I liked the look of this conference as soon as I saw the call for papers from Drew University’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies (based in Madison, New Jersey). This was to be an interdisciplinary gathering, with the Medical Humanities School at Drew interested in ‘a conversation about the importance and conceptual scope of the medical humanities’.
I also liked the idea of being on the coast of Donegal for a few days in January, so I was delighted when I was invited to present ‘Self-portrait without Breasts’, and even happier when I saw the draft programme included panels on everything from food culture to surf culture (Bundoran, billed as ‘Ireland’s Capital of Fun’ is a major surfing destination), from peace studies to revolutionary women, from Irish-American literature to border music. This was going to be great!
And so it was. Four days of fascinating connections, outrageous weather (everything from horizontal rain and hailstorms, to snow blizzards and hurricane force winds, in quick succession), stimulating conversations – on and off line, excellent food and drink, sublime organization (stand up the extraordinary Niamh Hamill), brilliant keynote lectures, and the most wonderful range of open-minded people.
Highlights for me were, in no particular order: the trip around Yeats country, and coming back from the Glencar Falls to see light break momentarily through slate cloud over the lake; Don Mullan’s deeply moving keynote ‘From Journey to Justice’; watching the premiere of Easkey Britton’s film ‘Into the Sea’ about how she has led a female surf movement in Iran; walking the coastal path – Roguey Walk – from the main beach in Bundoran around to Tullan Strand and seeing foam from the wild Atlantic blowing onto a snow-covered beach; Theo Durgan’s thought-provoking closing keynote lecture looking back on what happened in Ireland in the 1916 Rising; the gala dinner on the final night, when I was honoured to receive one of several awards for the best presentations.
I haven’t yet said anything about the Medical Humanities bit, but that’s probably because I felt so at home, thanks to a warm welcome from Philip Scibilia and Elizabeth Fehsenfeld of Drew. There were excellent presentations from both of them, as well as from Philip Murphy and Ciara Breathnach, Nur Khan, NC Britton, Susan Mullaney and Siobhan Conaty. Siobhan’s research into how the study of art history improves medical students’ powers of observation is a powerful and convincing argument for including arts disciplines in scientific training. Hooray!
Nor have I said that I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to the Creative Minds panel, chaired by Mackenzie Seuss. There was a superbly varied array of writing and a warm atmosphere in the pub on Saturday afternoon – a true sharing of stories, and a delight. Thank you, Mackenzie and all the other writers.