Attention premodern historians: Berkshire Conference CFP deadline extended to Feb. 5

It’s time to pull your Berkshire Conference proposals together, friends!  The deadline for papers and proposals for the June 1-4, 2017 conference at Hofstra University has been extended to February 5; see the call for papers and other information here.  The conference theme for the triennial conference is “Thinking and Talking About Women, Genders, and Sexualities Inside and Outside the Academy”

An email from former Berks President, the eminent European medievalist Ruth Karras, reaches out specifically to those of us working in histories before 1800:  “Proposals are coming in for the 2017 Berkshire conference, however we are beginning to notice some holes, specifically in the premodern period. Therefore, I am writing to ask for your help. Please consider submitting a proposal for a paper, panel, roundtable or one of our other sessions. In addition, please circulate this to your colleagues and networks.”  She continues:

The organizers of the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders and Sexualities have asked me to help publicize the extension of time on their Call for Papers, and to encourage medievalists and early modernists to submit proposals. They do very much want more premodern content. There has been some talk about how the conference theme doesn’t sound like it’s premodern-friendly, but it could be, and in any case not everything on the program needs to speak directly to the theme. Below is what I received from one of the organizers. If you feel moved to publicize this on your blog, I am sure they’d be grateful, and you might be helping fellow premodernists.

I share some of those concerns that the new thematic scheme for organizing the conference mitigates against those of us doing anything before 1800 (or even 1900).   Themes that reference “the state,” “pop culture,” and “capitalism” are very biased towards the modern, but it strikes me that several of the selected themes could and should be seen as transhistorical and global in nature, such as :

  • Social Justice, Migration and the City
  • Globalized Labor
  • Slavery and Other Forms of Unfree Labor
  • Sexualities, Gender Identities and Expressions
  • Women, Gender and Science
  • Women, Gender and War
  • Women, Gender and Religion

When I worked with Ruth as one of the co-Chairs of the Program Committee for the 2008 Berks, we also worked really hard to combat the notion that the Berks was just for modern U.S. women’s historians.  But if ancient, antique, medieval, and early modern historians refuse to submit proposals, this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy!  So get on it, friends.

10 thoughts on “Attention premodern historians: Berkshire Conference CFP deadline extended to Feb. 5

  1. A shout-out to Hofstra here. In a part of a town that I used to live in back in the last century (but in another part). But also and more importantly, my best university-based special collections research experience in I don’t know how many years–and because of content, and services, not material amenities or luxuries. An object lesson for some high-end schools that I could mention that seem to think that special collections are about eye-candy, mahogany, majestic vistas over the campus, cool curated undergraduate study spaces, and the like. As opposed to, say, having the goods in unexpected categories, and making them readily available to scholars on tightly scheduled research trips.


  2. I’ll just echo this. I had a very long conversation with Susan Yohn, the current president of the Berks, at the AHA. She emphasized that they DID want pre-modern panels. Even one on why the themes might present problems for pre-modern historians!


  3. Also, it’s curious the way the themes — which are designed to be expansive and inclusive — can end up feeling more exclusive. I think that it’s because the more categories you have, the more particular they are. So when there’s a big box, you just say, OK, that’s my box. But when there are smaller boxes you think, well, maybe I could slice it this way, or what about that way… So often, the nature of pre-modern societies shifts our categories. A few of these area easily translated, but not all of them.


  4. I’m putting in a premodern panel, but I agree the theme was awful. It wasn’t just the modernity signals, but also for those of us working on families/ the domestic/ emotions, all the themes felt very ‘women out of the home’ in public space/ activism/ work (which along with modernity words did not suggest home work or other reimaginings of such labels). I guess we’re meant go for sexualities, gender identities, but that seems more about self than social practice. And you might say that’s just our bad luck this year, but it was very similar last time, where I also struggled to find something. So my panel this year is about historian’s practice of women’s history, rather than the history we write.


    • I just finished organizing a panel proposal on girls’ intellectual history across the 19th/20th centuries, and we went with OAH instead of the Berks (in spite of getting stuck on only being allowed to select one time period — had to ask about how to finesse that). We could not make the Berks themes work for us. Literally none of them would have fit us, and the two of us doing the organizing felt like we would be distorting our work to make what we were doing fit — and in the end we just didn’t want to do that. We ended up concluding that we thought we had a better change of getting into OAH.

      I personally would prefer to *go* to the Berks more than I’d like to go to OAH (I went to both 2014 and just *liked* the Berks better), but both times I’ve found the themes to be more exclusive than helpful — and I’m saying that as someone who seems to be waffling between the 19th and 20th centuries, so, not a premodern scholar. Also, to me the fact that the themes are delineated at SO much length does make it seem like you can’t submit something outside of the themes, regardless of whether that’s the actual policy or not. They feel more like criteria than like suggestions.


      • (Hmm, I started that post here out of agreeing with Feminist Avatar about the domestic/emotion/family issue but then thought I’d moved it… fistbump of emotion history solidarity)

        (Also, I should add that one of the high points of OAH 2014 was getting to meet Historiann, so, go OAH! But I reeeeeally loved the Berks’ arts night).


  5. Somewhere in the last two or three decades, the standard paragraph about including papers and panels on topics other than the year’s program theme has gotten lost in associations’ annual calls as the discussion and enumeration of the theme have grown. The ASA used to include a line that one-third of the panels in the annual program would not be devoted to the theme. From my work as a scholarly journal managing editor and as a member of several program committees, I know many colleagues and professional acquaintances who don’t bother to submit because of the theme, thinking that the program committee will favor the theme over any other great panel/paper–even as the call ensures all will be considered. (Then again, I see that OAH has dropped it in the 2017 meeting’s CFP.)

    I have to say that, for such national/international scholarly society meetings I would rather read a brief CFP without lengthy discussion or examples and trust that the submissions will define, defend, refute, argue, amend, and explore the annual theme–or themes, as in the case of the Berks. I’m also a bit alarmed by the increasing role program committees take–changing paper and session titles, for example, or swapping papers between panels. This happened to my panel one of my panels and the program committee totally missed the point. Even the audience pointed it out after they heard the papers. Sometimes you just have to embrace a little anarchy. I see an increasing lack of willingness to trust the process in academe, from giving program committees more power over participant-generated questions and approaches embedded in forming panels, to journals appointing dozens of editors (and for several, two boards of editors) and making it much more difficult for a given submission to be accepted. We as scholars don’t do ourselves any favors by putting up impediments to scholarly exchange.


  6. Thanks for carrying on a useful discussion. A little background on the multiple themes of the Berks: in the past (through the 2008 conference, anyway), the Berks program committee had three major subcommittees that were divided geographically: 1) Europe, 2) the U.S. and Canada, 3) and the entire rest of the world! (Central & South America, Africa, Asia.) We certainly had our frustrations with the provincial/Western orientation of that kind of scheme, so the next planning group changed it out to a list of topical themes with multiple sub-committees as of the 2011 conference.

    Those of you who have read Judith Bennett’s History Matters can see what this has done, namely, in the name of encouraging more global histories, the focus of the conference (as with history in general over the past 30 years) has become more modern & we are losing the premodern past.

    What is to be done? I wonder about the feasibility of having 10-12 program committee co-Chairs. I also wonder if conferences like the Berks and other big conferences like the OAH/AHA should dedicate a proportion of their program to premodern histories, or even introduce a category designed to attract stuff like “deep histories” or “<the longue duree,” if indeed they want to bring in the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods. (In the case of the OAH, the colonial historians.)

    But in the past 30 years, at the same time we’ve seen a proliferation of specialist conferences, so early modernists have Sixteenth Century Studies, the early Americanists have OIEAHC & SHEAR, etc. We have other places we can go to talk about the premodern world, and we don’t have to nod to modern historians or try to squeeze our panels and papers into an essentially modernist framework to do it.

    One of my frustrations is that these big conferences always SAY they want panels that reach across centuries, but when I was a Berks co-Chair, my subcommittee accepted very few of these panels and rejected a huge percentage of those who actually heeded the call. And that happened to my panel for the 2014 Berks, too! I was on a panel that was Chaired by a medieval historian, and whose papers covered the 18th – 20th centuries, and we got unceremoniously rejected! So in the end, we historians are (typically!) very conservative when it comes to broad comparisons across time.

    And if historians are reluctant to encourage conversations across the longue duree, well, where else will those conversations happen? Nowhere, that’s where.


  7. “One of my frustrations is that these big conferences always SAY they want panels that reach across centuries, but when I was a Berks co-Chair, my subcommittee accepted very few of these panels and rejected a huge percentage of those who actually heeded the call. And that happened to my panel for the 2014 Berks, too! I was on a panel that was Chaired by a medieval historian, and whose papers covered the 18th – 20th centuries, and we got unceremoniously rejected! So in the end, we historians are (typically!) very conservative when it comes to broad comparisons across time.”

    I find this terribly depressing. I am a modernist historian and specialize in the nineteenth century for research. (Teaching is another deal, based on my region I tend to cover topics from around 1500 to the present). But I think that there is now way too much emphasis on topics and themes that only make sense in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The profession is developing a temporal black hole that will obliterate the deeper human past. My department has ten FTEs. Only two colleagues teach upper division courses devoted to the time period before the American and French Revolutions and only one does research dealing with the period before 1700.

    It gets worse. We have nobody trained in Ancient or Classical history in any region of the world. So our department cannot have the type of longue duree conversations you are talking about. What does that mean for curriculum? We are supposed to be training future social studies and history teachers. What kind of teachers will they be if they have no experience studying an episteme outside our current Enlightenment/modernist frame?


  8. Despite applying regularly for the last decade, I’ve never been accepted at Berks – I call it my triennial ‘get rejected by the Berks’ attempt. And in the year they wanted cross-national panels, I produced one; and the year they wanted cross-period, I put together a medievalist, a 17thC-ist, and a late 18th/early 19thC. And in the latter case, I was very pissed on checking the program to find how few accepted panels did this. So what exactly was the criteria if not what was asked? I get there are limited places and happy to be rejected on merit, but I’m not alone in never getting accepted (indeed the first time my academic mentors who are very senior gender people in the UK told me it was a waste of time) and given the difficulty getting ‘in’ I think there should be more effort to reward those who do make an effort with themes (esp as I suspect it is those on the outside that more scrupulous about this). Or why have them?


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