First, thanks to Historian on the Edge for answering my last question patiently, because it was not the smartest question ever. Still wondering about the historiography, though, and hoping that's not an obvious thing, too.
Well, I suppose it is, because I can always read the footnotes, but who keeps copies of Bresslau, et al., around the house? They aren't in my uni's library, either.
Anyway, I was thinking this morning a bit more about this whole diplomatics thing. Before I met my good friend at A Corner of Tenth Century Europe, I don't think I actually knew there was such a thing and that it had a name. I'd written a doctoral thesis for a committee that included someone who uses charters and all sorts of other legal documents, a Fellow of the MAA, and known for his work on disputes and land tenure (a bit), and I'd never heard of Diplomatics as a field. In fact, I don't think I knew that there was such a thing as a 'charter person' vel sim. I just happened to be using a single set of charters and a couple of sets of annals to talk about what they could tell us about Carolingian administration. On the way, I found that I couldn't do what I wanted to do without some understandings of onomastics (a word I didn't know, because in my head it was Namenkunde, whether Personen- or Orts-), so I read about leading names, and name-elements, and other such things. And of course, this led me to various prosopographical works (thank goodness I had already worked a bit with the PIR on a couple of papers in grad school, so the idea was not foreign to me), which I also read, used, and disagreed with at times. No really, there are bits of my thesis where I argue against both Borgolte and Mitterauer, for example.
Where am I going with this? Leeds. In the short term. I love going to Leeds. If I had to choose only one conference, that would be it. It is the conference with the highest concentration of cool and smart people who do what I want to do, and they do it really well. Leeds allows me to pretend that I'm good enough at what I do to fit in, and I love that my brain has to work really, really hard. It's the mental equivalent of a really good long bike ride or run through the woods. It makes me think I might even be able to survive a sabbatical semester amongst my UK colleagues, who are amongst the most generous people I know.
In the long term, though, Leeds scares the hell out of me. Every day is a day where I realize that there are things I have simply missed out on. Some of these things are easy to explain, I think. There are a lot of medievalists in the UK, and it's a small enough place that scholars regularly meet and present their work to each other at seminars. There are such things in the US, but we're pretty spread out. When I was an undergrad at Beachy U, there were regular visits by scholars who gave papers, and I know that such things happen in the US in places where there are enough medievalists to have regular seminars -- places like LA, and the Bay Area, and places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. But my grad school wasn't so advantageously located. I also think I wasn't really acculturated in a way that I understood that this was what people did -- I went to such seminars and talks as were available because someone told undergraduate me I was supposed to -- but not that they served a function other than being interesting, yet somewhat passive, activities.
I know, right?
I am not sure how much of this was me being obtuse. As a postgraduate student, I largely saw research and writing as evils necessary to getting a teaching position. I think maybe this is because I never really saw my professors as scholars. They didn't really talk about it much, in the sense of process, or why they loved it, and they were all fantastic teachers. My PhD program required that we undergo teacher training, and that we teach lecture courses of our own. It was great training, and definitely played a huge part in my being employed, but it also helped to create a situation where the immediate needs of students took precedence over my research for the very beginning. I was good at teaching, and the rewards were immediate. Research, not so much.
Why not? Well, because I had no idea what I was doing. My thesis advisor is mostly an archaeologist. People still raise their eyebrows when I tell them who I worked with, because Late Antiquity is not necessarily Early Medieval, and the sorts of things that Doktorvater does are really nothing like what I do. But he and I bonded when I went to Grad U, and because of a set of freak occurrences, there was no one else to work with at the time I began to work on my thesis. We hired Fellow of MAA shortly thereafter, but I was always intimidated by him, and never had a conversation with him where I didn't feel like a complete idiot. Many years later, I realized he doesn't make eye contact with anyone, and just approaches things very different to how I do. But at the time, I couldn't see working with him. So I put together a prospectus, defended it, got a DAAD, and went off to Germany, where the only person I knew was another Late Antiquarian. He introduced me to medievalists on the faculty, but mostly, I hid and worked by myself.
I wrote my PhD in a vacuum, more or less. At first I was connected to the university, but I didn't really make friends, and felt pretty much isolated. None of the people I knew worked on anything related to what I was doing. Then I started dating X, and somehow my ties to people at the university were replaced by his friends. There was my advisor, but no connection really to "here are things happening in our field that you should know about." The more physically isolated I was, the worse my Imposter Syndrome got -- and the grounds for it seemed to be more and more realistic. The PhD finally was finished, signed off, complete -- not that it mattered, because I'd left academia at that point.
Except, of course, it turns out I didn't. I just spent a few years adding to the huge gaps in my knowledge and picking up bits of what I missed like a magpie attracted to the shiny. I expect I'm not the only person out there who has had experiences like mine, but for me, it's been really disconcerting to talk about what I do and have other people understand it and be able to give me advice. It's probably not a bad thing to have approached things as I have -- no preconceived notions, after all! And I think if I'd thought of myself as a charter person, or a diplomatics person, I'd have turned out very differently. Even now, I think of myself as a social and political historian who uses charters a lot, although the amount I think about methodology might indicate a diplomatists lurking in the shadows.
It's lurking there along with the Imposter Syndrome. Even though I am again, or still, working in relative isolation, it's at least no longer a vacuum. Now it's a balancing act: engagement, even over the internet, allows a feeling of membership in the community; membership in a community where everybody else knows so damned much* might let the imposter out of the shadows.
*and yes, I do realize that spending my time having to keep up with teaching all the non-US history my department offers (i.e., the whole world from Harappan culture till now) gives me breadth that takes away from the depth my impressive colleagues have. Doesn't make me feel less dumb, though :-)