I am afraid that I must eat my words over geographical competence. I am writing this blog in Buffalo, New York State, where I am at a conference on “Genealogies of the Humanities” at the university there. No – I wasn’t entirely sure either quite what the title meant, but as it turned out my paper on how the definition of “the humanities” changed in nineteenth-century England seemed to fit the bill well enough. And there have been some great contributions on a range of topics from the role of animals in the humanities to how “Oriental Studies” became an independent subject in nineteenth-century Germany.
The truth is before I left I hadn’t completely checked out where Buffalo was. I knew that it was in the West of New York State, but I hadn’t exactly grasped that it was on the Great Lakes, just 20 minutes from Canada and right next to Niagara Falls. In fact, when I arrived at the airport and found the signs saying “Buffalo-Niagara” I had a slight panic that I was at the wrong place. A bit like being at Bristol Parkway when you want to be at Bristol Temple Meads, but less easily rectifiable.
I’m always a bit of a sucker for natural wonders (unlike painting and buildings, you don’t actually need to KNOW anything to enjoy them). So once I had realised that I really was in the right place, I decided that I would visit the Falls before I came home – even if it meant missing a little bit of the conference. It was gob-smacking.