Hi everyone! I spent this past weekend at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An annual pilgrimage of sorts for many medievalists (I go about every other year now, but used to go annually during graduate school), the IMC or the 'Zoo is at once a bounty, a blessing, and beast of a weekend. It is exciting to remember how dynamic and exciting a field medieval studies is, and through my organizing of a series of sessions on medieval environmental history, I get to meet with colleagues and friends who are working on questions similar to those I am pursuing. This is always rewarding and reminds me of the joy I take in my research. However, Kalamazoo can also be draining and exhausting.
So much time and energy is required to deal with meeting all in one place and around unexpected corners (and at a dance) not only old friends (almost family sometimes), but also new people, people you owe drafts too, people whose work you've always admired (and people who you hope may like, okay, even just read your work), beloved former students, and, most dreaded of all, people who ask you THE QUESTION: What are you working on?
When I'm asked what I work on, I say "medieval environmental history." My first time ever at Kalamazoo (where I met one of my close friends while we were lost trying to find the environmental session where I met one of my mentors), my interrogators would then say, "what's that?" Over the years, as my field grew, and as Richard Hoffmann continued to build up the Kzoo network, that response shifted to "Wait, you can do that?" to "Oh, neat, I've heard of that," and finally in recent years to "I teach some of that in my survey classes now." Remarkable!
Of course, THE QUESTION has also changed over the years: Where do you go to school? What are you working on? Who are you working with? How's the dissertation going? How's the job search going? How's the book going? What's next? and the new one: What will you do with your sabbatical? It's always been both important and impossible to try to find answers to these questions, and so here's my attempt at an answer:
I'm on sabbatical until January 2017. After taking advice from many directions, I think I'm going to try to avoid a checklist of sabbatical tasks, and instead focus on what I hope to accomplish with my sabbatical. I'd like to be back in the classroom in January with new ideas, new stories, and renewed energy and enthusiasm. I'd also like to be a better kayaker and a bit more fit. And I'd like to have a clearer sense of where I'm going with my second book, which is based on the project I began at the RCC.
I've still got a lot of routine translation work ahead of me, but I'd like to be able to start to get an overview of the full project again--to recapture my sense of big questions that has been slipping away a bit as I plod through the individual stories and sentences. I'm lucky that I've found so many exciting stories, but now I need to reassess my questions, my approaches, and how I want to talk and think about the cultural history of medieval rivers. I look forward to sharing some of this process here.