Day 2 here at SEMA, the Southeast Medieval Association annual meeting. SEMA is a conference I've been to only once before, when it was in Roanoke, Virginia. SEMA's reason for being, I think, is that it can bring together scholars in an environment that is closer and less diffuse than a conference like Kalamazoo or MLA. One gets a chance to talk to people here, and to talk to them more, perhaps.
I certainly have done more talking than I probably should, though I hope that I've mostly been able to avoid mansplaining anything! I think of myself as a bit of a misanthrope, but when I get to a place like this, I am forced to realize or recall how much I seem to love to talk about ideas with people who are thinking about some of the same issues I've been thinking on. Unfortunately, I sometimes also recognize that I seem to want to talk more than listen. Doh!
But, anyway, I went to a couple of panels this morning, and read my paper at a panel this afternoon. And I've chatted with a variety of folks, including one who confessed to being a reader of this blog, even though that's usually a pretty small group, all things considered.
And I've talked, more than once, about the difficulty of forging a place within academia for people who are not working at academic institutions. Although humanities professors frequently insist that the teaching they do is not supposed to be vocational, it remains incredible to me how very focused (and focused on the vocation of teaching) the humanities enterprise in the American academy seems to be, especially at the difficult and challenging boundary or interface between graduate students and established scholars.
Because that's part of what a conference like SEMA is for, too--it is a place where graduate students, and even some undergraduates, can give a paper in a smaller, more forgiving context than a major international conference, and it simultaneously allows those students to begin networking with both their actual peers (other grad students) and their aspirational peers (professors and professionals). But of course, when I registered for the conference online, I was given only two choices for designating my professional status: grad student or faculty member; no other type of professional was as clearly envisioned. As far as the SEMA conference is built, it seems to assume that everyone here belongs to one of those two (and only two) categories.
It is not so, of course. There are multiple undergraduates here, of course, including at least one who is delivering a paper. I am here, with my affiliation listed as Chancery Hill Books, and at least one "Independent Scholar" is listed on program. But like so very many things in this world, the things we build are built from how we imagine them to already be: conferences, "our" imagination goes, are for teachers and (graduate) students. Other types of scholars are already here--they are literally already on the program--but because they make their living in some other context than a college or university, they slip in past the edges of academia's usual range of imagination.
There's a phrase that's often kicked around in academic circles: "imagined communities." Among the work I try to do here on this blog is to imagine the community of scholars as something that reaches beyond the vocation of teaching. And its one of the things I've been talking about here at SEMA, in one informal sort of way and another.