The origin story

All great things come with a suitable origin story. Superman. King Arthur. Apple. Pat Benetar and Neil Giraldo. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.* This one’s ours.

In the spring of 2014, one of the two of us was a visiting professor of archaeology at Harlaxton College, University of Evansville. The other one of us was (and is) an associate professor of British Studies and history at the same institution. The rest is in the details.

As a part of the Honours Programme of British Studies, students produce poster presentations just as they would in postgraduate and professional settings. This evening is done with much ado: students in nice clothes, standing nervously next to their research posters, clutching warm wine, fielding questions from friendly friends and students (who are the same people; this college only houses around 160), professors in all fields, staff at the College, host families and maybe even a member of the public or two. Topics are open to whatever the students choose, providing the British Studies staff can guide the research.

Spring 2014 yielded a good crop of posters, ranging from the myths of Robin Hood to feminism and the Irish War of Independence. However, one in particular on the kitchen gardens of 19th century English country houses caught the eye of Dr Edward Bujak and Dr Katherine Weikert (the historian and the archaeologist, respectively.)

Conversation ensued as the faculty arranged the posters on the boards in the Great Hall before the big event. Gardens and employment. Employment and gender. Shaping the landscape through time. Gendered shaping of the landscape. Identity, gender and the landscape. The reach of British identity and the landscape. Gender and the British landscape. And then we landed on masculinities in order to complement current work on women and landscape.

Lo and behold, Masculinities in the British Landscapes was born over a fevered twenty minutes of research-ish conversation over undergraduate posters and thumbtacks in the sparkling Great Hall.

Great Hall

Of course, no birth is without bumps. Ours was the name. In a flurry of inspiration and creativity, in the midst of this inspiring space, we came up with many words, in many orders, in attempts to make something catchy, descriptive and punchy. In a tizzy of swirling words, we were so delighted to come upon a name that fit the bill: it was catchy. People would remember it. It was a nickname and a conference name. It had real impact. Masculine landscapes?

We would be the Manscapes Conference.

Fortunately by that evening a kindly colleague explained to us why we shouldn’t take that name. (Kindly is not an exaggeration, but that didn’t prevent a good deal of laughter at our expense.) Fortunately as well we hadn’t yet taken out our Gmail account. The type of spam this would have generated boggles the mind. Hence, the Masculinities in the British Landscape Conference was born. A slightly more academic and mechanical name, in the promise of the great papers to come, with less spam almost guaranteed.

And that’s our origin story.

*Come to think of it, perhaps ‘origin story’ is sightly overused.

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