Megan Kate Nelson at Historista reports today on her recent gallivanting at the Southern Historical Association. She says that because she’s an independent scholar and gets all of the solitary writing time she wants, she “needed to be a part of some vigorous academic conversations more than I needed a swim in the ocean. And so I went through the program carefully, and chose sessions that fit my two criteria:
- Subject matter that addressed my current interest in cultures of violence, Civil War history, and southern identity
- Roundtable formats (if you’ve read my previous pieces on academic conferences, you know how I feel about the traditional 3+1 panel and my interest in other, more dynamic formats)”
Alas, some people haven’t gotten the memo on what constitutes a roundtable! Megan reports that “what I attended were not roundtables, but panels disguised as roundtables.” She continues,
For two hours, more than the usual number of panelists read papers at me for slightly fewer than 20 minutes. Audience members asked questions (or made comments) directed at one person only, and the moderator/chairs only rarely tried to get their panelists to talk to each other.
It was excruciating.
But lo, she finally attended a roundtable where people shared their ideas for 5 minutes, listened to one another and responded to each other’s ideas as they shared. She concludes:
I learned about each woman’s research projects, her research methods, and her approaches to writing. There was a vigorous discussion of how to write ethically and with “empathetic imagination” when narrating unconscionable acts of physical violence. There were tips for scholars who want to work with public historians bringing such histories to life. I left that session feeling like I had just been a part of an intensely intellectual exchange of ideas about history and the study of it.
It’s probably no coincidence that this was a roundtable led by feminist scholars: Entitled “Reckoning with Histories of Racial Violence: Trauma, Memory and the Archive,” it featured Monica Martinez (Brown University), Adriane Lentz-Smith (Duke University), and Marisa Fuentes (Rutgers University), with Jennifer Morgan (NYU) as moderator.
Megan is emphatic about people talking rather than reading papers, but I’m not as dogmatic on that point. We’ve all seen people talk off the cuff and drag 5 minutes of thoughtful commentary into a self-indulgent 10-minute ramble, so having a script or even just some bullet points jotted down can help us stay focused on our main points and keep us from droning on.
This is something for me to consider as I prepare for “Historicizing Feminism and Patriarchy: Reflections on Historical Scholarship and Careers,” at the upcoming American Historical Association annual meeting in Denver next month, a “panel” featuring seven commentators plus a chair! I’ll be sure to pass Megan’s post along to my colleagues. I know that for me, the most valuable part of these roundtables is the audience comments and questions, and the discussion that evolves from them. I like to preserve maximum time for that free-form conversation, and will work to do so on this panel.