S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Friday conferencing

My morning of intense typing was curtailed by something more exciting: the prospect of a fabulous lunch. Last night's dinner and today's lunch were islands of wonderful food in the midst of dull cafeteria fare. (I've taken copious notes on the meals, but writeups will wait until after my other conference paper.) Someday, I want to attend a conference with good taste in food. Speaking of which, I ate dinner with a professor who's a member of an academic institute for the study of meals. Not food in general. Meals in particular. The idea appeals to me greatly.

After lunch, I walked up to the university and to registration, just in time to attend the first sessions. At some point in the '60s or so, the university thought it was a good idea to build this particular lecture hall. As a user of it, I am greatly frustrated. Imagine two squared-off spiral staircases built next to each other, landings connecting them. Now imagine each staircase is really wide, say, ten meters wide. A wall cuts off most of each staircase, down the middle of each effectively. The walled off space on the outside is divided into a series of rooms, and a long shared desk installed on each step. This might all work if there were corridors on either side of the desks, but no - each row can only be entered by one door, leading out to the inner steps. Thus, if anyone sits down near the door, they block off the entire row for anyone enterting later - unless they are considerate and move over.

The sessions drew me off into a very different worldview from the past week's conference; here, death is no mystic passage leading to salvation, but the news-making product of industrial accident. I went to talks on electrical death, on paintings of archaeopteryxes, on polar exploration, nineteenth-century barometers, the politics of deep-sea exploration and sea serpents and of primate studies. Also, a demonstration and PR pitch for a very useful survey of scientific interest in Victorian periodicals.

As I waited for the evening's reception to begin, I came to the disorienting conclusion that, for the first time in my life, I knew absolutely no one at a conference. This had never happened to me before. And, as it turned out, I was wrong. IHPSTers: do you remember Kristine, our Danish exchange student from several years back? She's here, and was eager for news of all of you.

The reception was the best part of the conference today. I fell into conversation early on with a UK lecturer who effectively took me under his wing for a while, making sure I knew where all the major centers for the history of science here are, and introducing me to a handful of extremely useful people. One of them even (very, very provisionally) offered me the possibility of a very-welcome working place for the summer. And then, of course, I found company for dinner, mine a very light one after the riches of lunch. Academia being a small world, he knew the Swedish contingent from last year's SHOT Writing Workshop! Tomorrow, the conference will feed me.

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