Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Teacher's Field Trip

“I wouldn’t let Pete Rose use my bathroom or anything, but I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
--Sarah Bunting, Baseball & Lit Conference

This week’s classes were cut short by a Friday conference on Baseball and Literature. Since I wrote my Master’s thesis on several baseball novels where I examined the ways in which the baseball star is presented as an archetypal hero mirroring ancient champions like Achilles and King Arthur, I feel it’d be irresponsible and lazy of me not to present at this conference. Also, the conference is at one of the schools I teach at. And my thesis directors are the organizers. I don’t mean to sound like my participation is forced. It isn’t. It’s just implicit that I will produce something to present, an act I am very proud to perform.

Ah, the academic conference. A reunion of sorts where like-minded men and women gather to discuss, sometimes debate matters that deal specifically with their fields of interest. Conferences are a good excuse to travel and socialize. The culture of the conference often mirrors the content, which in turn, mirrors the people drawn to the particular content. For example, a Virginia Wolf conference is (from secondhand accounts, not firsthand experience) a bit stuffy and slightly snobbish. Questions after a presentation resemble declarations of what the presenter got wrong. Consequently, a pop culture conference is a little more convivial. Questions are, in fact questions, and post-presentation discussions are rarely intended to be an informal game of Trivial Pursuit.

I loved Mrs. Dalloway, by the way.

So as it has been for the past 3 years I’ve been involved with it, the conference went well. The keynote speaker was Dr. Harriet Hamilton, a professor at Alabama A & M whose father played in the Negro Leagues. The main speaker was “Mudcat” Grant, a former 20 game winner for the Cleveland Indians who roomed with important figures like Larry Doby and Curt Flood. Grant spoke about his experiences playing during segregation and about learning how to pitch.

My paper was not as interesting. That said, it was on the 20th century shift from the boxer to the baseball player as the preeminent American sports hero worked well. Only about a page of it came from my thesis. The rest was new material where I discussed Harry Stein’s Hoopla, which I mentioned only briefly in my thesis’ conclusion.

Conferences are the key to establishing and maintaining contacts. They also allow us to stay current on the latest ideas in our field. This Friday, I was able to hear some new takes on baseball’s usage in academia. And I was informed of a position opening at a school in Alabama (and encouraged to apply).

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