Sabbatical Notes

--Contents-- Writing
Sabbatical Notes
by Marion Frank-Wilson, Indiana University

From Augusts 2007 to June 2008, I pursued a sabbatical to work on two projects: a critical anthology of travel writing by African authors; and, together with Professor Ruth Stone, I co-taught an African Studies graduate research seminar (the African Studies Wednesday Evening Seminar) on "Field notes in African Research". Both were long-standing projects, and my hope was that the sabbatical would finally give me the time to make significant progress.

As it turned out, the ten months sabbatical proved to be a wonderfully energizing and productive time. Not only was it very rewarding to have this amount of time to fully devote to my projects, but being free from everyday-commitments and hectic schedules, I was able to step back and reflect on my work. This resulted in new ideas and approaches, some of which I have already begun to implement. In that respect, I expect that the sabbatical will prove to be beneficial for many years, and in many unanticipated respects.

Following are excerpts from my sabbatical report. I would only add that sabbaticals are great, and that I would recommend one to everybody!

I began my sabbatical on August 1st, and for the first three months, I concentrated entirely on the travel writing project. Starting in November, I concurrently worked on preparing for the fieldnotes seminar. The genre of travel writing has received renewed attention in recent years, as can be seen in the large numbers of travel books published. These publications typically are written by Western travelers, describing their experiences in Africa, whereas little attention has been paid to African writers describing their travels in foreign countries. And yet, Africans travel, and written accounts of their journeys exist. The goal of my anthology is to give an overview of the genre written in the 20th and early parts of the 21st century, and, rather than focusing on the few well-known texts which can already be found in many anthologies, I want to include the lesser known texts and open up this body of literature to a wider audience. The anthology will be divided into several topical sections (e.g., fiction/autobiography, female writers, returning home, documentary accounts, writings from South Africa), and it will include a critical introduction as well as introductions to each of the sections.

I already had an overview of existing African travel literature by the time I began my sabbatical, and I had made preliminary selections of primary texts for inclusion in the anthology. I had also read some critical literature and had a general idea of my own approach to the topic. I used the first three months of the sabbatical to continue reading secondary literature, and to re-read and re-consider the already selected texts. As a result of my more in-depth research, my definition of travel and travel writing evolved into larger contexts. I knew before the sabbatical that I would not limit my definition of travel to touristic journeys in the traditional sense, and that, rather, travel in the late 20th century would have to be seen in the context of larger discussions about transnational phenomena of migration and globalization. The first part of my sabbatical allowed me to expand my reading in those areas across several disciplines (anthropology, cultural geography, history, literary criticism) and to develop my own view of travel and, as a consequence, travel writing. As my definitions and concepts evolved, I looked at the preliminary text selections with different eyes and decided against including several of the already selected texts (because they were already well-known; or because my definition of travel writing did not warrant their inclusion). At the same time, I continued to read, research, and discover primary texts which matched my now more concrete criteria for inclusion. I also made additional selections, and added two more topical sub-sections to the already determined categories (i.e., "Immigrants and Asylum Seekers", and "Travelogues").

At the time of writing this report, I anticipate having a complete manuscript by Christmas. I currently have a draft on the introduction, all the text selections, and I am still working on the smaller introductions to the sub-sections. I am also still working on short author profiles which will precede each text - a component that I decided to add only this spring. Since most of the text selections will be by authors not known to a wide audience, I believe those profiles will be an important addition.

I will be attending the annual meeting of the African Studies Association in mid-November, and by that time I plan to have the manuscript at a stage where I can approach publishers.

My second sabbatical project was about the topic of field notes in African Studies research and included co-teaching a graduate seminar on the topic. To members of the teaching faculty, it may seem unusual to apply for a sabbatical in order to be able to teach - since the purpose of sabbaticals is to free faculty members from that very duty to allow time for research! For librarians, however, the situation is somewhat different. A sabbatical is virtually the only way to allow a librarian the time and peace of mind to do the reading, thinking, and work in connection with developing a class. This is particularly true for a class such as the African Studies Program's Wednesday Evening seminar which includes a budget for guest speakers and involves audiences larger than the students enrolled in the class. Since the topic of field notes is very closely connected to my research interests on electronic publishing and scholarly communication in general, I felt that developing and co-teaching the class would be a unique opportunity to pursue my research of these issues while being engaged in a semester-long discourse with students, faculty, and guest speakers.

Beginning in late November, Ruth Stone and I started to have regular meetings where we discussed the syllabus, developed a list of guest speakers and coordinated various activities related to the class (soliciting additional funds for a guest speaker from Africa, corresponding with guest speakers, coordinating dates, discussing assignments for the students, etc.). Once the semester started, we met once a week to coordinate each class session (i.e., assignments, what topics should be discussed in class, who would be responsible for leading a class section, etc.). We covered a variety of aspects related to field notes, including discussions about various species of fieldnotes, fieldnotes in relation to libraries and archives, blogs and other electronic varieties of fieldnotes, fieldworkers' journals, fiction (part. Travel writing) and related forms, the role of the field worker, etc. Our guest speakers reflected this variety of perspectives. We had eight guest speakers coming from different disciplines (and including our own David Henige!): literature, library science, folklore/ethnomusicology, journalism, and history.

The seminar proved to be a wonderful experience. One unanticipated result was the discovery that my two sabbatical projects, which I had conceived as two separate topics, are actually connected. For example, in addition to scholarly analysis, another result of fieldnotes can be travel writing - which in many instances is like published fieldnotes. In fact, fieldnotes have many characteristics and themes in common with travel writing. Approaching fieldnotes from a librarian's perspective in relation to archiving and curating them, I had not seen this connection previously. Leading one of the class sessions on fiction/travel writing in connection with field notes, and exploring the creation of travel writing with one of our guest speakers, opened up my mind to new connections. In the future, I plan to explore these connections further, beginning with an annotated bibliography and bibliographic essay (which will focus on the connection between fieldnotes written by the explorers of the 19th century, and their connection to modern day travel writing).

Now that I have concluded my sabbatical, I find that my professional development and research activities which I thought reflected my two separate interests in librarianship and literary scholarship/criticism, have merged into one cohesive area for professional development - an area that I plan to pursue for the next several years.

Back to Top

Next Page

Back to Table of Contents