Reviewing 2011…

This has been quite an interesting year for me, professionally speaking. Much learned, and much successfully accomplished, despite a remarkably high number of sick periods and travel.

1. Writing = more writing.  This simple, innovative approach works for the dissertation, for articles, for reviews, for conference papers, for blogs…It really is that simple. A friend of mine just said that her personal goal is to write 500 words a day, and it’s something that really does work. Now to do that every day, rather than just dabbling in this thought experiment.  Some people I know use programs such as “Write or Die”, but personally I believe that I should have the discipline and drive to produce words without crutches like that–they didn’t have such nifty programs in the old days, after all.  Though I do recall that scene in the film I Capture the Castle when the girls trick their dad into tower pit, where there is naught but his typewriter, and then pull the ladder up so he’s trapped until he writes.

2. The excitement is still there. This has truly been a year for honing my analytic and methodological skills, and for making new and exciting discoveries.  In the last two months, the dissertation has taken a very unexpected turn, and though I’ll probably be reaching too far, I might have hit on theory that ties all of 14th-century English history together, pre- and post-Black Death, pre- and post-Edward III. Perhaps an actual mechanism to explain how the Edwardian period produced the Ricardian period.   This year has also been a great year for crusades studies: I learned a tremendous amount at various conferences, and have a more cohesive research and pedagogical framework for studying the crusades.  I also have a fully-fledged project to commence after the dissertation is finished, and got excellent feedback on my “England and the 14th-century crusades” project.   And the strictly military projects are coming along as well–naval armaments in 14th-century England, and a short but nifty article on Frederick Barbarossa’s generalship, the first draft of which I presented at Leeds this past July, to a great audience.  Research is still good.

3. So is teaching.  I’m never happy with my courses, because I can always see ways to improve them, but I won’t get a chance to “try it again” for weeks, if not months. So teaching is often as frustrating as it is rewarding. But seeing students experiment with new ideas, launching a good class discussion, and reading thoughtful and in some cases truly innovative work, that ‘s always rewarding.  One of my students this term actually built a working model of a trebuchet, in order to support his presentation more effectively. Haven’t seen that type of ingenuity in a good while…

4. Being professionally recognizable in your field, even in a small way, feels good. Not much more to say there. I’ve been extremely blessed in the colleagues of my profession, all of whom have been incredibly supportive, friendly, and approachable.  Now it’s a matter of making good on their generosity, so that it is not wasted on someone who will not fulfill the promise of graduate years.

5. Realizing that you are coming to the end of school is exhilarating, and worrying at the same time.  I began my college career in January, 2002; 2012 will mark 10 straight years of school, and, as I often say, “This should be interesting…”  But at this stage in one’s graduate career, one is REALLY ready to be done with grad school–something our university administration doesn’t seem to understand, what with slapping extra fees to “punish” us for taking longer, when really we’d be more than happy to be done.

And done we will be…*hopefully* I’ll be sending a reorganized draft to my adviser within a couple weeks, travel and Chicago permitting…

6. Job apps are OK; Post-docs apps are ridiculous. No need to go into detail here, everyone on the job market can agree, yes?

7. Best academic experience in 2011: Probably the crusades symposium in London this past July, followed directly by Leeds.  Excellent events, good colleagues, much learned and experienced.

8. Best academic experience so far: still a tie between the West Point Summer Seminar, 2010, and the “England’s Wars” conference, hosted by the University of Reading in July, 2009.

Well, there it is. In short, 2011 was a pretty good year. Now to make 2012 even better!!!