Apparently, there are no desks in the standard rooms at the conference hotel used by the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, and many at the OAH see this as a pretty big deal.
I was first alerted to the curious absence of desks from the hotel rooms in a mysterious Tweet from Victoria Wolcott from the University of Buffalo, and then found that this is the major conference issue highlighted in a blog post by Rick Shenkman over at History News Network, which posted a photo of a room:
[T]here has been a problem.
Notice anything missing from this room?
It’s one of the rooms at the newly renovated Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis where OAH members are staying during the convention. It’s lovely but it’s missing a desk and chair! As someone on Twitter posted, that’s rough on historians who are used to working during a convention: typing up notes for a talk, emailing friends, reading the New York Times online. The hotel reportedly says that Millennials don’t want desks in their rooms. Welcome to the future!
I’m a typically disaffected Gen-Xer and no Millennial, but I have to ask: who uses a desk anymore, anyway? At the next major conference I attend, I think I’ll host a salon in my hotel room and invite historians up to loll around on the beds in my room (fully clothed and perfectly chaste, of course.) It could be the best unofficial session of the conference!
I’ve never written (let alone read!) much of anything sitting up at a desk. I like reclining on a “library sofa” like the one shown here–that’s where I do probably 70% of my research, 85% of my writing, and 95% of my planning and teaching prep. (Rumor has it that I do all of that in the latest turn-of-the-nineteenth century neoclassical fashions, but on that I can’t possibly comment.)
I get the remainder of my work–30% of research, 15% of writing, and 5% of teaching prep–done at some desk or another at an archive or at my desk in my university office, faute de mieux, but after this year at the Huntington I think I’m going to get a new sofa for the home office and move my home office sofa into my university office. Life’s a short movie, right? Why not be comfortable?
There’s the whole “sitting is the new smoking” mythology, but I don’t truck with that. When I get restless, I get up and take a proper walk to get a cup of coffee, or a book from the library, or go take a yoga class or a run on my own. I don’t need a foolish and expensive standing or treadmill desk.
But sitting at a desk to read or write? As the image above from Ackermann’s Repository suggests, that’s so eighteenth century.
What about you? How do you work most effectively, and what kind of furniture is involved?