Speaking and Being Spoken To

In the past fortnight, I’ve attended two one-day conferences, and given a presentation to my library colleagues.  I went to the National Library of Scotland a couple of weeks ago for the Reading and Identity Conference (26 August 2014).  Although the title of the conference was promising, I was a little disappointed in the content, not because of the presentations but because of the sheer diversity.  When I talk about reading and identity, I have in my mind eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish song enthusiasts discussing their sense of identity, and how their songs expressed that identity.  To spend a day hearing about reading to babies, teens’ reading preferences, experimental verse and a transsexual interpretation of the New Testament was perhaps not the best use of my time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have been happy to sit and talk to any of the presenters – who came from libraries, academia, trusts and other backgrounds –  over a cup of coffee in my own time.  I might even have argued with one or two!  As a Christian, I was discomfited by a mock ‘prayer’ session during which all delegates were invited to close their eyes and hold hands.  I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been politically incorrect and simply ‘not done’ to have subjected any other faith to that treatment, but poor old Christians are supposed to smile bravely and put up with it.  (I sat with my eyes open and my hands in my lap, and I suspect that the brave smile would have been spotted as fake if anyone else was also looking!)  This was not my idea of a research conference!

Faced with the incipits of 20 digitized Scottish fiddle collections to transcribe, of which only two are currently completed, I couldn’t help feeling a touch resentful that I was being unfaithful to my tunes by neglecting them for a whole research day. The lesson, I suppose, is to think carefully about how a conference theme might be interpreted by other delegates!  On the positive side, I learned about a digital Ossian text project which certainly warranted my attendance at the afternoon session, so all was certainly not lost.  The organisation and technology worked impeccably, apart from my phone being unable to access the wi-fi using the password I was given.

Yesterday (12 September 2014), I was back in Edinburgh for a digital humanities workshop: Research and/as Engagement.  This was as engaging for me as the earlier one was not!  Each speaker was interesting, and all the projects were fascinating.  It was much more my scene.  I tweeted away merrily, took copious notes, and came back invigorated and keen to get on with the research project.

Between these two events, I and a colleague did a dry-run of a presentation that we’re delivering ‘for real’ to our academic colleagues next week; our drama opposite number did his session the following morning.  It’s easy to be critical of other people’s talks, so it was good to have the boot on the other foot as we practised explaining how various subscription databases worked, and what benefits they offered.

And I have yet to finish off the paper I’m writing for the ‘Understanding Scotland Musically’ conference in Newcastle in October.  (See my previous post.)  Mind you, I’ve got the Greenock roundabout to photograph tomorrow morning, Cecil Sharp’s biography and a compilation of Hamish Henderson’s writings to read yet, so things are certainly humming along!


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