Back to college, back to class

The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden

Having a residential fellowship is a lot like going to college, in that you’re surrounded by all of these very interesting and accomplished people and you’re wondering why they admitted a scrub like you.  (At least, that was my experience of college.  Maybe you were the impressive person who wondered “who let all the scrubs in?”)

Maybe it’s because of its Anglophilic roots, but at the Huntington, there are several class divisions among the fellows.  (How do we know the are class distinctions?  Because nobody talks about them!  I guess to that extent the Huntington is also very American.)  The major distinction is between the long-term fellows, who are invited to spend the entire academic year, and the short-term fellows who have funding from one to six months usually.  (And then there are the people who have no fellowships but who show up to work here anyway!  They are some of the most interesting and accomplished of us all.)

But even among the “elite” long-term fellows, there are yet more distinctions, the primary one being the presence of five Distinguished Fellows, and the rest of us, whom I like to call the Undistinguished Fellows (but I don’t think the Huntington likes me to say that at all.)  All of the Distinguished Fellows this year are so nice that I can’t say a single slighting thing about them, although I really, really try.  There are also squabbles and complaints about the location, size, and quality of one’s office among the long-term fellows (Distinguished and Undistinguished alike), but I think that’s due more to chance than to any real divisions among us.  (But then, I would say that, because I’ve got a window in my office!)

Even then, there are distinctions to be made among us, but these have more to do with individual initiative and talent.  For example, there is a British historian here, Matt Kadane, who had a previous life in a highly regarded “slowcore” band in the 1990s called Bedhead.  A lot of academics use the term “rock star” to describe eminent and accomplished people in their field; this guy was in fact a real rock star.  (The New York Times recently recommended his band’s entire discography in its holiday gift guide!)  Matt wears the crown lightly, though, and likes to talk a great deal about religion and the enlightenment.  (When you read a little more about his band, you can see more a connection between his rock star and history proffie personae.)

So, my attitude is just like my attitude was in college:  be cool so that they can’t figure out that I don’t belong here.  But, I got here somehow, so now I just need to take advantage of the opportunities before me.  Indistinction suits me just fine.  The sun shines on us all equally, at least, (and I think I’m still invited to the after party!)

14 thoughts on “Back to college, back to class

  1. I can’t think of any place to be more happily ensconced, long or short term, distinguished or not, than at the Huntington. At this time of year, when so many of us are huddled in the cold (I awoke to -17c this morning, bah!), treasure your warmth and convivial collegiality there!


  2. I kinda remember talking about this when we were drunk as fucke (at least, I was), but you never mentioned that wilde asse Japanese garden!!


  3. Janice, you are so right on. Come out this spring & enjoy the sun!

    And CPP: There are many, many mysteries to behold at the Huntington. I couldn’t possibly list them all. And you weren’t drunk. Please!


  4. so what are the perks for the distinguished fellows if not a better office? Do they get to pull more books or manuscripts? First dibs on the doughnut tray and flavored non-dairy creamers?

    (Ohh, doughnuts… thats one of the best kept secrets of LA. Possibly the most awesome doughnut shops in North America… the apple fritters of the family owned Cambodian doughnut shops haunt my culinary dreams…)


  5. Matt, the main advantage of the Distinguished Fellows is that they don’t have to apply for their fellowships! They are invited to participate on the basis of their past distinction. (And I assume they get more money too, but I don’t know that for sure.)


  6. And, I should add, the DFs must sing for their suppers. Most must deliver a major evening lecture to the community and members of the general public as well, which is a responsibility that none of the Undistinguished Fellows have.

    One more thing: the DFs this year, and I’m sure in other years as well, really have embraced their roles as mentors/leaders in the community of scholars, which is something that I and I’m sure the junior fellows especially appreciate. I know that most of them have been busy lunching and having coffee dates in which the junior and mid-career people can ask their advice, etc.


  7. (Matt_L: apple fritters in LA. Yes! I didn’t realize that was a thing. I thought was the only one who knew about the little hole in the wall donut shop next to a Walmart in a no-name megamall in NW LA with the world’s best fritters. And donuts. And custard holes. … mmmm … custard holes….)


  8. As a very distinguished and accomplished scholar in my field once said to me, “We’re all faking it.” The Huntington sounds like paradise!


  9. It is! I’m so excited that soon, VERY soon, I’ll be able to get down to the reading room and just geek out on manuscripts and rare books. (Please, O Dog, let it be soon).

    I’m still waiting to hear more about the apple fritters and the custard donuts in my near future.


  10. Well, the place I’m talking about is in the mall at the Rose Ave exit on the 101 in North Oxnard. The closest big store is a fairly overwhelming Walmart. It’s about here on Googmaps.

    It’s run by an old Lebanese gent. Sufficiently old that I always worry about the place still being there. (The older I get the more I realize that what we really need is a cure for old age.)

    And as for reading rooms full of old books, lordy, yes. I wrote a couple of papers that required studying medieval herbals. That marvellous smell from the leather binding and ancient paper. (And realizing when I looked carefully enough that they were all copying from each other without attribution. The giveaway was the faithful reproduction of typos.)


  11. I very much remember the upstairs-downstairs aspect of it (quite literally, before they built what I take it is still the “new” building) when I spent three months there years ago. There was nothing at all invidious about it, when the tribe herded over for lunch there were no cliquey junior high schoolish tables that I can recall. And I can remember walking back into Pasadena more than once at day’s end with one or more long term fellows–I didn’t perceive the difference between the titled and untitled “upstairs” fellows. But the offices (versus tables in the reading room) symbolized it–more amazing than any faculty office I’ve ever had or been in. Notwithstanding the distinctions, it was an exhilarating three months, and I still have stuff left to “write up” based on what I found in the manuscript collections, and in the amazing open stacks of what they called the “reference” collection. Which were vast enough to have more than stocked any high-end college that I would have felt like a scrub in.

    What’s been keeping you out of the reading room, Historiann? The writing part, you mean? Reading, especially in manuscripts, is definitely more of a high than writing.


  12. @Matt_L: While I was out there, I witnessed a legendary scuffle in an otherwise generic American donut shop at the corner of Lake and California on the Pasadena side of the line. Somebody looked at somebody cross-eyed, or cut the takeout line to the register at 8 a.m., and the next thing you knew there was more powdered sugar flying around in the air than there was on the rack of donuts behind the counter. I got out of there fast and over to the stacks, but I think I even found a description of the episode on the world wide web years later. Everything is bigger in L.A. than most everywhere else!


  13. Alas, I have no recent intelligence of doughnut goodness in LA. All my information is out of date and comes from the Age of Thomas Brothers, not Google and GPS. I remember that there was a pretty good one in Culver City where my sister used to live. There ought to be some in Orange County in Westminster/ Little Saigon.

    I do know that if you like Indian Food you should go to Samosa House. They have two locations, one near Santa Monica and another one in Silver Lake (?) Its really cosmic, plus you can get all kinds of South Asian & Mediterranean groceries.


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