2016 NCPH/SHFG Joint Conference Topic Proposals

Last year the National Council on Public History introduced the idea of topic proposals for its annual meetings.  Topic Proposals allow individuals interested in submitting sessions to the conference to receive feedback on their ideas, recruit other panelists, and further develop their ideas with community input, prior to submitting their final proposals to the conference committee.  The History@Work blog has written about last year’s success of the topic proposal idea.

This year the deadline for topic proposals was June 1st.  A complete list of the 40 topic proposals received by NCPH can be found here. There are a lot of creative ideas and lots of people looking for feedback and potential collaborators.  It’s a great way to connect with people who might have similar ideas for presenting at this year’s conference and connect with other like minded public historians.

New Directions in Active History: Institutions, Communication, and Technologies

There is less than a week left to submit papers to the New Directions in Active History conference.  The conference will be held October 2-4, 2015 at Huron University College in London, Ontario more details about the conference and the  CFP are below:

The term “active history” carries with it a diverse range of meanings. In different contexts, it  can refer to: the broader public diffusion of historical knowledge, approaches to research that “share authority” with the communities being studied, a more focused use of historical knowledge as a tool of well thought out public policy and politics, or even specific fora like ActiveHistory.ca. These different meanings and emphases are linked by the ideas that history can and should play a more constructive role in contemporary cultural and political life and that historical knowledge should be much more than a tool of patriotism or the rote memorization of events, dates, and people. In this, it dovetails with recent discussions about the meaning and future of history, from John Tosh’s Why History Matters (2008) to Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s more recent The History Manifesto (2014).

The low cost of websites, podcasts and other digital publishing mediums opened the door to a new form of publishing aimed at communicating these goals, finding common ground with the open access publishing movement. As a primarily web-based project, ActiveHistory.ca is interested in, but is not exclusive to, using the internet to bring historical perspectives to a wide audience. This website, which emerged out of a 2008 symposium, was never intended to be the only approach to active history and we would like to come together again to explore the many approaches to engaged/public/applied/active history.

In marking these varying definitions of Active History, this conference seeks to explore these shifting dynamics through a series of practically-oriented workshops, paper and poster presentations that take stock (or, suggest new directions in) the state of historical knowledge, its uses, and mobilization. Conference organizers are particularly interested in presentations that explore the ways institutions function to enhance or detract from the knowledge of history in popular culture, the nature of historical knowledge as it is mobilized and contested in the wider society, digital approaches to history, or alternative ways of recording, marking, and disseminating and understanding of the past and its processes.

Proposals for papers or posters that address these themes or other aspects of active history are welcome. Proposals should consist of a titled 250 word abstract that includes the author’s institutional and/or community affiliation and contact information along with a one-page curriculum vitae. We plan to publish a selection of conference papers through ActiveHistory.ca’s peer-reviewed papers section in addition to featuring conference-related content on our group blog and History Slam! podcast.

We will also be arranging four specifically focused panels on the following topics. Please indicate in your submission if you would like to participate on one of these panels:

  • Active History, Heritage and Museums
  • The future of public history programs in Canada
  • Community engaged history
  • Active History beyond the Academy

Proposals should be submitted no later than April 15 to Kaleigh Bradley at activehistory2015@gmail.com

Questions or inquiries about this conference can be made at the same address. We are also looking for additional sponsorship for this event. Please contact us, if you are interested in supporting this conference.

Ongoing Challenges: Paper Writing and Committee Work

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Challenges.  What did you wrestle with in 2014?  What did you learn?  What challenges do you foresee in 2015?

This past year I wrestled with how to turn down great projects that I simply didn’t have time to do justice to. In 2015 I foresee a few new challenges including:

  • Finalizing a paper on sports images and residential school archives.  This was one of the few projects I took on part way through 2014, as it draws directly on a lot of the work I’ve done with the Rev Father William Maurice fonds in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  
  • I’m continuing to be part of a couple of public history committees and part of a conference organizing committee. There will be lots of planning and implementation work in the next year relating to those commitments.
  • I will be returning to work in June 2015 after taking seven months off as maternity leave.  This will be another huge life/work adjustment. 

The Year of Prioritization

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Coulda woulda shoulda. What didn’t you do this year because you were too scared, afraid, unsure? Are you going to o it next year? Or maybe you don’t want to anymore.

I passed on a number of projects this year that I felt I couldn’t commit enough time to. I stand by my decision to prioritize projects and work toward a balanced life. That being said it was hard to pass up offers to contribute to a couple book projects and conference panels that focused on community archives, Indigenous heritage, and archival outreach.

There is always next year, especially in the case of the National Council on Public History annual conference and various Canadian archival conferences. My status as a new parent has made me acutely aware of the lack of supports built into conferences for parents. I believe the Society of American Archivists has offered minimal childcare arrangements at past conferences but very few academic conferences offer this service. Practically I put conference presenting on hold while I adjust to life as a mother.

This past year has been filled with prioritization. I can’t do everything and I shouldn’t feel the need to try to do everything. I keep reminding myself that saying no is okay.

NCPH Topic Proposals

This year the National Council on Public History (NCPH) introduced a new element for the conference submission process.  The 2015 NCPH Annual Meeting call for proposals included the option of submitting topic proposals.  This option was geared towards people who are interested in presenting but who might be looking for ideas to more fully develop a proposal or who are looking for co-presenters. 

The results of this initiative were 55 topic proposals that include a working title, abstract, and descriptions of the type of assistance the proposer is looking for.  The list of proposals can be seen here.  There’s a wide range of topics and a variety of people looking for collaborators.  If you’re interested in getting involved in NCPH this is a great way to connect with others and get started. 

AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration

Last week I attended the Archives Association of Ontario annual conference in Oshawa, Ontario.  The next few posts are recaps of the conference and some of the sessions I attended.

Keynote
The opening keynote speaker for AAO 2014 was Anthony Wilson-Smith of Historica Canada.  Wilson-Smith’s talk focused on his personal experience with history through journalism and working with Historica Canada.  The talk also centered on the importance of context and the role that archives have in preserving context in a increasingly digital age.  Historica Canada is the largest organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Canadian history and citizenship in Canada.  They are perhaps most well known for its Heritage Minutes.  Wilson-Smith’s talk touched on the Heritage Minutes and discussed how they are meant to be introductions to historical topics and not complete histories. Despite not having a direct archival focus the keynote was engaging and broached a number of digital preservation issues being faced by archivists.

War And The Public Memory
This session focused on war and civic memorials that have been used to facilitate commemoration.  The first presenter, Alexander Comber, focused on “War Trophies of Canada: Paper Trail to Artifact.”  Comber described his efforts to research the history and provenance of war trophies that were brought to Canada following WWI.    Using Library and Archives Canada records combined with photographs, oral histories, and other written accounts Comber aimed to identify the current location of surviving war trophies and document the history of war trophies across Canada.  Much of his research has been compiled in a Google doc and can be seen here.  Comber’s project highlighted the potential and short comings of using archival material to document public monuments. 

The second half of this session featured a presentation by Amanda Hill.  Her work “Beyond The Cenotaph” focused on her work with the Deseronto Archives and ongoing commemoration efforts around WWI. Hill’s presentation focused on her project to learn more about the 34 men listed on the 1923 cenotaph in memory of WWI soldiers.  This project was later expanded to research all men who served from Deseronto including those who were from a nearby Royal Flying Training camp.  Despite occasional research roadblocks and coming up against pay-walled resources Hill’s project has managed to illuminate the personal histories of many of the men from Deseronto.  Some of Hill’s research can be found online here.  Additionally, she has plans to share her research via live historical blogging during the WWI centenary and through other social media platforms.  Overall this was a great example of a community inspired commemoration project that has potential to engage a range of community members.

Volunteers and Heritage Events

It’s Gathering and and Conference planning season again.  For the third year in a row my work is planning a large Gathering and Conference for a summer long weekend.  This year’s Gathering is occurring on the long weekend in August and I am substantially more involved in the planning and implementation of the Gathering.  

Events and outreach activities are a fairly common occurrence for heritage organizations.  Events are one of the many ways in which heritage groups encourage first time visitors and promote themselves within a community.  It also fairly common that heritage groups rely heavily on volunteers and donations in-kind when planning an event.

The planning experience so far this year has inspired a lot of thoughts about the importance of having an involved volunteer based and community connections.  Even large heritage organizations utilize volunteers as in day to day activities and special events.  Many hands make for light work. 

Volunteers are wonderful.  They also require planning and coordination.   Every volunteer comes from a unique background and has individual interests and skills sets.  A good volunteer coordinator will establish tasks for a volunteer that are suitable to their interests and skill sets.  I’ve been lucky in my volunteer experiences.  While volunteering for the Dufferin Country Museum and Archives, the Red Cross, and the Canadian Museum of Nature I was given tasks that suited my interests and room to expand my skill set.  All of these organizations were also extremely flexible in working with my schedule and supporting me in my initial foray into public history.

Having organized volunteers for specific events has contributed to me having a huge respect for individuals who work full-time as volunteer coordinators or in an outreach role.  Scheduling volunteers, providing the right amount of guidance and training, and dealing with unexpected volunteer problems requires patience, flexibility, and a huge amount of planning.

What about volunteers for one off events?  A few things I’ve learned from the past events we have organized, include:

  • Having an orientation session prior to the event can be extremely helpful in avoiding day of chaos. 
  • One off volunteers tend to be a bit less reliable than regular volunteers. Having more volunteers than you think you’ll need usually helps mitigate this.
  • Assign someone to be in charge of the volunteers the day of the event.  Have a central place for the volunteers to meet and take breaks. 
  • Treat your volunteers well (free food always helps) and they will be more willing to help out again in the future. 

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?

Mentoring Programs

I signed up for the mentor/mentee program at the NCPH annual meeting.  The mentor program matches students and new professionals with ‘veteran’ NCPH conference attendee.  Matches are made based on questionnaires and availability. Today I found out who my mentor will be.  I haven’t previously participated in a mentoring program, so if been putting some thought into what I want to get out of the experience. 

As part of the conference experience I would like to learn more about professional development opportunities with the public history field, how to cope with being a public historian within a large non history based organization, and general networking tips.  Hopefully insight into these areas can be gained through a combination of sessions, tours, networking, and the mentor program.

A quick Google search of my mentor’s name brought up a number of popular history publications written by him.  He has extensive experience writing short and lengthy histories for organizations, the profession, and the general public.  I’m hoping to be able to talk about any advice he might have about both academic and popular publishing.

I think mentoring programs have the potential to be beneficial to both parties.  If both parties are willing to listen and share, there is a pretty good chance both people will end up learning something.  Additionally, bringing professionals from different generations, areas of studies, and geographic locations is always worth the effort in my mind. 

Have you participated in a mentor program before (as a mentor or as a mentee)?  Did you find it to be a rewarding experience?

National Council on Public History: Milwaukee Bound

Milwaukee Art Museum

I recently found out that I’m going to be able to attend at this year’s National Council on Public History (NCPH) conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I’ve been thinking (read: dreaming/wishing) about this conference for months now, so I’m a tad bit on the excited side that I’m going to be able to attend.

This year’s conference theme is “Frontiers of Capitalism and Democracy” and is being held in conjunction Organization of American Historians (OAH).  The complete conference program can be seen here.

This will be my first time attending a NCPH conference.  The NCPH meeting brings together professionals from museums, archives, universities, historical societies, secondary schools, and many other walks of life.  I’m looking forward to a wide range of sessions, participating in a local history tour, and networking with people from a variety of backgrounds.  I’m also hoping to meet face to face a number of people I have been digitally talking to and working with over the past few years. 

Suggestions of any must see sights while in Milwaukee?