A sabbatical is meant to be an occasion for rest and renewal, for a break from teaching and a chance to engage in new projects. It often marks a hard turn in one’s scholarship and interests.
In 2009 I was elected Chair of the Undergraduate Division at SAIC. I spent six years in that position, followed by five years as elected Chair of Faculty, and during that time I skipped a sabbatical. My last semester as Chair of the Faculty was Spring 2020. It was exhausting to deal with the pandemic and to help my faculty pivot to entirely online teaching. There was no summer vacation that year until, at the end of the summer, I completed my term of office and went on my much-delayed sabbatical. It was to be a time of travel … but the pandemic axed that idea. I was planning a project with a core walking practice … but three days into my sabbatical I broke my ankle. At that point I got the message the universe was trying to tell me: “Just rest.” So I rested. I focused on learning how to sleep again, and worked hard on my physical therapy. And eventually I started to walk again. In summer of 2021 I even traveled, just a bit, for family events. But this sabbatical was about desperately needed rest.
My sabbatical project represents my experiences walking on the dirt alleys around my neighborhood, and research into the Evanston History Center archives for maps from the last hundred years. Part of the experience involved crutches. It was a bad year for snow, so I slogged through snow and snowmelt. Plans to travel to country roads in far-off lands were sacrificed to the pandemic, but I found the sounds of the alleys around my house soothing and comforting in a stressful time. It is a very different project from anything I’ve done before, and I am presenting my work in a way entirely new to me. Which means, I suppose, that the sabbatical did what It was supposed to do.
-Beth Wright, Associate Professor, Liberal Arts