To round up my summer of conferences, research trips and workshops – Kalamazoo, Brussels, Bangor, Leeds, I went to an annual summer school in the history of economics, with a thematic focus on ‘Quality’ on August 28-30. The venue was a picturesque place called Susa, in Piedmont, Italy, at the very foot of the Alps. A small town with history dating back to the Celts and the Romans (marked by a Roman amphitheater and the arc of Augustus), all the way through the Middle Ages, with the remains of a castle and churches decorated with beautiful frescoes. One of the churches, that of the former Franciscan convent next to the Centro Beato Rosaz where we lived, had a fresco of the three living and the three dead, a motif I had never seen in reality before, but of which I had read and heard at the study day in Geneva earlier this year.
The weather hot and sunny, the locals friendly and reassuring me about the quality of my Italian (I was so glad to be able to communicate, given that I had only taken an online MOOC course of basic Italian earlier in the summer), the food was excellent, and so was the wine. So what about the summer school? Was not it just an excuse to give myself a break in my busy schedule of researcher, horse trainer and mum of a four-years old? Actually, the summer school was extremely stimulating and productive, considerably enhancing my overall research project and giving me a wealth of new ideas, approaches, methodologies and insights into other places and times than my high and late medieval western European field.
I did not know what to expect from the 5th summer school in economic history. I was astonished that I got invited to it, given that my previous publications and presentations were mostly in humanities.
What to expect from a summer school in economic history? How to dress? What to speak of? Will it be full of smartly dressed snobbish economists talking in a language I could not follow? The latter was a double anxiety – a humanist by formation, I have worked as financial language analyst for nearly ten years, but my experience of economics was mainly empirical and my training in this field superficial. Moreover, a summer school organised by high-standing French research institutes, conducted, with the exception of my own and two others presentations, in French, was a daunting prospects. You never know what to expect from the French – my previous experience in Brussels and Geneva suggested that they easily move in exclusive circles of acquaintances, from which my northern-European provenance and my outrageous accent excludes me.
Luckily, the welcoming smile of my roommate, Lea Friis Alsinger, soon dissipated my fears. The welcome dinner with my colleagues – half and half doctoral students / post-docs and professors – soon made me realize I was in for an exceptionally lively three days. Indeed, we had an exceptionally well-balanced schedule, with papers presented by the senior professors follow by discussions in the morning, with a long coffee-break between series of talks, and in the afternoon, brief (only 15 minutes!) and well-informed communications by my peers. In the evening, we taken on tours around the museum and the Franciscan convent, to hear about the religious history, artistic and cultural production in the Valley of Susa. Then, the dinner was filled with sharing the impressions of the day and informal conversations about research and day-to-day realities of academic life.
With the kind permission of my colleagues, I would like to publish some brief notes on the summer schools proceedings in three posts, each devoted to one day. I will present my interpretations of the papers and reports, and, as these were mainly in French, I had to act as translator, interpreter and secretary, and may have made some mistaken choices. I will, thus, be very grateful, for corrections either by private messages or in comments to the respective posts. I am grateful to the colleagues for their permission to mention their names and research in my reports, and for providing photographs to liven up my account of the summer school.