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Beaver Update: or, Silver Linings

I'm not entirely sure what this blog is, but I know that it includes the confessions of a middling academic about the thrills and chills that go along with research and writing, and attempts to get that work published (sometimes successful, sometimes not). So here's the latest on a couple of beaver papers.

In 2007 I was invited to speak at the first conference sponsored by the British Printed Images Project, in July, at Birkbeck College at the University of London. It was a great conference. The papers were to be expanded and improved by the presenters, then collected with papers from another conference in 2008 into a volume for publication, edited by the inimitable Michael Hunter, who leads the BPI project.

The people who presented at the conference are topnotch researchers in the area, so it was an excellent project for me to pursue. Michael sent a prospectus to a publisher, where it was vetted and accepted, and we all sent our papers in; mine was about the re-reproduction of zoological images (especially the beaver) in non-scientific and scientific works.

Michael read my paper and made a couple of small suggestions about strengthening the opening. Now we know that the opening of a paper is its main gamble, its throw of the dice, and if it is suggested, however mildly, that you've thrown a four or a five rather than snake-eyes (what you're always looking to hear: "SNAKE-EYES BABY, YOU'VE THROWN SNAKE-EYES WITH THIS PAPER"), then you do start to wonder about the other 20 pages. So when I set about to fix the opening, I found myself writing a quite different paper, one that was more cogently about the relationship between fine arts and scientific representation in the early modern period. Which was fine -- I was liking the paper much better, and it was good to deal with what I have to admit was some uneasiness I had about the other version, that it wasn't quite my best work.

Michael wrote me to ask where the revision was, so I had to fess up and tell him that I was planning a bit more than he had suggested, and that I'd be done quite soon and would send it to him then, assuring him it would be better. He wrote back and said that's fine, but just make sure the paper doesn't drift further away from British printed images -- as we were both aware it threatened to do. Why? Because printed images, especially scientific ones, were a continental rather than national phenomenon, and the British end of things was neither autonomous nor especially distinguished in the areas that I am interested in. Argggh. I looked again at the revision I had nearly finished, and realized that indeed I had unwittingly come unmoored from the British shore, and seemed to be headed for somewhere around modern Belgium or northern Germany, perhaps on the way to Switzerland if I could find a donkey and get rid of this boat.

This was all rather stressful, and coming on top of the beginning of term was making my head hurt. To make things worse, in general, another article that I had had under consideration at a very fancy journal that accepts almost no papers from the likes of me (the ideal journal, by the calculus of these things, would print no articles, or maybe one a year. Then it would have a .3% acceptance rate and be the most desireable and exclusive journal on the planet. The one I submitted to has about a 5% acceptance rate) was rejected. I still haven't seen the reasons why (they are in the mail), and the person who wrote me an email with the news thought that I should  take comfort from the fact that the discussion of the article on the editorial board was "vigorous" and occasionally even "admiring." To be truthful, I don't really feel so bad, although it would have been nice.

I have read that paper over more than a few times. It's about illustrated Aesop's Fables in seventeenth-century England, and it's pretty darn good: I admire it myself, and also feel the vigour now and then. It's mainly about the illustrations to the fables by Francis Barlow, an extraordinary artist and print maker in later seventeenth-century London. Bingo! A better paper, an English artist, British prints -- and Michael had sent me a table of contents for the volume, so I knew that Barlow wasn't dealt with in the collection, and that it would be great if he were.

So I polished up that article for this different purpose, and hope that it is still going to fit in the volume. I'll send it to him tomorrow, and cross my fingers, although keeping them crossed for weeks or months does make the smallest chore a challenge. Meanwhile, with the fingers all bound up like a ball of wool, I'll take the new essay that I was writing to try on the re-throw of the dice and send it somewhere else. My head is feeling a little better, though I believe there are hairline cracks here and there. I'm thinking this story will have a happy ending, one day soon. Wish me luck.