I was fortunate enough to receive travel funding from the College of Arts & Sciences this past academic year to travel to the European Social Science History Conference,
13-16 April 2010. While attending this conference I presented a paper entitled, "GIS
and History: Manufacturing, Memphis, and the Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878."
(paper link, Conference Session H-11; all the papers from the History and Computing Section are
It was a thoroughly amazing experience to be able to hear and speak with some of the
most influential researchers, writers and entrepreneurs in the combined fields of
Geographic Information Systems and History today. I learned a tremendous amount –
and of how much I have yet to learn. This truly was the experience of a lifetime and
a formational experience in the ways in which I will view the meld of both the historical
and the technical aspects of what I have chosen to do with my life's pursuits. The University of Memphis had made this possible in ways I never expected, and for which I am particularly
Near the end of the conference, a sign went up in the Commons about a little-known
event – and one to which few of us paid much attention at first – the eruption of
the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjalljokull. The explosion of news – not to mention the
volcano – became enormous within about 48 hours, however, as European airspace was
first partially, then totally closed. We were soon stranded, though we were told by
our airline to travel to the airport as quickly as possible via train "in case" the
airport opened in the morning; if it did and we missed our flight we would be forced
to rebook on a later flight at our own expense.
We took the last train from Gent and hurried into… a dead airport. Nothing moving
and almost nobody there. When I asked about hotels nearby, I received an odd look
and the response, “Ma’am, there are no hotels within 150km. But the Red Cross is over
there.” The gentleman pointed that way. We resigned ourselves to a cot for the night
– and that was our fate – but when we arrived we found smiling faces, water, food
– and our fill of international reporters. We joked about it most of the night, but
by the third day (including a sanity trip into Brussels proper to see the sights),
it was no laughing matter; the cots hurt, the room was cold and tempers were frayed.
Oddly enough, though, a couple – two pilots – walked into our lives at that moment.
They were, as they laughed, “ecologically unemployed” due to the volcano, and just
as stranded as we were – albeit at home – and wanted most of all to know if we would
like to stay with them. I am not accustomed to going home with strangers, but a hopeful
nod from my husband, Alex (MM, Scheidt School of Music, 1995), did me in – we agreed.
The Halpouters (Cédric and Alice) were amazing hosts, and kind to the last. They showed
us around the area southeast of Brussels, including a lovely nature preserve, Waterloo
(where Napoleon was defeated – what an amazing sight!), and some astounding meals.
And, on the second to last day, they suggested we make a day trip to Paris. We were
stunned that we could do that in our budget and booked two seats on a bus for VERY
early in the morning the next day. We took a whirlwind tour of Paris, arrived back
at midnight, and caught a flight to Amsterdam the next day.
While in Amsterdam (we had a 23 hour layover), we went to the Anne Frank House and
visited many other historic spots in the old city. But, we were weary and ready to
return home. I had been reading conference materials and papers and working most of
the trip as well as keeping up with what else was going on, and was definitely ready
to get back into my usual working routine.
The six-day-trip-that-had-turned-to-thirteen was wonderful and will always be in my
heart (and my back, I suspect). I learned more than I could ever imagine and would
recommend every student I meet (graduate and undergraduate alike) to take advantage
of all the study abroad and conference opportunities this university has to offer.
The ability to work with people from different cultures and different perspectives
is invigorating and academically enriching. I would also encourage our students and
faculty to continue to take advantage of ever chance they have to travel not only
abroad, but within this beautiful country as well. It's a wide, wide world we have,
and much to learn from it. Keep educating yourself; the excitement never, never ends.
PhD History 2012 (anticipated)