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November 18th, 2009

Elizabeth I and Ireland

I spent last weekend in the unlikely location of the UConn campus in Storrs, Connecticut, at a conference on Elizabeth I and Ireland. As some of you know, I have an unhealthy obsession with my ancestor, Sir Nicholas White, who was a senior political figure in 16th-century Ireland until he died in the Tower of London in 1592. I have a vague ambition to do some more research on him one of these days, and this conference, which meshed nicely with a work trip to the US, was an opportunity to dip my toe in the waters of Irish Tudor studies.

It was well worth it. Several of the speakers quoted from Nicholas White's correspondence; several more are working him into their current research projects; and only one person gave me a funny look when I explained my interest. I came away very motivated to pursue further research on my 9xgreat-grandfather, and with numerous leads to follow up. Also, and this is not a negligible point, the Nathan Hale Inn on the university campus was by far the most comfortable of the five hotels I stayed in at various points over the last two weeks. (The fire alarm that went off at 2.15 am on the last night was probably not their fault.)

I was struck, not for the first time, about the difference between panels at this sort of conference and at sf cons. Everyone here had carefully compiled papers (in a couple of cases, rather too long for the time available), all decently footnoted, which one can (and does) request copies of by email afterwards. Just a bit different from the fandom panel where the people up front get to burble about whatever they like, and the anarchic culture of fandom is if anything rather prejudiced against structured presentations. The conferences I attend in my professional capacity tend to be halfway in between, in that speakers are not normally expected to have a written presentation of academic quality, but the speaking order and Q&A are usually fairly tightly structured. (Looking for an example of this, I found this event which I spoke at some years back, where in fact most of the speakers did have prepared statements, and the whole thing was correspondingly less enjoyable.)

I must say that the more thought given to the structure of such an event, and the greater the level of shared expectations between organisers and participants about what will happen, the more everyone will get out of it, and the Elizabeth I and Ireland conference was an excellent example of that coming together. Kudos to Brendan Kane, the main organiser, who also took the trouble to help me sort out my accommodation once I arrived.

(No love to the traffic in south-eastern Connecticut, however. When I drove from NY to Boston back in 2005 I swore I would never do that again, and now I remember why.)

Linkspam for 18-11-2009

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