Thursday, 25 June 2009

Testing the waters

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...


Rob Jubb said...

I'm sorry that people in the humanities prove so resistant to your undoubted charms - handwaving! over-enthusiasm! interest in shiny things! - and also about your friend: I don't remember you saying anything about it at the time. Most importantly, though, I want to know about this mysterious passage in Detriot airport. What changing lights and darkness and matching music?

Ra said... this is just one of many examples of the Detroit light tunnel - I hadn't had the chance to embed or link when writing the post. Google detroit + airport + light to get many, many more...