Already I have fallen behind in my daily accounting of Making Modernism. A new-to-me episode of Foyle’s War and sleep won over my prose last night. This evening I finally finished unpacking and called it an early day in the archives, as fatigue shadows me.
Yesterday proved the first dedicated to our assigned reading: Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and selections from the work of our first guest faculty member Jennifer Fleissner, Associate Professor of English at Indiana University. Today we honed in on Chicago-based author Gwendolyn Brooks’s short (and only) novel Maud Martha. I have already mentioned the preponderance of literary scholars as participants in the seminar; over these past two days I have felt my disciplinary difference most deeply. On some level, I am quite accustomed to this experience. Maybe you can imagine that, at least in the US, we do not have an abundance of dance historians running around. (Of course, I believe the world needs more people who study the history of dance and embodied practices more generally since everyone moves/has moved in some way, but that’s an appeal for another time.) Even among the small field of dance scholars, dance historians make up only a fraction. And incidents in graduate school demonstrated how some historians dismiss dance as a legitimate topic meriting historical inquiry.
I gathered none of those negative sentiments from people today. However, I did realize there exist significant differences among even humanities disciplines in theoretical foundations, disciplinary divisions, and working vocabularies. I readily admit my ignorance on the literary categories of sentimentalism, realism, and naturalism, as well as the nuances of interiority. At times my thoughts floundered and I grasped at any word to help anchor them — and, the, me, we, us. This is not to say that I failed to learn anything. The problem is probably that I have learned so much I do not know how to begin to process all the information. In truth, I enjoy witnessing the volley of perspectives, even if my contributions primarily appear as interjections.
Besides the intensity of discussion, my new colleagues have most impressed me with the depth of their collegiality. Yesterday, while rummaging through Ann Barzel’s collections of Chicago Dance Council paraphernalia in special collections, I watched one participant practically jog to another to share some information on the latter person’s topic. For those who may wonder about the utility of collecting a select group of humanities experts in one place (and funding it through the federal government), this, for me, is why. Sharing. Despite conferences (that many of us cannot any longer afford to attend without a living wage and/or institutional support) and fellow faculty members (which, one may or may not have depending on the size of the department), it remains quite rare for those studying and teaching the humanities to have a time dedicated to sharing with one another. In four days, I have engaged in fruitful conversations on everything from my research topic to online teaching to job market options to other people’s topics. I do have these conversations on my own campus and at conferences; however, I imagine those outside the humanities would agree: extending one’s network ultimately benefits you, your colleagues, and your students, with whom you share the information and methods learned.
Tomorrow we venture into A Century of Progress with the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. Wish me luck as I delve into yet another new field in art history (which at least has the word history in it…).