Sunday, April 19, 2009

conferences, sessions, and commentors, oh my!

so i spent yesterday at the new england historical association's spring conference in portland, maine. i got to attend two sessions (apart from the one i was presenting in) and got a truly awful lunch into the bargain. (really, guys, vegetarians do not live on salad. i assure you that we have moved beyond this. and i had no faith that the catering people were keeping beef burgers apart from veggie burgers.)

anyway, the first session i went to -- on communities and conflict in germany and yugoslavia -- was interesting. one panelist was a very nervous speaker; i wanted to reassure her that, if the audience did suddenly turn into brain-devouring zombies, she was really closest to the door and had the best chance of escape bar the chair of the panel who was a few inches closer. a professor for whom i ta'd last fall gave an excellent paper on community conflict in yugoslavia.

a friend of mine from the gslis dual-degree program and i were presenting -- not together, sequentially -- in a panel on nationalism in ireland, along with a recent post-doc. from amherst (very nice guy -- has his first book coming out in august which i have to remember to put on goodreads). we happened to have both a chair -- introduced all of us and kept time -- and a commentor who just commented on the papers. our chair was very nice, quite gracious, and, all in all, almost silent. i'm not sure he felt he could do much to restrain the commentor who, once he got rolling, had a less than collegial effect.

possibly his commentary can best be described by the fact that i later overheard him ask a colleague of his who was also at the panel, "so, was i mean enough?"

i really don't think this is the best way to judge comments you have delivered on someone else's work. i still think my mother's rule, by way of a friend of hers, applies: "you have to say one nice thing. even if you have to scrape for it. even if it's 'nice margins' or 'gosh, you spell well.' say something nice."

the only other thing i would really like to add is that, on the basis of a single publication in the field, possibly he could have found it in his heart to be just a tad more generous. the assumption that your style is the best is overbearing and unattractive in anyone, i don't give a damn who you are. and, when i spoke to him briefly after the panel to ask a question about a book he had mentioned, his attitude seemed to be that talking to me was a rather low priority on his list and, please, since i was just an annoying little student, could i just go away now? add to that the fact that, within the hour after the panel, three separate people found my friend and me to tell us not to listen to him, that he had a reputation for being ridiculously overpicky, and, honestly, his opinion only weighed that heavily with him, i think perhaps things could have gone better.

having now thought over what he had to say, read his comments, and given them due consideration, i think i can safely say that i have come up with his major objections on my own, have a list of them, and will deal with them in my thesis. so there. (insert appropriate sound of raspberry, if you wish.) other than that -- if he has any clever way in which we can magically somehow comprehend with any degree of certainty what people in the late 19th century were thinking or reading at any given moment in time, i would really like to hear about it. personally, i haven't seen the tardis around lately, so i'm thinkin' the doctor isn't about to intervene.

so, yes. could've been better. 

but the other panels were good -- there was an excellent, though short because one panellist had a family emergency and couldn't come, one on british imperialiam overseas in the afternoon. lots of stuff about metropole and periphery which i would have been better able to cope with had i not been getting an awful sinus headache. as it was, i hung on for the general outlines; both presenters were really impressive, i thought.

the speech at lunchtime, i have to say, i nearly had to take notes on. this guy -- the outgoing president of neha -- and david starkey of a few posts ago should get together and have a little pity party for the death of the white male ivory tower academic.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

Oh man. You got like, the Simon Cowell of academic criticism. Whatever. Even if he threw a tomato at you, you still get to put "presented at fancy conference" on your resume. I give you a resounding Check Plus for having the teabags to stand up in front of strangers and expose your Ideas.