Last week I posted from Glasgow Airport as I waited to head out to South Carolina, so it seems only right that I write again while I wait on the return flight.
It’s been a fantastic week, for me and for the project. I’ve been able to spend hours of really focused time working with resources not available in Scotland, such as Burns’s (allegedly) tear-stained letter to Clarinda and a range of pamphlets from the 19th century when phrenology (the study of the lumps and bumps of the skull to determine a person’s character and temperament) really was considered a science.
I’ve also had the chance to make new contacts with various people within the USC community, particularly Professor Patrick Scott (hugely knowledgeable on Burns, Scottish Literature and the wider literary field) and Dr. Elizabeth Sudduth (Director of the Irvin Rare Books and Special Collections, and passionate about all things bookish).
A particular highlight was finishing up yesterday with an impromptu tour of the Rare Books vault with Elizabeth, where they keep their most precious holdings. Shelves and shelves of Burns, Milton, Darwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway; bindings that are hundreds of years old, medieval illuminated manuscripts that have colours as fresh as the day they were added; an insight into the wonderful work that Elizabeth and her team undertake with students, particularly Honours students, to explore the collection and have them involved with valuable research on the texts; and some surprising items such as Fitzgerald’s walking cane and a cast of Burns’s skull. It really was a treasure trove, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit(s) where I can explore more of it.
Travelling solo has also meant lots of time to work without the day-to-day distractions/commitments of campus life in Glasgow. As a result, I’ve managed to finish a fairly major data-crunching task which seems to be showing some interesting results in relation to the mapping of Burns’s moods. This still needs a full analysis so more on this another time. I’ve also been able to work on a couple of side projects and write the first draft of a conference abstract which I hope to submit for next year’s World Congress in Vancouver.
However, more than the sheer pleasure of being able to immerse myself completely in research, the best thing about this week has been the welcome. The people of USC have been wonderful, more than willing to go for a coffee or a beer to chat about my work and start building new relationships. I’ve been overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and offers of support, and I look forward to seeing some of them in Glasgow in coming months. For a new researcher, building these contacts is an important stepping stone to becoming established in a field and I feel I’ve made real progress this week.
I’m sad to be leaving it all behind, even though I know I’ll be back. As my first proper research trip, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to academic travel. These trips are what you make of them but the people of USC have made it so much easier.
But I am looking forward to being home again.
Burns’s letter to Clarinda (‘scuse the shadows)