Academics, it is commonly supposed, spend their time during the summer getting intimate with Tuscany. So The THES asked four of them what they area ctually doing.
Director of the James Joyce Research Center, Boston University.
"For fun I'm reading the novels of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfooz. My favourite so far is Respected Sir, wherein the protagonist starts his first day as a clerk handling incoming mail with the aspiration of achieving the director generalship and its vast blue-carpeted office. This is Kafka in reverse because most of the persecution is self-generated by his ambition and failure to have a social life, get married, etc.
"My other area of interest is the literature of animal behaviour /intelligence /emotions, particularly on birds. Just last week I lifted up 'Stubbie' from the lawn outside a townhouse, took him home and fed him through the night, let him sleep, then reinserted him in his nest under the fire escape at 169 Bay State Road. I also made a cardboard barrier to keep him from popping out of the nest again. After a big fuss of trying to scare me off, his parents resumed feeding him and the only other nestling. There are now everyday two yelping chicks instead of just the one when I picked up Stubbie. Every summer my staff or other students deliver fledglings that aren't ready to eat on their own and have lost contact with their parents, but Stubbie didn't yet have any feathers at all, just the clear shafts on his wings with stubble poking out the ends about a 16th of an inch. For the rest he looked like a plucked turkey. His rump was particularly bulbous and shiny.
"Whether birds and animals have individual characteristics, intelligence, emotions, etc, is a raging debate in the field of 'ethology' just now. I sent a staff of three to Dublin for a couple of weeks but had to defend the fort here in Boston with the remainder of the dozen helpers on the CD-ROM 'Introducing James Joyce's Ulysses by John Kidd'. Kathy White, a longtime PBS producer, is filming 18 three-minute segments of me introducing each chapter of Ulysses as relevant pictures flash behind me on the computer screen and Celtic music backs up my speaking. After each segment the screen converts into a full-page rendering of the chapter opening, which can then be read page-by-page as a book. Toggling a discrete switch called 'Mark' converts the page into a heavily underscored page with an average of 15-20 annotations. We've already prepared 12,000 annotations, 1,000 photos, etc. We've burned a couple of CD-ROMS and they work nicely in all the Macintoshes we've tried them on. Publication date is uncertain, but not before the end of the year, all depending on how quickly Norton finishes securing rights for Joyce's various works for all the many countries we will be publishing in.
"By accident I fell into some research on Freemasonry when I realised no one had ever found Joyce's precise source for all the secret signs and passwords Bloom mutters in the Nighttown chapter, Circe. The odd thing is that all the phrases Joyce used are from American, not Irish, Freemasonry. Several months after requesting his friend Frank Budgen to send him a book on the masons, Joyce then asks more pointedly for one on 'British' masonry. He seems to have realised that his drafts were tainted with American rituals, but there is no evidence he ever got a second book to make corrections. I'm gradually ruling out a number of texts because they lack the phrases (some in Hebrew and Arabic) that Bloom uses. The best candidate so far is Avery Allyn's A Ritual of Freemasonry, which is wholly American, but was reprinted in London near the turn of the century. Maybe I'll turn up a second book with all the same phrases, but the vast majority simply don't have everything that is found in both Allyn's Ritual and Ulysses. By the way these sorts of books were known as 'exposures' - the first American to bring one out (Captain William Morgan) was soon murdered. There is a separate tradition of secret manuals actually made by the Masons themselves to help leaders memorise their parts of the ritual, but most are 20th-century. These are called 'vocal aids' as opposed to 'exposures'.
"The real lesson of this summer is that when a professor grows so successful he has a full-time staff of ten, any notion of a pastoral 12 weeks in a cottage with a stack of beach reading, whether in Maine or below the Matterhorn, is a fantasy to be entertained only by students who hope to grow up and be professors, not by said professor himself. Unwittingly I have become director of a giant Joyce Lab, with all the strains that come with laboratories and postdocs, interns, subcontractors, suppliers, technicians, cost overruns, contract disputes, hiring and firing. Wait till I put the Iliad, Odyssey, and Moby-Dick on CD-ROM. Then I'll have a lifetime of summers to regret."
Professor of southern African history, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
"I'm in South Africa for five weeks. I'll be hunting down a mine hospital if I can find it, for a project wildly titled Mothers, Miners and Maniacs - a book that will be a historical study of three hospitals in South Africa: a mental hospital, a mine hospital and a maternity hospital. What I'm interested in is the relationships of patients, doctors and nurses and unprofessionalised carers - who were largely black - and their changes over time, roughly from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1960s. This all arises out of previous work I've done - I've just written a history of nursing in South Africa, Divided Sisterhood, which turned out to be interesting but not the book I'd intended writing initially. In the mines you start with white male nurses who come out of the British army, and you end up with a cadre of black female nurses, for an all-male black populace. The maternity hospital was of course all female and was the first of the three hospitals to train black midwives. The mental hospital was mixed by gender and by race, so I'm trying to look at the racial and gender aspects of the three hospitals."
Professor of politics at Nottingham University from September.
Paul Heywood, like many academics, tends to get irritated when the outside world talks with envy of long vacations. His 1995 summer schedule shows why. It does admittedly find him unusually placed between two employers, having been appointed to the chair in politics at Nottingham University from the start of the next academic year. "I was appointed to the Nottingham post in March, but I'm still under contract to the University of Glasgow until the end of September. At times it feels as though I have two full-time jobs." Much of his work is concerned with getting to know his new department: "The aim is that I should be able to hit the ground running at the start of the new academic year".
But as one of the leading British academic experts on contemporary Spain there are also continuing examining and supervising commitments. "I have PhDs to examine in London and at the European University in Florence - while both will be next term, I have to write my reports over the summer. There is a very detailed external examiners' report to fill in for the LSE and I also have two PhD students - one about to submit and needing a full draft read and the other with two chapters to be looked at pretty urgently."
Plus of course the little matter of research. Professor Heywood has a book coming out later this month plus six separate projects requiring attention over the summer - two chapters on political change and democratic attitudes in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, looking at comparative data from Spain's period of transition after 1975, have to be in by the end of September. There is a conference on political corruption to start organising for next year, work on a special issue of West European Politics and a jointly-edited volume, Developments in Western European Politics. He has also been asked to contribute to Dennis Kavanagh's Encyclopedia of Political Leaders.
Add in shifting an office from Glasgow to Nottingham and the family home from one side of Sheffield to another, plus sharing childcare for a 17-month-old daughter with his wife Mary Vincent, a lecturer in European history at Sheffield Hallam University, and little time will be left for either reading or holidaying. Reading the Spanish press is a more or less compulsory chore: "Although the papers do tend to pile up a bit". But what of other reading? "I finished a John Grisham the other day and that's just about it".
They will get away for a week, but to France rather than Spain. "Both of us work on Spain so any visit there becomes a working trip." Robert O'Neill
Chichele professor of war studies at Oxford University.
"It's not a vacation as such but a chance to catch up on my own research and reading which keeps me professionally competent. The main thing I've been doing is upgrading my computer skills with 'Windows 95'. I want to develop my lectures with presenter aids like 'Powerpoint" and the flatbed scanner for incorporating maps. These will allow me to use more illustrative material in my lectures. So far I've been using simple black-and-white transparencies in an overhead projector.
"In terms of research, I'm working on a long-term project, The Changing Nature Of War Since 1945. I've been working on this for the past two years, although publication is still a few years off. This will look at war the world over, from conventional warfare as illustrated in the Middle East to people or guerrilla warfare in southern Africa.
"I've been keeping up-to-date with the projects associated with the Soviet archives, and I've been reading the various histories of major conflicts since the Second World War. One important book, which has just been published, is the second volume in General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley's history of the Korean War."
Interviews by Huw Richards, Simon Targett and John Davies.