Last week I attended an excellent conference titled Moving Dangerously: Women and Travel, 1850-1950 at Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. The conference was full of interesting papers by students and scholars primarily in history and literature from the US, Canada, UK and Europe. It is not often that I am in a room full of people interested in the same things I am, and this diverse group did not disappoint. Presenters spoke to many of the themes that so intrigue me about this period: the body in public spaces, popular images of women’s resistance, international feminism and women navigating terrain independently of men (or “manless climbing” as one scholar of mountaineering so poignantly phrased it). The keynote speakers also left me with a lot of new questions to ask about my reading and research: How do we study geographies of rhythm, emotion and flow? Is travel during eras of imperialism always an imperialist project? How do we position the home and femininity within scholarship of travel?
As a student of U.S. history, I am frequently reminded of the importance of exploring American experiences in a transnational lens. From my experience, the move towards transnationalism often seems phrased as a necessary push, a trend we must follow to stay relevant regardless of whether it actually furthers our own research projects. I have sensed an undercurrent that for Americanists, transnationalism is a burden more than an opportunity. Studying women’s travel provides fresh ways to think about transnationalism more broadly as a lens that recognizes crossing borders of all kinds. At this conference, the projects were not transnational for the sake of it, but showed the rich source material and engaging questions that arise when we conceptualize borders as dynamic and imbedded with meaning. Simply, it didn’t necessarily make the work harder, but it did make it better (and definitely more interesting). The second keynote address on locating the home within a transnational context reaffirmed the possibilities for such an approach. Even the spaces that seem most removed from the rest of the world (like our living rooms) are in fact best understood as part of the public, the (trans)national and the global.
One of the great benefits of going to conferences is what you get to do once the conference ends. I was able to spend some time exploring Newcastle, and it was a blast. The pubs were awesome and Newcastle has a great art museum. The fun of traveling and being in a new place greatly added to the experience of the conference. The fact that the conference occurred in the last month of the semester has made this week and the next quite hellish for me, but it was actually a great time to go. The change of scenery and the new ideas from the conference has definitely helped me get through the final sprint of the semester. I hope I get more opportunities like this one as I work my way through the PhD. The opportunity to rethink my own work, ask new questions, meet likeminded scholars, and visit a new place is grad school at its best.