After Nick left, I headed over to Ann Arbor for my first conference presentation on something that isn't prepositions - a weird feeling! I was flying to Detroit (in a tiny tiny airplane - like the ones they use in remote Norway, except this is a Newark-Detroit flight, not a random rural service, wtf?!), and Detroit airport was a bit of a sad sight - it's a really cool building, architecturally (though there is a creeeepy passageway with changing lights and darkness and matching music which is just WEIRD) - but you can tell that it's aimed at a particular kind of business traveller, who may not be coming that way for much longer....a lot of the announcements are also in languages which I took to be Chinese and either Japanese or Korean; among the shops is one for golf type things; and also souvenir stores such as "The Henry Ford Shop" and "The GM Shop". It was all very poignant.
Not that Ann Arbor seems to notice any of these problems - it felt not unlike being in Princeton - small university town, somewhat low on diversity, lack of sensible stores and lots of antique and vintage shops instead (very nice ones though, I must say - and amazing second hand bookshops!). Overall, I was rather taken with both the town and the campus (which are fairly interchangeable anyway) - it felt like it had its own character, especially in the range of non-homogeneized shops, and like it would be fun to be a student there - it was a bit hard to get a good sense of what it's like in full swing as it was out of term time. The university seems to favour a building style that looks a bit like the bastard child of Keble and the Parthenon - lots of red brick and columns, as you can see.
And of course, no respectable university is complete without a quad which channels Oxbridge/the Ivy League, as in the one below, which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Law Quad.
I also managed to fit in a short tour of two museums there, the Natural History Museum which was full of rather endearing, retro dioramas, and the Art Museum which had, among other things, a spendlid array of furnishings and decorations made by Tiffany for a house originally in NYC - cf the photo below, apologies for the slight fuzziness. It's always nice to be surprised by wonderful objects where you're not quite expecting them!
But as I said, I was there for a conference, and the title of the post refers to the fact that I was basically dipping my toes into what is a new discipline for me - I've been interested in it for a while, but always as an external observer, never as an active participant. I'm going to be a bit vague here because it is after all a public forum, but a few random impressions of my first humanities conference follow. So many women! So few men! [insert my oft-repeated rant about the gender imbalance in my discipline - it's not like you haven't heard it before...] Scene that you would never see at an NLP conference: the keynote speaker arranging her pearls in the mirror so they wouldn't tangle with her name tag and she would look good for her talk; said keynote speaker, and others too, displaying a rather high degree of glamour, such as Prada handbags, and pashminas which matched the trim of their coats. (Not sure what it says about ME that I noticed these things....)
Also the average age was a bit higher than I expected, there were grad students there, but not as many - which perhaps didn't help with the socialising, which was a bit difficult anyway. I stood out a bit, perhaps for the wrong reasons, such as my reluctance to engage in any of the dense jargon being bandied about, and the fact that I didn't have a handout, and my slight disbelief at the content of some of the presentations (be it because of the amount of data used, or the quality of it), but hey...I guess a new field is always hard to break into especially if one just turns up uninvited and unintroduced, so I am not too upset about it. Maybe a little disillusioned, as I always thought this topic was a lot of fun, and now I'm not so sure anymore...