Histoire Immobile

Someone gets it. Barbara Weinstein is the new president of the AHA and her column in the recent Perspectives is all about the problems of mobility for historians. Not the mobility issues of personal disability (though that would be a worthwhile question), but the broader issue of one who cannot easily travel to archives or research centres or take long sabbaticals away from home due to various personal circumstances.

Like me, Barbara Weinstein’s a parent to an autistic child. And her comments on the issue hit home:

A child with a serious disability alters a family’s life in hundreds of ways; in my case, among many other things, it shattered my fantasy of a mobile, transcultural family unit. Of course, at the time that was the least of my worries. Still, at some point I had to re-evaluate and re-think almost every aspect of my career, including whether I could ever again spend enough time in Brazil to do serious archival research. And even within an English-language environment, given the challenges of arranging special educational programs and much-needed therapy for my son, any geographic move seemed fraught with difficulty.

This resonates with me very much right now. Even a trip away to a conference fills me with guilt and anxiety as we work to reinforce the family safety net while I’m out of town. Long trips away for archival research? Inconceivable. And a year away? Not even up for discussion.

Let’s be honest, I’m a homebody, anyway. I’d rather not travel all over heck and gone, particularly not with a family in tow (who gets work done when traveling with kids, anyway?). But it’s not inclination, so much as situation, that binds me here.

5 Responses to “Histoire Immobile”

  1. Anastasia Says:

    i don’t disagree with the sentiment here, but I did want to pop up and say I took my daughter with me to greece to do research and I did get work done. granted, I didn’t spend 19 hours a day in the library like I might have if I were single and childless, so there was compromise involved, but it was workable–with help, of course, but that goes without saying. I absolutely plan to move my family to greece for a summer or longer at some point during my career.

  2. Another Damned Medievalist Says:

    I can’t even imagine. I’m dying trying to find funding just for me to go and do work. I have to find housesitters to take care of the cats, and with luck, find ones who are willing to do it for the sake of a nice apartment and time away from their roommates or family. I can’t imagine the logistics with a family, especially one that includes a child with special needs.

  3. Barbara Says:

    Sorry about that kiddo. But you truely are a homebody. Thank goodness we can get you out for a family vacation ;-)

    ADM: I suggest you go after getting someone that would like having their own place for what ever time it is. I have had several cat sitters over the last 15 years for my cat. Most have been students who have roomates or still live at home. I did know all of them and leave pretty detailed info. In the last four years my cat sitters have even given him his twice daily insulin shots.

  4. ancarett Says:

    Anastasia, I’m impressed that you were able to get work done. I know that if it were just eldest or if youngest was as adaptable as eldest, we could conceivably do family trips to the UK in support of my research. As it is, we managed one trip to DC with preschool kids in tow so I could visit the Folger and that was enough — child amusement from a hotel doesn’t really cut it for long!

    Like Weinstein, I try to find research topics that allow me to do as much without travel as possible. That will eventually change, I’m sure, but for now, it’s very wearing and I’m simply happy to know I’m not alone in finding this expectation of happy-go-lucky academic travel an impossible dream.

  5. Another Damned Medie Says:

    Thanks for the advice — that’s what I’ve tried to do (I used to house sit a lot when I was in grad school, and never charged …). But the student population here is kind of odd — most of the trustworthy students live and work 20 or so miles away, so it can be an issue, unless they are local. I’m hoping that I might get summer grad students — we have Ed programs that are summer only, and I imagine that there are adult people who might be willing to sit.