Conference Engagement: Presentations and Papers

Anyone who has attended Canadian Historical Association or Association of Canadian Archivists or any other mainstream academic conference is familiar with what more traditional conference sessions look like.  There are typically two or three presenters per session and the majority of presenters simply read a formal paper.  These papers are at times accompanied by a powerpoint presentation but many of them are simply stand alone papers.  Reading of these papers is typically followed by an extremely short question period, in which a small handful of the audience asks questions.

People reading can be engaging, but it depends on the topic, style of writing, and reading style of the presenter. Some people are dynamic and engaging while talking and don’t really need additional props.  But there are also the monotone presenters, those who hardly look at the audience, and obscure topics that aren’t contextualized for the audience.  Often the content of the presentation has the potential to be interesting, the format of the presentation just lacks any level of engagement.

One of the many reasons I loved the National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference last year was the dynamic, engaging nature of many of the sessions.  The formal reading of papers is fairly non existent at NCPH conferences and I found sessions which involved active audience participation to be the ones which stuck in my mind, provided stimulating thoughts for future projects, and were generally the most enjoyable.

Recently, an email was sent out to NCPH 2013 presenters that reinforced the idea of engaging presentations at the annual conference.  It was suggested to presenters:

1) not to read your presentation if you can help it, but to present as if you are teaching or interpreting at a historic site;
2) bring the audience into the program (don’t leave the audience only five minutes at the very end for questions);

3) see the session as an energetic, highly-informed start of a conversation, not simply a report on work done in the past.

I  really love the idea of presentations as conversations that involve the audience.  I also like that there is an emphasis on “presentation” not “papers.”  A thoughtful carefully written academic paper is not the same thing as a well crafted interactive presentation. Many attendees of the NCPH annual conference come from outside of academia.  I’m sure that this in part is due to the spectrum of people engaged in public history, but I think it could also be attributed to the style of the conference — those not well versed in academic conferences feel completely comfortable presenting in their own style, which might not fit into more traditional conferences.

I’m looking forward to NCPH 2013 which is being held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in April 2013.  The conference program and registration details are available online.

What makes a good conference session? Have you attended a conference that used an innovative presentation style?

Writing in 2011

The #reverb10 prompt for December 18th was:

Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did/didn’t go for it?

Next year I want to try to write more. I would like to continue to blog on a frequent basis and write about heritage issues that inspire me. I need to remind myself the benefits of writing and work on making a commitment to writing. Additionally, I would like to explore other avenues for my writing.

In 2010 I wanted to try to gain more experience in the heritage field. This year, I managed to gain a lot through volunteering and reaching out to others working heritage. I’m happy I took the initiative and time to volunteer with a variety of organizations as it opened many doors and allowed me to gain new skills.

CHA Conference. Day 1: From Footnotes to Songs to Cookbooks.

This week I attended the CHA conference at Carleton University. I had originally planned to write about my experience daily, however the busy nature of the conference has resulted in this series of posts being posted a few days following the conference.

The first session I attended was entitled “Indigenous Historical Methodology: Beyond the Footnote.” The work of the three presenters focused on the issue of indigenous representation and the interpretation of indigenous history. One of the points that struck me most, in this session, was the constant struggle of maintaining academic integrity while still serving and doing justice to the community. This pull between objectivity and acting for a client is something which plagues most public historians. However using a variety of research techniques can assist in providing a more complete picture of the past.

The second session I attended was “Defining Authority and Identity in World War I.” This panel was one of my personal favorites of the entire conference. The presenters in this session looked at WWI from a variety of perspectives, all of which tied in aspects of social, political, and cultural history. In particular, Tim Cook’s paper “Oh, What a Lovely War: Canadian Soldiers Singing in the Great War” used songs and music to explore the unique solider culture which developed during the war. This paper also explore the way in which songs allowed soldiers to challenge authority and create a brotherhood of solders. Overall this panel examined the power relationships which existed during WWI in a way which was both insightful and creative.

The last panel which I attended on Monday was “Popular Culture and Social Life.” This session featured papers on a variety of topics including hockey, baseball, valentines, and cookbooks. The nature of these papers made the panel enjoyable, and I believe that any of these papers would have been easily appreciated by non academics. Additionally, Craig Greenham’s paper “Permission to Play, Sir?: The CEF’s Approach to Baseball in the Great War” would have fit nicely with the Defining Authority in WWI panel. Greenham’s paper examined the increasing presence of baseball in the military and the use of baseball as a tool for bonding, training, and distraction.

Overall, my experience on the first day of the CHA conference was filled with interesting discussion and insightful papers. All of the sessions I attended placed emphasis on the personal experience and on the social aspects of history. However this may have been due to my choice in sessions.