Peak District vacation. The actual reason for being in the Peak District at all was so I could attend the first two days of BAVS 2012, the annual conference of the British Association of Victorian Studies, hosted this year by the University of Sheffield.
After some trepidation relating to transport (I had to drive myself there without getting lost and park without injury to people or property), I arrived at The Edge conference centre, which feels brand new and was purpose built for event just like these. A number of student housing buildings surrounded the conference centre itself, providing perfect accomodation for out of town delegates.
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Francis O'Gorman in which he discussed the idea of IMPACT, so crucial to all those funding applications (sigh), and also the concept of the present-day relevance and influence of particular writers or thinkers. Do relevance and influence make someone worth studying?
Then it was off to the panels, a veritable smorgasbord of Victorian options, with six panels for each session. I took in "Ethical Sexualities" first and learned about parallels in the language used to describe vivisection and pornography, about early obscenity law in England (which made a special point of excluding works of art, even those racy French novels), and about Weeds, Jerome K. Jerome's sexually fraught (and pseudonymously published) follow-up to Three Men and a Boat. Definitely a side of Jerome K. Jerome I knew nothing about!
After, there was a panel on "Value at the Turn of the Century." My favourite paper here was Sonny Kandola's reading of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey as a vampire novel in everything but name, using aesthetic, imperial, and class lenses.
The postgraduate forum followed next, on the subject of publishing one's first article, with much useful advice given. I also had the opportunity to meet a representative from Maney Publishing, who happens to be the managing editor of several journals, including Bronte Studies.
Then, dinner, where I happily met several other graduate students working in Victorian studies, mostly in English and History.
I should perhaps mention that, like much of the rest of the summer, it was chilly, cloudy, and then downright rainy in Sheffield during the conference. Coats were very much the order of the day, especially as some of the conference rooms could be rather cool.
I began my day with a panel on "The Ethics of Emotion", which was fascinating. Katherine Inglis did an in-depth analysis of the much-discussed death of Little Nell, comparing her to "Florentine Venuses," anatomical waxworks produced in Florence from the 1770s on. Creepy, but very neat. Arlene Young had another take on Dickens and emotion, and the panel was finished off by Nadine Muller, who gave a talk on the economics, ethics, and aesthetics tied up in the figure of the mid-Victorian widow. (This was also the first presentation I had seen supported by a Prezi, which I'm now dying to try out). This talk got me thinking about the role of the widower in Victorian literature, which I suspect isn't a figure loaded with as much cultural anxiety as the anamolous widow, but perhaps it merits investigation. For my own work, I will be considering Hindley and Edgar Linton in Wuthering Heights, both widowers.
Then I attended the packed session on the digital humanities, which was great fun as the presentations mostly consisted of the speakers telling us about their pet projects, including: Dino Felluga on Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net and NINES, Ian Gregory on GIS and the Lake District, Lisa Hager on The Journal of Victorian Culture Online (which included discussion of a Mrs. Beeton cooking contest), and Adrian Wisnicki on deciphering and then digitizing one of Dr. Livingstone's field journals using multispectral imaging. All very cool.
Some more serious digital humanities issues came up as well, including the eternal question of how all this work will be evaluated by Tenure and Promotion committees who are used to the academic journal article and monograph style of academic work. Also, how do you make sure your project stays accessible as technologies change? Or, do you embrace the ephemerality of the web? I was intrigued by Lisa Hager's suggestion that the blog post is its own particular genre of academic writing and one that students should be taught. This is something I've thought about a bit when writing for Great Writers Inspire.
Then I took in my last panel, "Masculine Economies", before heading back to my Rivelin Valley cottage for the last time to pack. This panel included discussion of Crimean War trench art and the domestication of the battlefield souvenir, as well as the issue of male beauty in Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Grey and mutiny and the mutineer in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.
The next morning, I successfully drove myself through four roundabouts (happily mostly empty as it was early Saturday morning) on Sheffield's ring road and returned my rental car. Then I headed home to my next adventure: showing my best friend from Canada around England.
Final BAVS-related thoughts: I really enjoyed my first BAVS conference and I plan to go again. I might even see if I can get out to next year's combined BAVS/NAVSA/AVSA conference in Venice... I also appreciated that there was a large postgraduate presence and the postgraduate panel, which made me feel rather at home. Also, it was lovely to finally meet a few academics I had been following on Twitter over the summer, including Nadine Muller and Jessica Cox. Also, the facilities and the organization were top notch.