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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the eagle meets Beethoven: case study of a historian

There is a historian in my department who looks like a cross between this:

and this:

He is quite old, set in his ways, and a historian of the most traditional sort, and he enjoys asking questions after the weekly departmental seminars that would cause most of us to visibly tremble.

Today it was "Forgive me for being sceptical, but..."

Other times it has been "I don't want to be provocative, but..." or "I don't mean to be rude, but..." or "That sort of thing may all be very well for English or Cultural Studies students, but..."

Every time he goes on to question the entire fundamental basis for someone's research and to suggest that everything about the way they do history is fundamentally flawed and doesn't help us to know anything.

Even scarier, he doesn't seem to hold back even for students who are presenting.

In the past I have enjoyed, in a kind of sadistic way, watching other people deal with his questions. Now, when I know that sometime in the next six months I will have to present my own departmental seminar, I find myself mentally imagining all the rude things he could say to me and trying to think up an incisively polite way of responding.

I have grown so frightened by him that last week, when he was sitting next to me in the seminar and turned to smile at me when he made a small joke, I mistook his smile for an evil grimace and visibly shuddered. Yes, when I write my novel, I think I will be drawing on somebody I know for inspiration for my villain.

(To be fair, he's probably a nice old man who has the misfortune of forming his questions in the most scary way possible and of looking much like a cross between angry-Beethoven and an eagle, who probably spends his spare time dandling his grandchildren on his knee and reading them Dr Seuss.)

1 comment:

Beck said...

You're probably too young to remember the scary and very patriotic eagle on the Muppets Show, but your Mean Professor sounds like him. Haw!