Saturday, March 7, 2015

Day 189: A Working Vacation

CN Tower in Toronto
If it wasn’t for the three large screens playing the hockey game, the Irish pub would almost feel authentic. There are certainly enough signs advertising Guinness, and the waitress’s accent sounds foreign yet familiar. Still, the ceiling is a tad too high, and the mirrors on one wall make the building appear airy and spacious, nothing like the quaint cramped spaces I got used to in Ireland and Scotland.

Of course, I’m not in Ireland, or the UK. I’m in downtown Toronto, halfway between Ottawa and London. I’ll be “home” in a few hours (still not quite sure what that word means) but for now I’m enjoying the last meal of my working vacation, courtesy of Western University. Gotta say, the food-allowance part of going to conferences is definitely something I could get used to.

Where have I been these past few days? In Ottawa, at the 21st Annual Underhill Graduate Student Colloquium, hosted by the History Department at Carleton University. The conference was centered around the idea of performing history, so I presented a paper on dance in Ben Jonson’s 1609 Masque of Queens, a court performance where the dance styles were very much tied to political opinions.

Exhibit at the National Gallery in Ottawa 
I’d never presented a paper before, so I can’t say I wasn’t nervous, but this colloquium was pretty much the ideal place for a first presentation. It was an extremely supportive forum for graduate students to present their research—the conference was fairly evenly divided between MAs and PhDs, there were a fair number of universities represented (UNB, U of T, McMaster, Western, and UBC, to name a few), and projects outside of straight history were definitely welcome (such as Art History, Medieval Studies, Digital Humanities, and my field, English). The other conference attendees were extremely friendly, the other papers presented (41 in all) were fascinating, and the question periods at the end of each session generated intriguing discussions.

Catching the train
I presented on the first session of the first day, which was originally something I was quite pleased about. After all, it was lovely to show up on Thursday morning, present for fifteen minutes, and then enjoy the rest of the conference stress-free. However, since the conference was such a supportive environment, it was too bad that I presented so early, before many people had shown up. There were only ten other people in the room when I gave my talk, which I’m told isn’t a poor showing for an academic conference, but the rest of the panels I attended later in the day had 20-40 attendees and a much more energetic question period.

Still, it was a fantastic experience to tell other people about my research. After all, up to this point, no one except my professors, my mother, and my best friend have ever read anything academic I’ve written, so an audience of ten actually represents a 333% increase. I loved standing in front of the room, presenting my ideas to a group of people, however small, who cared about what I was talking about and who were all working on equally fascinating projects. Underhill may have been a great conference to start with, but it certainly won’t be my last.