The quarantine over the past year has raised a question that is vital for me: Namely, what does it mean to be “in person,” and how does it shape intellectual life? In turn, what does that life look like when personhood becomes confined to a delimited box on a screen? While holding seminars and lectures online allowed us to reach more participants, it also removed the joie de vivre of academic gatherings. It underscored for me the extent to which debate depends upon the interstices of the coffee break. In turn, the hopes for a new year free from uncertainty is disappearing with the rise of the Delta variant in conjunction with the grave news of the climate report, which does not feel separate from the changes brought on by a year in quarantine. Although I have often found online programming to be lacking, the two-day international conference model is no longer sustainable. This past year, therefore, made clear to me the necessity of thinking about new forms that will not negatively contribute to the global crisis around climate while also allowing people to gather together in person. In the absence of these formal and informal get-togethers over the past year, I discovered that they are one of the gifts of academic life.
CAROLINE FOWLER, art historian and director, Clark Art Institute Research and Academic Program