For many of us, summer travel means vacation, a time to take a mental break from the work that occupies us the rest of the year. Not so for many researchers. It’s not that they’re staying put at home—far from it! But summer travel means something different to them.
Take professor of musicology Marica Tacconi, for example. Her summer schedule may sound glamorous, with trips to Florence and Bologna, but some folks misunderstand the nature of her sojourn and think she’s on vacation. She’s happy to remind them that she’s not there for the sightseeing, shopping or even the food and wine.
“The summer months are when most faculty members have the time and freedom from their teaching schedules to undertake these sorts of trips,” Marica tells me. “It’s also the time of year when we are able to devote more uninterrupted time to our research endeavors, away from the pressures of committee work, and other departmental obligations.”
Tacconi’s scholarship relies heavily on archival research and on unique books and manuscripts housed in European libraries and special collections. “So the summer months are crucial time for my work, a time when I can travel to those locations and to devote precious time to those endeavors,” she says.
Her agenda includes activities decidedly not found in guidebooks: “At the church of the Badia Fiorentina,” says Mar, “one of the nuns took us up a narrow passageway that led to a room behind the organ that still houses the original bellows.”
“While in Florence we had also made special arrangements to view five of the most lavish choirbooks ever produced in the Renaissance — sumptuously illuminated manuscripts containing the chants that were sung for church services at the cathedral,” Marica tells me with evident excitement.
“As this is my main area of research, I had the privilege of leafing through these magnificent books and discussing their significance and beauty.”
Of course, all this serious research doesn’t mean there’s no time to savor the Italian sunshine and flavors!
Sometimes one’s routine of summer travel to the same place—France, in the case of French and Jewish Studies professor Willa Silverman—is interrupted by travel to a very different locale, but one that provides new insight into one’s research subject.
“I recently returned from Nanjing, China,” Willa tells me, “where, along with about forty Penn State colleagues from many different disciplines, I spent a week meeting with faculty at Nanjing University in view of Penn State ultimately establishing a number of exchanges with this institution.”
It was enlightening, Willa tells me, “to meet my counterparts in the French department at Nanjing University, to learn about both how their department is structured (with a strong emphasis on linguistics and translation studies) and the opportunities available to their graduate students for study in France. I enjoyed our discussions about how our departments might collaborate.”
Regarding her own research, Willa reflects on how “the perspectives offered by my Nanjing colleagues during my presentation on my current research project—an edition of private diaries of a late-nineteenth century jeweler and art collector, Henri Vever—made me reformulate my ideas about why and how Vever developed a collection of decorative arts from China.”