After a full and thought-provoking day of museums yesterday, we took today to get our feet under us preparatory to the beginning of the AHS conference at the UiS tomorrow. We scouted the bus route, located the facilities, assured ourselves we could navigate the scene–and then came back downtown to do some shopping in the old town. Some rest was in order. Also, Dr. K insisted I should read through my paper, which I am presenting at an 8am session tomorrow.
Not sure how many scholarly papers I have presented at conferences over the years–surely more than a hundred. So I suspect Dr. K fears I may take the occasion too casually. It is always good to make sure that those words you wrote actually will come out of your mouth without stumbling. I thought I would have some friends planted in the room for this presentation, but the two closest ones from back home on the prairies are both presenting in other sessions scheduled concurrently! I really don’t mind them missing my paper–they surely have heard enough from me–but I regret missing theirs. Anyway, it was good to read through my text and remind myself (and get Dr. K’s assurance) that the thing made sense.
A paper on climate change on the Great Plains, more specifically the effects of the Little Ice Age on human developments–spanning a half-millennium in fifteen minutes–what can I do with that? It is what you might call a think piece. I’m in the foundational stage of writing a new history of the Great Plains, trying to do for the twenty-first century what Walter Prescott Webb did for the twentieth–make sense of the region in the middle of North America. My intention is to be not merely synthetic, pulling together what is known. I hope to establish new habits of thought about the land. To do this, in addition to mastering a library of literature, I need to do a lot of thinking, in ways not so much grounded in that literature as launching from it. To push myself to do that thinking, I will be generating a bunch of half-baked papers for presentation, begging indulgence while I think out loud.
For although if you know me, you will have heard me speak irreverently of the personalities, folkways, and vagaries of academic life; and although much of my writing has pushed into the realm of literary nonfiction, eschewing the fullness of scholarly apparatus; I nevertheless still believe in sholarship, try to live the life of a scholar, and keep the company of scholars. Thus I desire conversation with that company about the line of work on which I am embarking. Maybe the company will teach me things. Maybe I’m just covering my flank. But I’m willing to confess what I’m doing, and it’s not just the aquavit talking. Good night, Stavanger.