Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Duke Journaling

Doing research ain't digging ditches. I grew up on a farm and research isn't equivalent to shoveling shit or lifting bales of hay or carrying pails of milk. But research is still draining, especially when one is under a time crunch. So the last few days I have been plowing through boxes and boxes of great stuff, particularly from the LeRoy T. Walker African News Service Archives, an invaluable resource (for those of you in the biz think of a 400-box, very well organized clippings file) that I would bet I revisit for projects in the future. I'll go home with a good fifteen pounds or more of photocopies. And yes, I'm the Luddite who photocopies, rather than takes digital pictures for reasons that actually have nothing to do with an aversion to the technology and everything to do with a preference for hard copies made instantly.

The work has been good. I have been trying to balance several projects because I do not know when I'll next get back here. I am down to half of one substantial research box left to go. I thought I'd finish today, but my copy card ran out after anyplace I could fill it up closed (there is only one machine in the entire library and it is out of order) so I'll need to return tomorrow, likely in the hours before I give my talk in the Rare Book Room (3:00 if you are in the area -- I'd truly love to have you show up).

I always experience a mix of emotions when I get to spend time at a place like Duke. I'm not at all proud of some of them. Envy, to be sure. Resentment too -- I'll put my record against anyone in their history department who got their PhD within three years in either direction of when I got mine (ie: 2000-2006). But also a real sense of appreciation. After all, I spend my days breathing decidedly less rarefied air than that which envelopes this community. When I leave on Friday I'll inevitably feel as if I did not use my time to the fullest, occupying a limited swath on campus as well as possible rather than spreading myself out to do every little thing possible. So I already have a favorite coffee shop and preferred hangout spots based on a limited sample.

One of the impressions that stands out immediately is the privilege that is ubiquitous here. And I do not mean that in a class warrior sort of way. But students and faculty and the whole community has first-rate facilities and services, options that students at lesser places, and the vast majority of places are lesser than Duke, could not even imagine. And I think of my time at Williams and how while I feel like I did so much there I still embodied the idea of youth being wasted on the young. Whenever I pass by the Duke Chapel, the central landmark on campus (which I can see clearly from my seat in this coffee shop and which is supposedly modeled after the one at Princeton and is reminiscent of the one at Williams) I gaze up in something of a state of wonderment and I realize that after another ten days here I'd probably forget to be in awe and would take all of this for granted.

I found out today that I lost out on a job I very much wanted to a newly minted Duke PhD and I was, I have to admit, a bit furious. I am sure this student is great. And the job was posted at either the Assistant Professor level or at Associate. But I cannot help but be angry about how much of academic hiring, like the NBA or NFL draft, is so much about potential. The reality is that if in six years this person has a record anywhere near approaching mine the school will have hired well, but of course they could have had that record now, with me, and they obviously consciously chose to pass it up. So add that to the "resentment" file (I'm a petty person, I suppose) even though I'll from here on out happily list my own little affiliation with Duke with pride.

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