I’ve been hearing rumblings from different friends and colleagues lately about an erosion in history conference etiquette specifically focused on the performance and attitude of speakers on conference programs. The complaints usually fall into two categories: first, participants aren’t sending their papers to panel chairs commenters with sufficient lead time, and/or they’re sending 40- or 50-page article or chapter-length discussions rather than 10-12 pages that can be read adequately in 20 minutes or fewer. Second, panelists and roundtable speakers–and some Chairs and commenters too–aren’t crafting their papers or comments to fit within their allotted times, and are taking time away from fellow panelists and/or the time allotted for audience discussion.
One colleague mentioned that ze is shocked to see this behavior not just among eminent senior scholars–who were traditionally (if still resentfully) permitted more leeway than junior and/or more obscure scholars, but among very junior scholars and even among graduate student presenters. Ze wonders, “Is anyone training graduate students in professional conference etiquette any more?” But, to be clear: the erosion of etiquette is not something my friends and colleagues or I are blaming on graduate students–this is an observation about the overall decline in conference etiquette by people at all levels of the historical profession.
I’ve always thought that one needed to respect deadlines (or at least communicate to your fellow panelists if you must miss a deadline) and time restraints in deference to one’s audience. (NOTE: I’m not claiming a perfect record here myself. But, I don’t think I’ve ever been egregiously late! At least I’ve never been publicly scolded by the commenter at the conference with the totally reasonable remark that “Professor Historiann’s paper didn’t get to me until very late, so I don’t have prepared remarks on her paper.” Commenters have the right to refuse commenting on very late papers.) If an audience has assembled to hear what I and some other scholars have to say, we owe it to them 1) to complete our remarks in a timely fashion, and 2) to permit them plenty of time, after sitting politely for an hour and a half, to add their thoughts or ask us questions. Indeed–even when I’m on a conference panel or roundtable, it’s the audience discussion that is always the most interesting and most dynamic part of the session. In short, you’ve got to give people a reward for showing up to hear your talk, and you just might learn something. Right?
(Do any of these offenders ever worry about getting a reputation as a crashing bore? Or are they so socially inept that this isn’t even on their radar as a legitimate concern? This is academia after all, full of “nutty professors” who are almost by definition socially inept.)
What do you all think? Is this something you’ve observed over the past few years? If you too think there’s been an erosion in conference etiquette, what do you think is the cause? If you’re not a historian, tell us if this is something you’ve seen in your field, too. If you are a graduate student who’s been encouraged to participate in professional conferences, do your advisors talk to you about professional expectations for your performance? Tell me!