Texas, “Mean Greens” at UNT absolutely exceeded my expectations. I was excited about the fact that there was such a thing as a vegan dining hall on a university campus. I hadn’t stopped to think much about what precisely that would mean, but figured it was the novelty of the experience, not necessarily the quality of the food that I was going for. Let me tell you, the food was incredible! And it was really affordable too! I went with a group of conference attendees at lunch and it was $7.50 for as much food as you wanted to eat. There was a breakfast bar, hot dishes, a salad bar, a dessert tray, and even a ice cream sundae bar. And the food was really, really good! I also loved the environment. It was bright and cheery, and had quotes about veganism and compassion for all species painted on the walls of the dining room. There was even a sign on the door declaring it an “meat free zone.” This was full on, unapologetic veganism gone mainstream, and the place was packed! We even got to talk to one of the chefs who told us how popular the initiative has been and how it is, in fact, saving UNT money when compared to other meal options. I hope to see more campuses following this lead!

Mean Greens was a "Meat Free Zone"
Mean Greens was a “Meat Free Zone”
2015-04-03 12.21.36
No animal products used in this kitchen!
2015-04-03 13.05.40
There was even a sundae bar!

2015-04-03 12.26.55 2015-04-03 12.57.15 2015-04-03 13.25.01

Introduction to Visual Culture

I’m about to step back in to the large first year class that I was originally hired to develop, “Introduction to Visual Culture.” For a number of years this was my class, but I eventually cycled out of it. This Winter marks the first time I’ve taught it in a while and I’m quite excited about it. I really love the material and the opportunity to introduce students from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines to thinking critically about images.

To everyone back teaching today – have a wonderful term!

Happy New Year!

I love the excitement of a new academic year. Each September, as the weather and leaves begin to turn in Niagara, I enjoy the new energy that comes to campus with the arrival of students, the start of new classes, and the beginning of new routines.

This year marks my last year as Department Chair–what an interesting learning curve it has been! I will be ready to hand things over to a colleague at the end of this year though. While I’m still Chair I’m teaching a bit of a reduced load, but am delighted that I’m still able to offer my Picturing Animals course this semester. I know one shouldn’t have a favourite course (is that like picking a favourite child?), but this one has a special place in my heart and I look forward to another really interesting semester exploring these topics with a new group of students.

To everyone starting a new term this week–Happy New Year!!

Living With Animals Conference

Last month I travelled down to Richmond, Kentucky to participate in the “Living With Animals” conference at EKU. It was a fabulous conference and I was really glad to have been part of it. The only disappointing part was the weather–I had been hoping for a little warm weather and sunshine, but during the conference the weather in Kentucky was pretty much identical to the weather in Southern Ontario: chilly, windy, overcast. I even saw snowflakes in the air one day! The poor spring flowers and blooms seemed a bit shocked!

Weather aside, it was a fabulous trip and a fabulous conference. Huge congrats to the organizers, Robert Mitchell and Julia Schlosser, on the event!

There were so many great papers and keynote addresses that it would be impossible for me to write about them all here, but some that I found to be especially thought-provoking include:

  • Margo DeMello‘s keynote address on using videos and images in animal studies classes
  • Mary Shannon Johnstone‘s presentation on her photographic work, including her incredible project entitled “Landfill Dogs
  • Christina Colvin’s presentation on the practice of pet taxidermy
  • Monica Mattfeld’s presentation on the memorialization of “The Spanish Horse” in 18th century London
  • Brett Mizelle‘s presentation on the culture of butchers and slaughterhouses in the late-19th and early-20th centuries
  • L.A. Watson‘s discussion of the fabulous National Museum of Animals & Society as well as her own artwork which will be featured in an upcoming NMAS exhibition

I presented in the “Teaching With Animals” stream of the conference, and gave a presentation on my class, VISA 3P98: Picturing Animals.” I talked about some of the different themes we cover in this class, as well as the challenges and rewards of teaching “animal studies” in an art department. I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to talk with others who are teaching similar topics in their respective departments, centres, and schools. To that end, I was especially appreciative of the “break out” sessions that were scheduled around different issues to do with teaching. I will admit that the phrase “break out session” usually has me heading for the hills, but in this case it was a very interesting and valuable exchange of ideas and course outlines. I also found the panel discussion on “Teaching With Animals” (moderated by Brett Mizelle and featuring Margo DeMello, Robert Mitchell, Kenneth Shapiro, and Kari Weil) to be very enlightening, particularly around the issue of setting up programs in animal studies at the college and university level.

I have had enough of airports in recent months, so this was a road trip! What an interesting way to see the country. We broke the trip up in to two days, and the first night we stopped in Columbus, OH. We specifically planned our route so that we could check out Hal & Al’s, a fabulously quirky bar that has both an incredible selection of craft brews AND an all-vegan menu. Our plans for stopping there on the way back through were scuttled as we adjusted our travel to avoid Winter Storm Virgil. (since when do we name winter storms?) We did, however, stop in Detroit for a vegan brunch at PJ’s Lager House. It was another funky little bar with fabulous vegan food! We need more of these kinds of places in Canada! Once of the best parts about PJ’s was the resident dog, a beautiful pit-cross named Sugar. She was so friendly and gentle, just walking around saying hello to everyone having brunch. It makes me so angry that a beautiful dog like this would be “illegal” in Ontario.

 

sugar (detroit)

Be Kind

I was honoured to be asked to curate an online exhibit on the subject of “Humane Education” for the National Museum of Animals & Society (NMAS) this year. After several months of research and preparation, the exhibit is now live. I enjoyed working on this project, thrilled to have had the opportunity to bring this story to a broader audience. So many people helped make this exhibit a reality, and I’m so grateful for all of their kindness, hard work, and generosity.

The NMAS is a wonderful museum dedicated to preserving the history of human-animal relationships, a history that has until very recently been woefully neglected by curators, historians, and academics. This is an important history, and the work that the NMAS is doing is so valuable. If you have any artefacts relating to the history of human-animal relationships or advocacy campaigns from previous eras that you would like to donate to the museum, they would love to hear from you!