I am in the USA today, staying in New York for several days and then traveling to my former base at Yale. Meetings with Somerville alumni and friends in New York and then speaking at a Yale conference will bring together my current and recently past lives. An Oxford-based friend with a Yale PhD once told me that returning to the US was like getting an injection of energy. I must say that in my case I found my migration in the opposite direction highly energising. But I know what she means. New York, one of my favourite cities, is the epitome of urbanness, with all the stored up vitality and restless energy of huge cities. It is also a place of great urbanity — if those two qualities bear any relation to each other–as I was reminded when I went, almost straight from the plane, to dine with a friend at the elegant grill in Bryant Park.
One link between my new and old selves is the theme of higher education for women; Somerville’s raison-d’etre at its founding in 1879 and for more than a century thereafter. It is a preoccupation at Yale, where I find there is to be a meeting on Friday to talk about commemorating the seven women who were the first to get PhDs atYale in 1894. Yale, of course, did not open its doors to female undergraduates until 1969/70, a fact about which, it has always seemed to me, the university remains perhaps rather shame-faced. Gender issues remain to be resolved at Oxford too, as I was reminded when I served on a panel on the topic at Balliol just before Christmas. The fact that Yale did grant PhDs to women before the end of the nineteenth century is something in mitigation, and should be celebrated.
Turning on the TV in my room at the Yale Club, I find a curious connection and also a disjunction between my present and past lives. British press coverage of the budget crisis in America has been sparse compared with the near-obsessive contemplation of its every aspect in the American media. Naturally enough, there is almost nothing in the US press about British preoccupations. But wait, here on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” there pops up Gordon Brown, who is here to promote his book, taking shrewd sound sense about how to stimulate jobs and recovery. “Go for growth” he says, and Joe Scarborough and his colleagues are not interested in pursuing any of the reasons why Brown might no longer be in a position to pursue his own policy prescription. Instead, after a few moments, the subject is turned to the Royal Wedding, a much surer way to engage the viewing public with a British topic, it seems.