Gerhard Lubich: RUB SPECTRESS fellow in São Paulo

Making a transfer from the northern to the southern hemisphere in late winter means arriving in late tropical summer, a medievalist in the new world that came into being after the Middle Ages – honi soit qui mal y pense. I took profit of the SPeCTReSS secondment to move around Brazil for three weeks before spending the rest of my stay in São Paulo. This has enabled me to get to know my colleagues in Porto Alegre, Florianopolis and Rio de Janeiro and I was surprised by the unsuspected existence of a surprisingly active, methodically up-to-date and highly engaged community of medievalists. I had the chance to talk at conferences, in post-graduate classes or to the members of the institutes; at one point, a colleague even set up a videoconference connecting me to colleagues in more remote parts of Brazil. This wonderful welcome formed, of course, my perception of the country and its academia, and it also helped me to establish an approach to the Brazilian public and its possible interest in the SPeCTReSS topic of “cultural trauma”.

Staying in São Paulo offered an (if possible after big cities like Rio de Janeiro) even more “metropolitan” approach to both academia and everyday life. The university is probably the highest rated in the country, and this is not without reason. All the colleagues I met, be it on the SPeCTReSS ticket or as fellow medievalists, were internationally experienced researchers with distinct careers and projects. It was a pleasure to discuss with them, their staff and colleagues.

As for everyday life, I profited from my decision to go with the online-apartment-booking-craze, what brought me in immediate contact with “real” Paulistas (as opposed to Hotel staff used to tourists). Living close to the Central-Park-like Ibirapuera Park I profited from the rich cultural offers of the institution (like the highly recommended MuseuAfroBrasil, built of course by none other than Oscar Niemayer, the architect that shaped modern Brazil). And it was what is called a “safe neighbourhood”; I didn’t get to know any others. No doubt there is manifest grave social inequality, having homeless people sleeping on a place in front of the History department in downtown Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by skyscrapers. Violence, often painted as a horror scenario by the locals, in their perception is a constant albeit aleatory threat. So maybe I just got lucky, but I never experienced a worse thing than having somebody not polite, forthcoming and interested all of the time.

Reading to what I just wrote, with a distance of some months, it all seems to sound almost too positive to believe. And yes, there was some rain along the way, and yes, I had to accommodate, and yes, travelling around by yourself sometimes gets lonely – but all in all, it was more rewarding than I suspected, and the contacts I still have tell me I did the right thing. So – thanks a million to the opportunities SPeCTReSS offered!

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About Jennifer Edmond

Dr Jennifer Edmond, is the Director of Strategic Projects in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. Trained as a scholar of German literature, Jennifer is mostly engaged professionally with the investigation of knowledge exchange and collaboration in Humanities research and in particular the impact of technology on these processes.
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