What kind of Medievalist am I?
JJ Cohen asked that the other week or so, and I started to write something else, which I shall no doubt post later. Because really, Jeff asked what kind of medievalist I yearn to be. This last week has put that a bit clearer in my mind.
On Saturday, I went to AHA. I went for an interview. I went for an interview for Dream Job. Now, I need to make it clear that I'm not looking to leave SLAC. I have a good position, and I feel very settled. I get a lot of support, physical and moral, from my Dean, and it does look like I can be continually successful there. My colleagues are mostly lovely people, and I have made good friends.
But realistically speaking, I'm the only non-US historian in my department. I don't spend a lot of time being a medievalist. I spend most of my time being a generalist, and worrying about falling behind in my research and writing. I teach a 4-3 load -- plus an additional course that isn't quite a course. I manage to crank out a couple of conference papers a year, one usually pedagogical, but the other definitely medieval. I have a book in the works -- and advance advertising on it has begun. I have two articles in the works, and two book projects I'd like to work on. In my head, and I think more and more among my medievalist colleagues, I think I might be working towards what I'd like to be -- someone who is known to produce reasonably interesting, solid research, and is a really good teacher.
The thing is, smack in the middle of my interview on Saturday, I realised that that wasn't what I'd like to be -- it's what I yearn to be. At the moment, being a medievalist is like a reward for doing a lot of grunt work. As I sat and talked to the nice people at Dream Job, where the load is 3-2, there is automatic access to R1 libraries at no extra charge, where the students are capable of reading Anglo-Saxon, and faculty collaborate, I realised that Dream Job was a place where I could actually be the kind of medievalist I want to be -- or at least, it would be a hell of a lot easier. At the moment I'm rather on tenterhooks. I'm pretty sure I bollixed up the interview. They opened with, "We have 2 hours of questions and have half an hour," and despite bringing in 3 pages of notes and questions of my own, I think I came off as someone who alternated between deer-in-the-headlights and someone who might have been too assertive (or even bossy?) for a person applying for a junior position. I just don't think I managed to come off as competent and special enough. I really hope to hell I'm wrong.
And if I'm not? That's OK. Because interviewing reminded me that I have a list of things that are important to me. They remind me of the path I stepped on when Phlebas offered to let me give a paper on his panel, and I started meeting more and more of you lot IRL, and LDW and I got together, and he convinced me I was capable of being a lion cub, at least. After the book contract came through (as much as it has), I ended up being so focused on that, and the collapse of some of the more important parts of my life, and the hell of the last semester and the stress of a tonne of committee work, more new preps, and advising, that I kind of forgot that I do have a research agenda, I do have an image of the kind of medievalist I want to be. It's a lot like the medievalist I am, but an even better teacher in my specialty and more productive. How I'm going to get it done at SLAC is an interesting question, but I expect it can be done -- I just don't want it to kill me. So Provost, if you're reading this, I hope you've got some good ideas :-) I'll tell you what I told Dream Job -- I'm damned good at what I do. I am a good colleague and dammit, I'm managing to keep writing even though I seldom teach my field, let alone my research. I shoulder at least my share of service. And dammit, I do like the fact that we seem to be turning a corner and I could be in on some really fantastic changes. If, by chance, I didn't screw things up and end up heading to a campus interview, and don't screw that up, I'd still have lots of thinking to do. SLAC isn't a place I want to run from, after all. If it were, there were lots of jobs I could have applied for; instead, I limited myself to a very special one. But either way, I'm going to have a lot of work to do to be the kind of medievalist I yearn to be.