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The Past in the Present…Rainy day reflections on the scorching days of summer

By Jonathan Doney ~ @Jonathan_Doney 

As the rain pours down on the ‘summer’ Bank Holiday, the scorching sunny days of early July spent in London attending the ISCHEconference at the Institute of Education, seem so far in the past. But yet, this past is still a present reality…
Like all good conferences, there was a delightful mix of laughter, catching up with old friends and making new ones, food, music, and, of course, the wonderful privilege of listening to others as they presented their work. The insights gained into how other people see the world, how they mold together ideas from different theorists, different perspectives and different periods was both challenging and encouraging in equal measure.
Amidst such a mix of experts, specialists and professionals, the apprehension that goes with presenting your work to others grew day by day and hour by hour. My paper, ‘From Enemy to Ally: Ecumenical reconstruction of the ‘religious other’ and the adoption of world religions teaching in English Schools during the 1960s and 1970s’ was timetabled for the last day of the conference. Surely, by then, people will have heard enough? Tired, they will be ready for a break, ready for their journeys home…
The questions flooded through my mind. Am I stating the obvious? Have I overlooked something very simple? Is my argument watertight? I was reassured through a conversation with another presenter, someone for whom such presentations were a regular event. They told me that they too get nervous, they too ask these questions. I was comforted.
Then they told me that their main worry was ‘will anyone turn up to listen?’. So concerned had I been with my questions, I had not thought about this!
What if no one comes?
But the people did come. They listened, they engaged, they challenged. True to their word, a handful followed up our discussion with emails, sending papers that they had suggested I read. Nervousness was eased, and encouragement flowed.
So, as I return to work after the summer break, the comments, the encouragement, and the discussion of my presentation, together with the wider experience of the conference, continue to affect my thinking and my work. The past is not separated from the present, but continues to affect it, to shape it, and to help make sense of it.

I am very grateful for the generosity of those who engaged with my work during the conference, for those who shared their work, for the encouragement and the challenge. I am especially grateful to the History of Education Society, who through their Brian Simon Bursary made it possible for me to attend the conference.