S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

The last two days of conferencing

Saturday morning came, and with it, a last minute decision to reorganize my paper again. Happily, the hotel let me print (for free!), so I arrived at my session in plenty of time. Thanks to a long-past cancellation, not only did my session comprise only two of us, but each of us was very prompt, finishing in no more than twenty minutes. I suspect we were the only session of the conference in which there was not only plenty of time to ask questions, but everyone could leave early as well. Many of the sessions were not so lucky: many of them had four papers crammed into the same amount of time, just enough time for everyone to speak, as long as there were no questions.

Over lunchtime, I met a handful of new friends, including M. and F., with whom I will be certainly staying in touch and going to visit. Both of them are easily day-tripable. We weighed down our plates with small sandwiches and fruit and nibbles, and sat in the gusty sunshine, breathing in the air after airless sessions. The weather was finally lovely.

And then it was time for more sessions. If I were being dull, I would say I devoted the afternoon to historiography and world descriptions, so isn't it more interesting to know I went to talks about alchemy, Sweden, musical commas, Baconian analogies, trips to the moon, and Newtonian textbooks? I think so. With two hours to kill, a small swarm of historians of science headed off to a pub. Or we tried to. The pub was home to a warming-up band, deafening outside the building, let alone with. During a pause, we went in to buy drinks, before retiring to the sanctuary of picnic tables on the grass outside. They had two lambics on offer; I drank raspberry while the others admiring how wonderfully colorful my drink was. We talked and got to know each other. I asked graduate students about their programs and associated seminar series. At one point, the person I was talking to was laughingly asked if he was networking. "No, I'm being networked," he replied.

Dinner was a buffet in the university's landmark building, in a high-ceilinged hall which echoed to the sound of our voices. The food, a selection of cold salads, was really pretty good. By the time I was ready for dessert, a group of us had snagged a small table - and just in time too. The talks had begun. Unfortunately, the high-ceilinged hall wasn't really condusive to talks. We were close, they were miked - and we still struggled to decipher words. After cheesecake and conversation, I was easily lured out to finish my evening at the pub. It's just as well too - that's how I met the single most proactive individual of the weekend in terms of suggesting directions I need to work in - publication, networking - and holding out the possibility of a temporary teaching position at that individual's institution!

Sunday was another - the last - full day of sessions. This time 'round, I heard about post-post-Darwin debates, a modern kerfuffle over creationism in a UK college, Galilean astrology, comets, seventeenth-century astrology, SSK, Pepper's ghost, competing opticians, itinerant salesmen, and Victorian popular science lectures. We rounded out the day with the new president of the BSHS's presidential address. Peter Bowler traced the parallels between the publisher-author relations of the early twentieth century and today with regards to scientists writing about popular science, historians writing about popular science, and journalists doing the same thing. The best part was all the slides he had of the cover illustrations on early twentieth-century popular science books.

K., my fellow sessioneer, and I, sat on the grass and talked for a while, while gangly young men in black practiced with boffing weapons off on a different lawn, divided from us by the walls of concrete which break down the expanses of the University of Leeds. And then we all went off to yet another university location for the closing banquet. There was a variety of port available to start (!), and then we were set free to colonize the rows and tows of tables. We were six, a full table, precociously at the front of the buffet line, called first to the food. We ate and drank and it was all reasonably good. The table next to us was less full - three people - and granted F. half of their wine bottles to supplement our own. When coffee arrived with chocolates, I headed over to their table to ask if they could spare us their extra chocolates too. Before I could ask, one of them looked up and, gesturing towards another wine bottle, said, "Feel free." They generously spared the chocolate too.

The sun set, and we sat on the terrace, a last chance to meet each other and catch up. I met more of Kristine's colleagues from the other conference (we were two conferences meeting together), and I ran into a dinner partner from the SHOT conference in Atlanta. R. and S. spectulated as to how easy it might be to make me a visiting scholar in their department (I'd have to ask the faculty, of course), and invited me to give a talk in their PhD series. I'd love to.

The BSHS conference was wonderful. I arrived knowing almost no one, and left with invites, leads, acquaintances, and friends. I spend Monday conference-lagged, too little sleep, too much talking, but all very much worth it.

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