In less than two week’s time, I will be setting sail for uncharted waters, for my own college career at least: an academic conference.
For anyone considering a career in academia as I am, conferences seem to be an unavoidable part of the job. Whether one is presenting research, attending as an audience member, or reading the published conclusions for use in future research, conferences come with the territories of scholarly research and teaching.
Specifically, the conference I will be attending is the Faculty & Undergraduate Conference of the English Association of Pennsylvania State Universities (EAPSU) Think of it as the amalgamated English Department of the PASSHE. It will be hosted at Shippensburg University and I will be representing the English Club of WCU. The call for proposals, sent early this past summer, shared the theme of the event: “Creativity in Times of Crisis.” It solicited research papers, poetry, book designs and presentations about writing, education and publishing so long as they treated the theme.
I took the theme in a bit of a different direction: creativity as a response to crisis in historical fiction because making sense of past history is always a present crisis. Given my lifelong love of fantasy stories, the genre was a natural choice for my research. I submitted the following proposal to the EAPSU conference board early last summer:
This research paper proposes that the growth of the fantasy genre of literature in the early and mid-twentieth century can be interpreted as responses to the World Wars and the loss of stability and values that they entailed. Such fantasy literature will be understood as modern metanarratives which insist upon a shared system of morals that must be protected in times of conflict with a fictional evil.
Further in the proposal, I explain my intention to use as my primary texts, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” as well as other less known works of fantasy written in the 1950’. To give a short summary of my argument, I assert that the success and popularity of these fantasy texts notably written in the decade following the World Wars, were partly due to their cultural function of including pre-war world views and stable, absolute ethics; namely, their assertion that good can and will triumph over evil. The post-war readership, I contend, was profoundly receptive to such stories because the World Wars were such a deep shock to the moral conscious of Western civilization.
My proposal was accepted, my research paper is completed—special thanks to Dr. MacPhee of the English Department for helping me edit it— and all there is left for me to do is wait for October 4, 2018—the first day of the conference. This waiting period is a good time to reflect on my expectations for what my first academic conference will be like.
Towards the beginning of the month, the EAPSU distributed the schedule for the three days of the conference and I am not completely at a loss to envision its proceedings. With that being said, I understand that some things may not be what I expect. One such instance has already happened nearly a month before the conference: I put off reserving a hotel (the EAPSU kindly recommended a few) for a week or two when the semester started, only to find nearly every hotel near the conference completely booked! I was fortunate to reserve one of the last rooms in the furthest hotel from the conference. My advice to any fellow hopeful scholars out there: if you are accepted to a conference, make lodging reservations as soon as possible.
What do I expect an academic conference to be like? My vision is that it will be very much like taking a high-level seminar with a specific topic in my area of academic interest; the students and faculty will all want to be there and will be eager to expound their shared interest and passion for the topic. Given the broad range of interpretations possible for the theme of the conference, presentations and individual topics will vary of course, but we, no doubt, will be united by our studies in English Language and Literature. The call for proposals also elicited poetry and spoken word performances, so I imagine the conference will partly feel like one of our English Club’s Open Mic Nights—an open and supportive venue for literary performances of all kinds.
Only time will tell, and when I return from the conference I will write a short summary about which of my expectations were met and which were completely unfounded. After all, as the hobbit Bilbo Baggins put it, “It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off too.”