Friday, May 08, 2009

Keele Diary #4

Well, I appear to have settled on using the shower nozzle unit to fill the tub partway and then doing a hybrid bath-shower thing. What a hassle. No wonder this country lost its empire. Hell, even in Ireland I've always been able to shower. Ireland!

So a little about the University of Keele. The university is located on its own somewhat isolated hilltop surrounded by little villages, outside of which are a number of small towns in the North Midlands. The nearest real cities are Manchester and Birmingham, each an hour or so away. Of the surrounding towns, one, Stoke-on-Trent, is large enough to support a Premiere League team, if that is any sign of anything.

The university was established after World War II when just as in the United States, there was an explosion of demand for higher education created by returning veterans, heightened post-war prosperity (which admittedly took longer to arrive in Britain than in the US), population growth, increasing globalization (admittedly not a word that would have been used in that generation) and a general transformation of the role of the university in society. No longer was higher education the domain of the elite few going to Oxbridge or settling for one of the other older universities.

And yet while Keele is new, it does not feel quite as new as its counterparts in the United States that emerged at roughly the same time. This is largely because the university is built on an old estate (I believe it was known, cleverly enough) as the Keele Estate. And so there are some aged, historic buildings, on an expansive, bucolic setting. There also is the natural beauty of the region, and the historic "Potters" that I do not know enough about yet to speak intelligently except to say that apparently the area is renowned for its pottery.

There certainly is a lot of new architecture, and much of it clearly went up in the 60s and 70s and so qualifies as what architects term "butt ugly," but in general the university has a lot of brick and stone and someone has worked hard to develop a really rather nice campus. My office is located in The Chancellor's Building, which has a few characteristics that seem to be a requirement for at least one building at every typical university: It is complex and easy to get lost in, the hallways are labyrinthine and narrow, there are lots of bizarre angles, alcoves, and hideaways, and it has a certain charm to it even if there is nothing especially spectacular or even aesthetic about the building. The academic wings also are connected by the central area which has, among other things, a cafe and a restaurant, an art gallery, and a few official offices.

The David Bruce Centre for American Studies is named after the respected former United States Ambassador to England, David K. E. Bruce. I was pleased to see that Bruce's biography was penned by Nelson Lankford of the Virginia Historical Society , where I was a fellow several years ago, and there is a copy in my office on the coffee table, which is a nice touch. The Centre is located on the floor where my office is, although really the Centre consists of the faculty, the fellow's (my) office, the seminar room and library, and a few administrative staff. At one point I guess American Studies was its own department or unit, but it now has been combined with the humanities faculty generally and thus in some ways has been reduced, largely because of what by all accounts is administrative shortsightedness. So there is another commonality between Keele and most other universities, including most in the States.

My office is a nice space. My desk faces the back wall, which consists mostly of a picture window that covers the whole length and more than half the height of the wall. I am surrounded by shelves of books that are part of the Bruce Centre library and that are in the process of being re-cataloged and re-shelved, though that project is thankfully in abeyance while I am here, so I just get to have an office that looks like a devoted Americanist's office, albeit surrounded by books that by and large could have been in the office of a mid-20th-century Americanist, which actually is not all that bad. One learns to appreciate the shoulders of those giants one stands upon when reminded of the great output of our predecessors. I have an little alcove behind me with a chair and another shelf, and on the window ledge is the requisite tea pot, while next to my desk is a chair for the visitors I am largely unlikely to have, even given that I am doing a tiny bit of teaching while I am here. The office is well lit and provides a nice place to work. My computer is new, though my monitor is old and a bit small, so that I can only see a few lines of my emails as I type them, and there are formatting issues with some of the newer, busier websites. But I have no real complaints, they are treating me very well, have equipped me well for productivity, and have done as much to integrate me into the larger community as quickly as possible as any fellowship I have ever held.

If only the office had a shower . . .

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