Thanks to all who’ve posted comments on my questions about medieval blogging: I’ll post again after the session in Siena and see what comes out.
I’m drafting this on the plane from Melbourne to Singapore, on my way to London, then another flight back to Rome where I’ll hang out in the sun for a few days before heading up to Siena.
It’s been the usual scramble to get things done before getting on the plane. And much harder this time as yesterday (can it really just be yesterday?) I was in Canberra, fronting up as part of a team representing a bid for an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence on the History of Emotions, 1100-1800. It was very nerve-wracking, as it is a bid for 7 years and millions of dollars to fund a research centre which would be based in Perth at the University of Western Australia, but with people also based in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. There were about 130 expressions of interest, and they interviewed 18 finalists for perhaps 10 centres. And this is from all academic fields. There were only one or two more, I think, in all of the humanities and social sciences. We’ll hear in August, perhaps, if we were successful.
I’m only a minor player, here. If the Centre gets funding, I’ll lead one of four research programs, but by far the greatest burden fell on the shoulders of the team at Perth, especially Philippa Maddern and Susan Broomhall. The work they did was incredible; and they had magnificent support from UWA’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for research, Alistar Robertson. Alistar’s a marine biologist, but has worked enthusiastically with the historians for the last eighteen months as the bid came together. We were given a list of possible questions: some generic, about governance, intellectual property, etc; and some specific to our proposal: did we have enough psychologists? were we too Eurocentric, etc. I took part in three rehearsals for this interview (one in Perth; one on skype; and another in Canberra on Tuesday), and by the time we rocked up yesterday morning, we felt as prepared as we could be. A panel of seven, plus three support staff also in the room taking notes as we spoke.
Philippa’s 30 minute powerpoint presentation (with embedded video from one of the industry partners, WA opera) went beautifully; and then the questions started.
The initial mood of the panel was avowedly skeptical: they thought we were a strong team, but how did we really think we’d be able to make this early period relevant to Australian life? As we had planned, I took this question (my research program will be called Shaping the Modern, and will examine the tradition of European emotional regimes in Australian culture), and off we went. We all performed well, I must say: keeping to our script and our plan. Mostly these centres go to the sciences: I don't think the panel was expecting our team to be so incredibly well prepared on all the managerial-style questions. As the 90 minutes went by, we could feel the panel becoming less skeptical; and saying things like, “I had a question about governance, but you’ve answered that very well in your presentation”… Alistar sat quietly with us till towards the end, answering questions with great point and sharpness (if we erred, we were perhaps a little wordy and diffuse). The last question was a killer. What would you do if we funded you at only 50% of what you’ve requested? Philippa was firm — we had anticipated this question, but the size of the projected cut was pretty brutal. But then Alistar came in with this very powerful and ringing endorsement: this was the team that would re-shape the nature of humanities research in Australia (through its intellectual ambitions; its postgraduate training; its collaborative methods); it was an amazing opportunity; and it would be, he implied, mealy-mouthed in the extreme for the ARC — he addressed the questioner by her first name here — to fund it only at such a rate. This DVC, I must say, really gets the humanities, and what we’re about.
With that, the panel was done; and we gathered up our specially made laminated name cards with the prospective centre’s logo, and marched out, though perhaps not getting quite far enough away before we started congratulating each other as if we had just defeated Germany 4-0 in the World Cup. Honestly, I don’t think we could have done better. If we don’t get it, then that’s a shame, but it won’t be because we didn’t make the most of the opportunity we were given.
Remarkably, I don’t find myself going over my answers and kicking myself for not doing it differently. And it was really lovely to be part of such a team. Wish us luck!