Back from the brink…

So it has been a very (very, very) long time since I’ve updated my site, which should most definitely change as of now. There is plenty to talk about and…honestly, lots of time, but let’s pretend there isn’t in fact all that much.

What’s been going on? First of all, I have a book out! It’s an edited collection, which I coedited along with Amy Bonsall and Jonathan Hay, called Talking Bodies, vol. II: Bodily Languages, Selfhood and Transgressions (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). An interdisciplinary volume, it encompasses law, medicine, literature, theatre, and more, in order to address and engage with the broad theme of ‘the body’. What are we? Are we a body, or do we inhabit a body? In either case, is the body the self or only a vessel? What meaning do we ascribe our bodies, and what meanings are inscribed upon them in the readings of others? Does this matter? (The short answer is yes. The long answer…is to be found in the book, which is available now from Palgrave Macmillan.)

A few of months ago, before covid-19 wrapped us up in tremendous uncertainties, I also turned my attention to the Australian bushfire crisis. Specifically, I wrote an explainer on Twitter as to the disaster unfolding in my country of origin, and what the federal government was and wasn’t doing about it. Surprising everyone (especially me!), this thread went vital, being retweeted by literally hundreds of thousands of people, including the author Neil Gaiman, the American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and (be still my beating, Star Trek-loving heart!) Brent Spiner (i.e. Commander Data). This led to a few other opportunities to engage in the public sphere with what the catastrophe tells us about statecraft and the responsibilities of government. I was interviewed on BBC Radio 5live; I wrote an opinion piece in The Independent; my work was translated into German and French. Above all, what I think this experience demonstrates is that expertise does have a role to play in public discourse (whatever the discussion of ‘people are sick of experts’ might suggest!) I am no expert on bushfires but, as a historian, I do have a skillset that involves thinking critically, taking disparate sources, synthesising them, and communicating them effectively. In these times more than ever, it is vital that we do not shut ourselves away in the ‘ivory towers’.

Which leads me to covid-19. I have to admit, I was taken by surprise by this. At a certain point I was one of the people who was convinced it’d all blow over, and that it was probably not much more than a particularly bad flu. Time proved me very wrong, and the ever-present fear of this pandemic, coupled with the protective measures in place, have left us all off-balance and fearful, not only for the present, but for the future. I’m still teaching but, like most of my colleagues, that teaching has moved online, presenting us further challenges in unprecedented conditions. Here, I simply want to make the point that our students must come first and that, whatever our circumstances, we should adapt as much as possible to what they need. Unfortunately, the pandemic shows us that, for many branches of academia, online learning is not a substitute for in-person classes, but there are still ways and means to present our work effectively and to encourage student engagement.

But I must admit: I cannot wait for face-to-face teaching again. Or conferences. Or coffee-shop chats with colleagues and friends. Or just coffee shops, really.

Stay safe and healthy everyone. Be well.

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