ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO: WOMEN, FREEDOM AND WWI

My colleagues David Owen and Cristina Pividori are editing a volume on WWI and I was commissioned to write a piece on two middle-brow best-selling novels, Ernest Raymond’s Tell England (1922) and Wilfrid Ewart’s The Way of Revelation (1921). I’m writing on men’s friendship, considering the idea of whether WWI forms a divide after which any expression of male same-sex love/affection was necessarily tied to (homo)sexuality. I am worried indeed that this may sounds homophobic but my argument is that heterosexual men have lost or are repressing a wide range of feelings for fear of homophobia, feelings that pre-1930s fiction candidly indulges in. We may call them homoerotic but I think this is not enough.

Well, before I drift off my topic… It turns out that Ewart’s excellent novel, a very complete portrait of combat in WWI, also offers a terrific insight into women’s lives. Upper-class, yes, and as such, limited but fascinating nonetheless. (Spoilers ahead!!!)

This is done by means of one of those sacrificial heroines that I dislike so much: Rosemary. Since this poor thing is not the main protagonist and her demise is balanced by the pragmatism of the other main female character, I cannot really accuse Ewart of following a simplistic anti-feminist line. It’s more complicated than that, as the question Rosemary answers is what happened to post-Victorian women when suddenly WWI gave them the chance to free themselves. The answer is that not all knew how.

Let me give you the basics of the novel. This is the story of 21-year-old Adrian Knoyle, who’s living ‘la vida loca’ (the ‘gay’ life in the text) with his buddy Eric Sinclair. Adrian is the romantic celibate type and he absurdly idealises the beautiful Rosemary, ensnaring her into a betrothal for which she’s not ready. Eric, fond of dining and wining, etc, a string of chorus girls, typically chooses the steady, down-to-earth Faith to put an end to the fun period of his life. All are rich, by the way.

Here’s the surprise the men are in for: Rosemary’s mercenary mama finds Adrian too poor, Faith finds Eric ‘nice and gay’ but just ‘a little playboy.’ This is solved by WWI, which makes a man of the delicate, girlish Eric. Tall, dark Adrian is not so lucky: his papa dies, he becomes rich, Rosemary’s mama grants her permission.. but the girl insists on living her own ‘via loca’ (and being unfaithful).

What’s wrong with Rosemary? Nothing according to our current standards: she’s a 19-year-old girl who wants to have fun. Her problem is that fun as we know it today had not been invented yet. Initially, she worries herself sick because her mama will think her wicked for being alone, unchaperoned, at all hours with Adrian. As the novel progresses, though, mama looks the other way since Rosemary’s other boyfriend is loaded. He gets free access to their flat and eventually to her body (if I read the opaque prose of the novel correctly, for it took Lawrence still a few years to unveil sex for fiction).

Adrian reappears twice to claim her back from her profligate ways but the idiot decides to join Eric back in the trenches rather than stay cowardly at the home front. Without him, dependent Rosemary spirals down into a course of self-destruction which includes the drug addiction that eventually kills her. More or less accidentally.

I think of Peaches Geldof, 25, wealthy career woman, happily married and a mother of two, dying in April this year of a heroin overdose in the same room where her baby slept. And it seems to me this would have been Rosemary’s fate if she’d married Adrian. The heroine destroyed by heroin, forgive me, is also celebrating its centenary together with WWI.

The usual argument in the case of pre-WWI heroines like Madame Bovary or Edna Pontellier from The Awakening, is that these were women striving for their freedom who chose death instead ( I wonder why Nora’s slamming the door is less often mentioned than Hedda’s shooting herself). What strikes about Rosemary is that when WWI sets her free she does not know how to react.

Her friend Faith blames Rosemary’s mother and the whole social system for failing to provide women with guidance at this time of crisis. Yet, surely, the whole point is that neither could really provide any pointers as nobody had a clue about what was going on. Reading about Rosemary and Adrian’s new-style of courting, with no chaperons, I suddenly realised that this is very new. The rules were so confusing that Rosemary has to force Adrian to spend the night with her –yet, it seems clear they spend it ‘making love’, that is, talking about love, rather than ‘making love’, that is, having sex. (I think it’s not so with the other boyfriend)

Rosemary thinks she’s found in Gina Maryon’s avant-garde clique the answer to her search for excitement but Ewart points out this is just shallow excitement. If she were alive today, Rosemary would be performing fellatios non-stop in a Majorca disco or getting drunk on a boat off Barcelona’s coast. Professionally, she’d be a successful top model. The idea is the same one: you’re young, beautiful, rich and female –your mama no longer controls you, and society tells you you’re free to behave as you like as life is short and who knows what the future may bring. Rosemary gets so afraid she begs Adrian to rescue her; needing rescuing himself he fails to play gallant knight. And down she goes.

Now here’s a nasty thought (which never crosses desolated Adrian’s mind): perhaps if Rosemary had been drafted into combat, as young men her age were, she would have found all the excitement she craved for. Sometimes, being a woman is strangely privileged.

Still, I thank Ewart for his peculiar insight into the problem of women’s freedom. And on terrible, fascinating WWI.

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THE PROBLEM OF AVILABILITY: MAKING RESEARCH ACCESSIBLE (OR NOT…)

Samuel sends in a comment which includes a question: “Surely if the government is sponsoring academics, they should want the results of their hard work to be available to a much wider audience?” He also writes that “There’s been a lot of good work done to make journals available to at least current university students, but I don’t think it’s enough.” Certainly. Inspired by open-access policies suggesting exactly this –that research should be made freely available online for all to see– I have spent MANY hours this past academic year organising my website, opening an Academia.edu account and pestering the very kind workers at my university’s repository (UAB’s DDD).

Here it’s how this has worked.

To beging with, I had to go through my CV, make a list of what was potentially of interest (should I put online my pre-doctoral articles?) and start a very, very long round of emails asking for permissions. Yes, it’s my own research work but even when publication was paid for with funds from conferences or research projects I might be infringing publishers’ rights (in many cases it was not even clear whether I retained copyright).

In the case of journals, those whose articles are available on databases were not necessarily more reluctant to grant permission. Only two journal editors flatly denied me permission: one editor, of a smallish but well-known journal, very clearly explained they wanted to make money out of past issues’ sales (of which we authors see not a cent, penny, whatever). The other one called me an idiot to my face for not knowing the basic rules of academic publication. Really.

Except for these two, practically all I have published in journals is online at UAB’s DDD (they double-checked on these permissions). I must say that both in the case of journals and book chapters, I spent hours scanning my work myself. Actually, if my Department hadn’t purchased a totally user-friendly photocopier/printer/scanner, I would never have started this process. No, I don’t have a teaching assistant nor an intern to help.

Chapters in books. My!, that’s complicated. I scanned them all, asked for permission, checking first whether the books were available from the publishing houses’ websites. In some cases I’m speaking about work 10 to 15 years old. I discovered that there’s a kind of gray area, as editors could no longer contact publishers, nor could I myself. Most gave me permission and you can see the corresponding .pdf files in my personal website. Funnily, the repository administrators are far more reluctant to upload pieces of books, and to ask for this kind of permision. To be honest, I’m not sure that all is legal in my website (I think it is) and, anyway, whatever I have made available is split between my website and the DDD.

As I have commented on here, my web and the DDD have also opened up for me very interesting possibilities for self-publication, at the cost of discounting part of my production for official research assessment. I’m not using Academia.edu for publishing, just to offer information on all I have published, leading to the corresponding web and repository links. It seems that Academia.edu and other networks like Research Gate might be infringing copyright by allowing researchers to upload there own work. So, I will not risk it…

So, Samuel: two answers so far. One, it takes time, a moderately advanced user’s knowledge of computers and much stamina to make one’s own work available. We have to do it ourselves, none will do it for us (at least not where I work). Two: the main obstacle, from what I see, is money, the money that academic presses and journals are still making out of work published long ago. In a way, the idea is that the more successful research is, the least available it is made as that’s the type of publication experts and students are willing to pay for.

Now for two odd situations. I have recently published an article in a collective book issued by a British press. They volume is expensive (£54.99) and since we get no courtesy copies, we asked the editors for, at least, a .pdf file of our own chapter (for own reference, not even to upload). They said no, as the publishers adamantly forbid this. So, if I want the .pdf of my own work I’ll have to spend money on the volume or buy it for UAB’s library. My own work.

The other case: I’m sending this week an article to a young journal that started online. Checking their website, I saw a recent announcement I had missed: they’re leaving open internet publishing for limited JSTOR and MUSE availability (apart from print). You must be thinking, Samuel, that this will not increase their readership, quite the opposite. Yet, from what I deduce, still today, almost twenty years after the internet totally upset our world, free online publication is frowned upon and considered less serious than the other, more restrictive type.

Every time I visit Academia.edu I notice two things: one, not even in platforms like this have people understood the need to self-publicise and make available as much academic stuff as possible; two, relatively few senior academics are present there. In the future, as I keep on preaching, things will change as younger academics will learn to self-publish using resources like this (which, besides, have a helpful labelling system). The only barrier you need to add to all this is, as I always explain, Ministry rules.

So, going back to the initial question: “Surely if the government is sponsoring academics, they should want the results of their hard work to be available to a much wider audience?” No, as long as the experts determining quality matters foreground the less accessible (i.e. expensive) over the cheaper, or, in short, where you publish and not what you publish.

Still frustrated, right? Me too…

But, then, if you’re not bound to a Ministry, nothing prevents you from publishing for free all you want… use your own blog or website, open and Academia.edu account, see how far you can go.

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PUBLISHING IN SLOW MOTION (AND OTHER LIMITS TO PUBLICATION)

Last summer 2013 I managed to finish two articles I’d been working on for a long time. One is called “Rewriting the American Astronaut from a Cross-cultural Perspective: Michael Lopez-Alegria in Manuel Huerga’s documentary film Son and Moon (2009)” and the other’s title is “A Demolition Job: Scottish Masculinity and the Failure of the Utopian Tower Block in David Greig’s Play The Architect and Andrew O’Hagan’s Novel Our Fathers.”

The reason why they took so long to write is that lately I have very little quality time for writing, which means that basically I can only find two or (with luck) three weeks in July/August to write in peace and quiet. It’s very frustrating to see how productive a single week off email and teaching can be in comparison with the usual weeks during the course, with time split among a myriad little things.

Anyway, as any scholar knows, completing an article is just a small step in the long process of publishing. For both essays I had a certain idea of to which journal I wanted to send them. In the case of the article on Huerga’s atmospheric documentary on the manly Lopez-Alegria I chose first a journal on masculinities studies. They found it inappropriate, since they focus on sociology mainly, but pointed me in the direction of Culture, Society and Masculinities from the same Men’s Studies Press. This was fortunate, as the editor found me sympathetic reviewers. This week I have finished the revisions I was asked to introduce and I’m very happy to say that the article is off my hands.

I did agree with the reviews though, as usual, they suggested several small modifications that have made my article grow to almost 10,000 words. The whole process is so slow that a film I mentioned in a footnote, not yet released, occupies now a long paragraph, as it’s become practically inevitable to discuss it regarding the astronaut on screen (I mean Gravity). All in all, my astronaut has kept me busy for about two and a half years, since I first saw Son & Moon and knew I had to write about it during Christmas 2011. The article will come out next Spring 2015, making this process in a total three and a half years long. That’s the happy story.

Now for the unhappy one. I first read Andrew O’Hagan’s novel Our Fathers back in 2002 and saw David Greig’s acclaimed play The Architect at Teatre Lliure in January 2011. I can safely say, then, that the idea for the comparative article was already two and a half years old by the time I sat down to write it last August.

Funnily, I did check the website of the journal I had targeted for the word limit –always my nightmare, as I tend to write much more than required. The web nonchalantly announced it would accept pieces with no specific word limit, so I let myself go, read like crazy about Le Corbusier, the residential blue-collar skyscraper and local council regulations in Scotland to end up with a piece 12,000 words long. To my immense mortification, the journal sent me back the essay claiming they only accepted articles up to 6,000 words. I did cut down my article to that size… and sent it elsewhere. This second journal found my methodology ‘too Cultural Studies.’ So, back to the first option.

To my surprise they asked me for the names of possible reviewers. I named two; they disagreed. I was ask for a third name, which I supplied. And, then, on the basis of not three but only two reviews they told me I had to rewrite and resubmit, with no guarantee of publication. They found my poor stumpy article under-theorised (no wonder…).

I took a deep breath, spent 24 hours agonising about whether to go back to the drawing board or not and recalled a friend’s words. When they start asking for major revisions… the bloom is gone. So, I went back to the unpublishable 12,000 word version and emailed it to the Deposit Digital de Documents of my university, where it will soon be available online. That’s the unhappy story.

Why’s that unhappy if I have made my work available and will hopefully reach a few dozen readers? Well, it’s unhappy because the time employed and the effort I made will count for nothing as regards my future research assessment by the Ministry. It’s 2014, and this is due by the end of 2017 which means that I’m already in a hurry. I’ll remind you, readers, that I need to have published five ‘quality’ pieces in six years, which is why ‘throwing’ on line this article I’m telling you about feels very much like hitting myself in the face –hard.

On the other hand, experience tells me that when an article starts doing the rounds with difficulties and nothing has happened after one year, it’s better to move on, write another article (which is what I’m doing these days), try my luck elsewhere. Online publication at my university’s depository is, of course, a sort of consolation prize and much, much better than the proverbial drawer (or personal computer disk) where discarded papers used to die. Yet, tell the Ministry that.

There’s a third strange story. I emailed an article to a Spanish quality journal last November (2013). The editor did not acknowledge receiving it for a couple of months. I insisted, he’d been sick, poor thing. My article (he told me) would be considered for publication and I would get an answer by May 2014. June and early July came, still no answer. I checked their web: there’s a new editor. I emailed her and it turns out they’re restarting the journal as the former editor has retired. She suggested that I resubmit next November (that’s 2014, one year gone from the original submission) when things start rolling. I said yes out of loyalty, as she’s a friend, wondering whether the new journal will keep the good ratings of the old one.

I wonder how journal publishing works in the sciences, I really do. I doubt Nature or Science take so long to publish articles. I know everyone does what they can but on the whole we can safely say that in the Humanities publication lags about two years behind research. It’s a long time… Not to mention how word limit conditions us, for not all ideas can be properly argued in under 6,000 words. As I know.

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‘HEAVILY FICTIONALISED’: THE SADISTIC TREATMENT OF ARTEMISIA IN 300, RISE OF AN EMPIRE

When I saw Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, I knew at once that was a film I would write about –infuriating but original, ridiculous but deliciously camp, dangerous in its exaltation of laddism but key to understand today’s patriarchal backlash.

I did write about it, criticising its failure to produce a dignified model of masculinity for the hero and its blatant homophobia. You may see the results at my own web (http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/content/chapters-books). I also included it in the syllabus of the sessions I teach on heroism for the Cultural Studies module in UAB’s MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. It never fails to stir debate, particularly as regards its wild departures from historical evidence.

Sooner or later, then, I was bound to see the sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, directed by Noam Murro, but scripted, like 300, by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, and also based on a graphic novel by Miller, Xerxes. I’m now horrified –not just in an intellectual sense, meaning that I abhor the film for its low quality. I’m horrified in a very physical sense, for I am worried sick about the (possible) reactions of male audiences when seeing what is done to Artemisia, played by Eva Green. Let me explain. (I’m actually writing this to keep a clear memory of my dread for future reference, as I need to teach 300 again in the MA and in my new BA course on ‘Gender Studies’).

300 takes the story of Leonidas’s defeat by Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae and turns it into a celebration of the male body in military action. A handful of almost naked Spartans sporting awesome six-pack abs maim in slow motion, displaying plenty of blood and guts, the heavily-clad, ineffectual ‘Immortals.’ The Persian forces are led, to cap this widely distorted version of History, by an orientalised Xerxes styled as a barbarian drag queen. The whole concept depends on the by now famous scenes of carnage and on the unwitting camp subtext contributed by Rodrigo Montoro’s bejewelled Xerxes and, to a great extent, by Gerard Butler’s tongue-in-cheek performance as Leonidas. If anyone on that set understood how preposterous the whole film was, that was Butler.

If you check IMDB you will see that the tide in favour of 300, by now a cult film, has not abated in eight years. The film still has a remarkable 7’8 rating despite the many protests from Iranians outraged at Hollywood’s mistreatment of the glories of the Persian Empire (the Americans were then occupying Iraq). 300: Rise of an Empire (which empire? even the title is confused) has a much more modest 6’5 rating, absolutely too high in view of the trash this film is.

What has changed is the amount of resistance from those misrepresented. Many non-American spectators, including many from Iran and Greece, have raised their voices against this atrocity for its total disregard of the History books (a matter that begs the question of why historians work at all). Among the very negative reviews only one, though, complained that Eva Green’s Artemisia is an ‘obscene’ rendering of the Strong Female Character. In contrast, and this is scary, her Artemisia is often praised among the most positive opinions about the film (mainly by American men).

The point I want to raise here is not so much a complaint against this Queen’s misrepresentation on the screen but in particular about the end that Green’s Artemisia receives. The historical character was, though Greek, a wily ally of Xerxes. She did command five ships in the battle of Salamis, which she survived with a little bit of trickery. And, well, she was an aristocrat, daughter, wife and mother of kings and a queen herself. Instead, Miller, Snyder and Johnstad imagine her as an orphan raised by Xerxes’ father Darius, saved from a miserable life of sexual abuse after her whole family is massacred by the Greeks. The girl is raised to be, basically, a psychopathic killing machine enmeshed in an obsessive game of revenge. She participates with the same glee as the Athenians in killing and maiming her enemies.

What scared me is that the whole point of this movie is raising a justification to (spoilers!!) kill Artemisia. Queen Gorgo, Leonidas’s widow, is given the narrator’s voice and the final battle scene as a way to maintain a certain political correctness, if that makes any sense at all. Yet, the whole concept behind this sequel is justifying the scene in which Athenian general Themistocles (played by a totally useless Australian actor) stabs Artemisia in the belly (the womb?), draws the corresponding explosion of blood and watches her die. What you see –forget about the characters– is a heavily muscled man doing his ‘duty’: killing a woman, who, well, was asking for it.

In a previous scene, said Themistocles is, predictably, seduced by beautiful Artemisia in an extremely ugly and vulgar scene, which is anything but subtle. The whole point in that scene is that Themistocles gets to fuck (excuse me) Artemisia but refuses her tempting offer to side with her in battle –thus humiliating her. I forgot to say that Xerxes, who respected the real Artemisia very much, slaps this one hard as soon as he has the chance.

Strong Female Characters, about whom I wrote a post last September, reach with Artemisia a sad climax. Male screen writers routinely present them in isolation from other women, as signs of how freakish female empowerment is, and, what is more worrying in 300: Rise of an Empire, as embodiments of pure misogyny disguised as something else (justified enemy hatred in battle). You might argue that Miller, Snyder and Johnstad’s Artemisia is the very incarnation of Judith Halbertsam’s questioned ‘female masculinity’ and, thus, a step beyond femininity.

The physical prowess she displays, though, which is simply impossible in real life in which even a small gang of brutal men can overpower any woman, is by no means intended to cheer women up but to give a further justification for Artemisia’s murder –for, after all, she shows herself quite capable of attacking Themistocles. Her choice to die as an honourable enemy rather than live captive (again) makes sense in the patriarchal script. Still, no matter, I see a man kill a woman callously and brutally for ‘justified’ reasons.

What made my hair stand on end was the realization that lads all over America, and possibly in other countries, must have cheered on at this climax. Green/Artemisia’s screen death is, of course, just one more among many thousands cinema has depicted, both male and female. Yet, what makes it particularly galling for me is that Artemisia is initially presented as a victim of patriarchal violence as a child and a young woman. The victim grows revengeful by embracing the very violence that turned against her family and for that she is victimised again –not raped, as she becomes too powerful for that, but killed.

So much for (anti-patriarchal) justice.

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BA DISSERTATIONS/TFGs: EMOTION RUNNING HIGH…

Oddly enough, BA dissertations are eliciting quite a high degree of personal involvement from both students and teachers. I say oddly enough because this is unexpected for a dissertation at this basic level, and because the teachers are not reacting in the same way to students in their own BA courses. Possibly, not even to their own tutorees if registered in those.

I’m aware that BA dissertations are common in many degrees all over Europe. In Spain, as happens, until recently they were a requirement only for Engineering and Architecture old style ‘Licenciaturas’ (for which students actually submitted ‘projects’). Some bureaucrat in the Education Ministry had the ‘brilliant idea’ of introducing dissertations without taking into account how the staff would cope with so many… nor the high anxiety that naming them ‘degree’s final work’ (‘trabajo de fin de grado’) would generate among students.

It is, however, simply not true that the new BA dissertation comes at the end of the degree (for us the only requirement is that a student has passed 160 credits), nor is it true that the TFG has an impact on the whole degree. It certainly tests the specific competences of the degree but it is, after all, just one more subject. It should have been named something like ‘Advanced Academic Skills’, or, perhaps just ‘Project.’ The problem is that we’re beginning to tell ourselves this now, two years into organising the TFG. If we had started with this plain truth rather than with the assumption that the TFG was a kind of proto-MA dissertation or the students’ only chance to truly choose a subject for themselves we’d be better off today. Both sides.

Although numbers have been growing, and many more students have submitted their TFG this second year than the first (63 instead of the original 22), we have tried to maintain the spirit of that first year, when we used too many hours to tutor the pioneering students who dared submit their TFG first. With a growing demand (perhaps up to 90 for 2014-15), we have no option, though, but to curb down the students’ and our own enthusiasm –though, to my surprise, this has already led to intense misencounters among teachers. Some feel somehow sorry that students will no longer be given the chance to freely choose their topic (we’ll offer a closed list, pre-inscription will depend on the student’s average grade); others (like me) worry above all about the impossible workload we’ve been assuming in the first two editions.

The personal involvement I was talking about, nevertheless, has other foundations apart from the so far free choice of tutor and topic. One is the decision we made to have supervisors (or tutors) be present as examiners in the oral presentation; the second, the decision to honour two deceased colleagues.

Generally speaking, the impression is that we tend to overvalue TFGs as tutors/supervisors, since the final product comes at a the end of quite a long process, which may have involved many meetings with the student (an exceptional situation in relation to our regular courses). In contrast, the second examiner knows nothing about this and generally has a less involved view of the matter.

About the presence of the supervisor in the oral exam, I’m myself in two minds about it. On the one hand, I’d rather ‘protect’ my students from that second less sympathetic examiner (though, to be fair, this is not always the case); on the other hand, as second examiner I have often felt quite annoyed by having to put up with other supervisors’ fierce defence of their students. About the prize awarded to the best Language and the best Literature TFGs in honour of our deceased colleagues, this has unleashed a strange competition among tutors promoting the candidacy of this or that student. Strange in the sense that, from what I have seen, who happens to tutor the best TFG is quite a lottery.

I have been asking colleagues in other Departments how they have organized matters both to limit teachers’ workload and to reach fairer standards of judgement. My impression is that the same problems are repeated everywhere. A colleague explained to me that she’s tutoring 19 different TFGs, the figure necessary for her tutoring to count as 6 ECTS, or a full course. This is, for me, madness (sorry)…

In our case, we started with 2 to 3 TFGs per teacher, supervised for free, apart from our official teaching hours. We’re still following this pattern, complemented with a novelty. With the application of the new teaching model, some teachers will have to supervise up to 10 TFGs to complete their teaching workload, a situation which surely calls for some kind of streamlining. We’re asking students to work on very similar TFGs if possible connected with electives (you’re teaching Shakespeare? Then you tutor that year only TFGs on Shakespeare). We’ll see how all this works.

I know students are not too happy, as the chances for a free choice of topic and tutor have dramatically diminished –and we’re bracing ourselves for the pairings in which neither tutor nor student will be happy to work together. Yet, there is only so much we can do before putting at risk precious time we need for research.

About my own experience, well, in the first edition I tutored three TFGs in which I was personally highly involved as I loved the topics and enjoyed the whole process very much (you may read them following the links in my own website). This year I have tutored three more, and though I loved once more the topics, contact with my tutorees has been more erratic, my involvement lower. Ironically, I have established the closest working and personal relationship with the student I have tutored online. Her TFG has been, all in all, an experience I’ll never forget on literary, academic and personal grounds –she’s done very well, of which I’m proud and happy. So you see…

I spent, by the way, two very enjoyable days attending the 23 TFG presentations (which I coordinated)–for, as I told everyone, I’m so fed up with discussing only bureaucracy with my colleagues that the chance of talking books was absolutely refreshing.

This, of course might be the root of that personal involvement I mentioned at the beginning of the post. The hours spent tutoring are often the only real chance along the semester to discuss books in depth with someone equally involved (which is not always the case in BA classes). What a pity, then, this will have to change… for lack of time.

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NETWORKING: BEYOND THE ANGLO-AMERICAN WORLD?

[The last two weeks have been too hectic for me to keep up the pace of regular posting here. Yes, teaching is over but not marking, or BA and MA examining boards. Bureaucracy is, well, eating me alive. Every time friends or relatives ask me whether I’m already on holiday I go ballistic…]

Two very different matters lead me to consider today networking. One is a conference, the other a doctoral dissertation.

Recently, I attended in Barcelona the Spring conference of At Gender: The European Association for Gender Research, Education and Documentation (http://www.atgender.eu/). I found out about this association through an email sent by the Institut Interuniversitari d’Estudis de Dones i de Gènere, to which I belong –and whose name has always puzzled me (aren’t women gendered??). Since I’m used to English Studies conferences it took me a while to get the idea behind At Gender: no Americans, hardly any Brit, plenty of Scandinavian scholars and many others from all over central and eastern Europe. Ah!, I thought, so Europe does exist after all –how nice.

I did enjoy the panels I attended and met two awesome ladies, one from Finland, one from Barcelona itself. Chances for networking? Well, frankly much higher with the local lady than with the other lady for, let’s be frank about it, it’s hard to keep in touch with people you are with for a couple of days, much easier to meet for coffee with someone nearby. Second observation about networking: attending a conference in one’s city is a very bad idea as the need to socialise (=network) with one’s peers is lower than if you’re thrown together with them in a distant location. Third observation: once an association has been running for years, the chances for new incomers to network diminish as the basic nets have been formed. When you see so many people greeting each other by first name, the chances to introduce yourself and start conversation dwindle (or that must be my shyness). Anyway, so that you know: At Gender exists, and so does the grandly named, EU-funded ‘European Institute for Gender Equality’ (http://eige.europa.edu). That its central office is in Vilnius, Lithuania says all I need to know about how peripheral gender is to the European Union. With apologies to gender scholars in Vilnius.

My doctoral student Auba Llompart, author of an impressive dissertation on children’s Gothic to be soon submitted, has applied for a ‘Mención Europea’. This is a certificate added to her doctoral degree stating that she has done research elsewhere in Europe for at least 3 months under another scholar’s supervision. Now, if you’re into English Studies, ‘elsewhere in Europe’ means Britain, where, by the way, hardly anyone knows what a ‘Mención Europea’ is. It turns out this is not a way of certifying all over Europe that you’re a doctor but just something that Spanish universities are promoting, with validity in two or three more countries.

Anyway, Auba must have on her board a foreign expert and we have invited someone from the British university where she did her research. Now, here’s the tricky situation: we need two other scholars to act as external examiners and write reports on her dissertation. It seems that one of these can also be based at a British university but the other must be based in some other European country. Uff. Not that easy… as my networking gravitates towards Britain.

Apart from the corresponding emails to anyone who might help, I spent a couple of hours surfing Academia.edu, trying to make a list of suitable specialists outside Britain. Start with my own contacts, check those of my followers and of people I follow, use research labels to locate other scholars and so on. I came up with a couple of names, one in Germany and one in Sweden but what Academia.edu revealed was what I already knew: networking is pyramidal, with the UK and the USA at the top. You get a smaller web of local connections (Spanish scholars following each other) and then a bigger web of international connections all pointing to ‘Anglo-America’. How many, say, Finnish and Italian scholars know of each other? If any? Something’s wrong here, I’m not sure what. Surely, my non-British equivalents in academic inclinations and aspirations must exist in all European countries, but how do we find each other?

Conferences? Well…

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