Dispatches from the Conference Front

Looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight, something I’ve only done once in the past nine nights thanks to an ambitious conference tour along the Eastern seaboard.

First thing’s first: On Friday I presented a paper at the 2013 CAA Annual Conference, and that paper and accompanying slideshow is available on this site at https://abramfox.com/caa-2013/. Feel free to read and share it, and comments and suggestions for new directions are greatly appreciated.

Side note: According to SlideShare, in the first five days after I uploaded that presentation, it was viewed 27 times. That’s already a little more than 50% of the audience who saw it live.

The conference adventure started on Sunday night when I headed up to New York City for THATCamp CAA, a two day unconference on technology in the humanities, specifically art history in this case – I’ve been to one previous THATCamp, as well as another generic unconference. At times it seems like the discipline is behind the times, and behind other disciplines in accepting and promoting digital work. There’s no question that digital humanities work and theory are far more visible and promoted at MLA and AHA than at CAA.

Workshop topics ranged from network mapping to digital repositories to the one I proposed, games in class. Some of the workshop participants were more looking for specific game examples rather than more broad concerns about games and gamification in the classroom, but the unpredictability and changing courses of discussion are what make the unconference format work. A basic list of resources covered in the session is available at http://goo.gl/876fa. Another project I worked on was the Art History Flash Book, an open-source textbook created in an hour. Hopefully it continues to receive contributions and becomes a real repository for classes worldwide. Throughout both days, workshops were interspersed with lightning talks from folks who are already digital success stories.

THATCamp CAA ran from Monday afternoon to Tuesday evening on the Upper West Side. The next day was the start of the proper CAA Annual Conference, which lasted Wednesday through Saturday…and I was there for all of it. My presentation on Friday was the primary reason for the trip, and as a CAA newcomer I wanted to make the most of the entire experience. Funding from the College of Arts and Humanities allowed me to make that a reality, as well as a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for the THATCamp.

The first night of the conference was the scheduled meet-and-greet for the Historians of British Art, at the tony apartment of the emeritus professor who literally wrote the book on Benjamin West, the subject of my dissertation. No pressure. The whole experience went about as well as could be expected, and proved to be a great networking event in general. Friday’s presentation was based on my doctoral dissertation research on West and his workshop based in London. You can see the research at the above link, and the presentation has already generated some great interest in outside organizations for pursuing my work further.

After a brief respite at home on Saturday night and Sunday morning, I was back on the conference path again at the Small Museum Association annual conference in Ocean City, MD. This one I came to through my volunteer work at the Laurel Historical Society as a board member and docent for the Laurel Museum. On the encouragement of the museum’s Executive Director I applied for, and won, a Lesley van der Lee Scholarship, which covered all room and board with the provision to help facilitate some of the sessions.

SMA and CAA were worlds apart, in terms of scope and atmosphere. CAA is a massive, international conference with thousands of participants and hundreds of sessions, while SMA is regional with a couple hundred participants and about two dozen sessions. Both were positive experiences, in their own way. SMA was more about practice than theory, and speaking with so many museum professionals – many my age, if not younger – about the actual experience of working in museums was very helpful in terms of thinking of my own career. I’m not sure about the appeal of working at a site where you can count the number of employees on one hand, but in general the museum world is an appealing destination.

No grand observation at the end here, other than the fact that three conferences in nine days is exhausting and I’m glad to be back operating under some semblance of normalcy at home and at work. No time to rest, though, as I have another paper to deliver at the end of March, and quite a bit more work to do on it before I’m satisfied.


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