Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wetting the baby's head

On Friday, I wetted the baby's head, so to speak, by presenting my research project at my School's annual postgraduate research seminar. I was speaking at 10am, and while I was listening to the students who went before me, I went through a few angsty moments of self-doubt, thinking, "do I really have an argument here?" and "all these people going to think my ideas are whack". But, in the end, it went really well and I got a lot of positive feedback (including from the Dean of the Graduate Research School, who asked some good questions that allowed me to bring in a few choice points I'd had to remove from my original presentation to keep it within the time limit. Very gratifying.)

The thing that was great about the day was that the research projects presented were so varied. The School combines the departments of History, Religious Studies and Philosophy, so amongst the topics were the history of a secretive quasi-fascist group operating in NZ in the 1930s, the peculiar historiography of a highly controversial incident that took place during the 19thC Taranaki land wars, Theosophy and quantum physics, time and the nature of God, the history and demise of technical schools, and Muslim-non-Muslim relations in NZ post-9/11 (by a scholarship student from Pakistan. It was very interesting to hear her perspective as both a Muslim and a non-New Zealander.) There was one other medievalist presenting, whose work is on the Hospitallers in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. We had a good chat at one of the breaks and she gave me some tips on a surprising number of medieval manuscripts held by several NZ libraries. (But I forgot to ask her if she'd seen
Kingdom of Heaven. You all know how much I love that movie.)

Afterwards, I was kind of buzzing. I always get quite nervous just before I have to speak, but I do get a kick out of the actual 'performance'. So before jumping in the car to drive the 90 minutes home, I headed to a local park and decompressed with a long run through the native bush alongside the river. I love running in the bush. All those narrow loamy tracks winding away from me into cool green shadows. The way I can't hear anything but the call of tui, my own breathing, and the occasional rush and gurgle of a stream or river. The elegant strength of soaring mamaku and kahikatea, and the delicate beauty of unfurling ponga fronds. At home, I have plenty of places to enjoy this goodness, but they all require running up and down hills - sometimes seriously big ones! So it was lovely to be able to enjoy the bush
sans searing lungs and burning calf muscles for a change.

And now, thanks to all your great advice on my last post, I have my first proper conference abstract just about finished and ready to send to my supervisor tomorrow morning. After fluffing around over it for the better part of a couple of weeks, I woke up yesterday morning with the whole thing - including the rather catchy title - quite clearly formed in my head. I just had to get up and type it. (I love it when that happens.)