LETHBRIDGE, Alberta — The prediction is it will be snowing by 5. Our holiday up here is for the Canadian Thanksgiving. We drove over across the river this morning and found our way down to the bottoms where I took the panoramic of the river. At the far right of that is the longest train trestle in North America. Milkweed clumps here and there, biggest poplar/cottonwood leaves. The little red ones are on a shrubby thing.
I’m relieved not to be driving north into the mountains tomorrow. They could cancel our reservation at Baker Mt. Lodge without charging. It’s disappointing not to see that but there it is. Not possible at this age to say “another time!”
I think you’ll all appreciate the fun of this exchange with a long-ago student of Tom’s, who somehow found our email address. He is Willard McCarty, Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews.
Dear Professor Buell,
Might it be that long ago, during the first half of the 1970s, that you taught me the basics of doing research in an MA-level course at Portland State University and later served as one of my examiners for the degree, possibly with Georgia Crampton?
If you’re the person I am thinking of, I owe you an enormous debt for the good research habits you insisted I acquire. In fact I acquired them, and have been practising them for more than 40 years. Since I try, whenever memory serves up such an indebtedness, to pay my intellectual debts, I am writing to you to say thank you. Just now, reading a book on the history of experimental science for a paper I am writing for a workshop at Cambridge, you, or that person, came to mind as I carefully noted down the source and page number of a note from that book. Whenever (though seldom it is) I speak of my MA at PSU, I usually remark that your course (if you’re the right one) was the only one I can remember, and the only one worth remembering, though that may be rather unfair to the forgotten.
All the best with your art, your writings, your travels.
To which we responded:
Dear Professor McCarty, This is Tom’s wife writing. It will give Tom such pleasure to read your letter! He was just saying last week, as we were reading the PSU magazine, how proud he was of having taught there, how it continues to serve a population well.
Georgia Crampton is still alive, too, and we see her now and then, mostly at memorial services which is a little sad but natural.
We get only a glimpse into your life through your words and the information you put at the end of your letter, and we thank you.
And he responded:
I am so glad that the chain of associations which led to me writing Tom, then receiving your reply, was triggered this morning by making notes — in a different medium than I used when I learned from Tom how to do it properly back in the 70s, but I do it still with the same sense of scholarly craftsmanship. Twenty years in Canada, at Toronto for the PhD with Northrop Frye, and now, so far, 22 years as a Londoner, separate me from Portland and the Pacific Northwest, but I’m still partially of that place. Your blog and Tom’s page calls all that Pacific Northwestitude to mind. The two of you must not only have done things right (as right as we can) but also sustained the right-doing for an admirably long time — it shows in the photo at https://joanstrongbuell.blog/. Something more for me to emulate.
On another occasion I’d be glad to unleash a bit more of the autobiographical if you and Tom would find it pleasing. For now I must turn to Rheinberger’s Toward a History of Epistemic Things (1997) for a commentary on a comment made by the wonderful geneticist François Jacob in his autobiography, The Statue Within (1995/1987): “What mattered more than the answers”, he recalls from his first work at the Pasteur Institute, “were the questions and how they were formulated; for in the best of cases, the answer led to new questions. It was a system for concocting expectation; a machine for making the future. For me this world of questions and the provisional, this chase after an answer that was always put off to the next day, all that was euphoric. I lived in the future. I always waited for the result of tomorrow. I had turned my anxiety into my profession.” (pp. 8-9)
Our son Dexter refers to this kind of note as “The Teaching Dividend.”