Rachel Herrmann

Academia, food, and history

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On Packing a Suitcase to Go to New Orleans
I have a small, forest-green, carry-on suitcase, and I’ve just finished packing it in preparation for my departure for the Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction’s conference, which starts on Friday. The conference is in New Orleans, and it turns out that in packing my suitcase to go to New Orleans, I’ve discovered that I have some lingering feeeeeeeeeelings about suitcases and New Orleans.

The last time I was in New Orleans, I was on the job market, and at the American Historical Association’s annual conference. The last time I was in New Orleans, I was crazy. At this time last year, I’d packed, unpacked, and repacked that damn suitcase more times than I’d like to think about.

I’d packed it once with toothpaste but no toothbrush, and spent an entire campus visit “brushing” my teeth MacGyver-style with a washcloth smeared with toothpaste. I’d packed it with the same suit, slinky shell, and shoes combination more than once, and I’d packed it with that combination plus an extra suit “just in case” I did something as stupid as forgetting a toothbrush. I’d packed it with different iterations of the same job talk, extra copies of which I carried in the suitcase, in my briefcase, and uploaded to a memory stick. I’d packed it with enough clothes for two campus visits, in case I got stuck because of bad weather (I did).

The last time I went to a FEEGI conference, by contrast—two years ago—was a complete blast. I met interesting and helpful early career scholars who were several years ahead of where I was, and really generous senior scholars who treated me as an equal rather than the graduate student I still was. The conference, which sticks to a plenary style, with just one panel going at a time, was formatted to encourage everyone to attend all the panels and to think about how each paper built on the next. People made helpful comments and I left thinking more concretely about my work.

As I packed today, it occurred to me just how thankful and flabbergasted I feel to be attending the next FEEGI conference in New Orleans in an utterly different state of mind. I am able to attend because the organizers asked me to chair a panel, which makes an early career scholar like myself able to attend because my department and institution will assist with the travel costs.

I am so looking forward to attending a conference in New Orleans where I can eat to have fun rather than eating my feelings about the job market. It gets better.


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