SHEAR 2011: Conclusion and Thoughts on Technology

Harry Watson’s presidential address was held at the Racquet Club. Originally, Watson was supposed to talk about Andrew Jackson, but after a ghostly visitation from Old Hickory, he decided to discuss race and southern antebellum education reform. (Jackson was likely scary enough in person; can you imagine him as an apparition?)

The banquet afterwards was very good. In addition to hobnobbing with the usual suspects, I spent time talking to Herb Ershkowitz and met Eva Shepphard Wolf, someone I knew from serving together on the AHA’s Jameson Prize Committee but had never met in person.

This conference was the third at which I tried blogging during the conference. In the future, I’m not sure if I’ll continue writing detailed summaries of panels that I attend or if live-tweeting is the way to go. I enjoyed meeting SHEAR members with whom I had interacted via the blog or Twitter–the technology added a component of camaraderie to the conference for me.

Along those line, Caleb McDaniel wrote an important and thoughtful post on 21st-century technology and H-SHEAR. It’s worth quoting in part:

I do think that H-Net can do things to help facilitate exchanges among these varied communities, like making easier permalinks for posts or incorporating “share” buttons within the archived discussion log pages online. Even better would be the incorporation of a DISQUS-style trackback system into the logs, so that viewers could see when a post or book review has been tweeted or mentioned on a blog. All of these changes could be made without diehard email subscribers even noticing them, while they would significantly aid those who wish to link to and continue list discussions elsewhere. At the same time, however, I think it’s important to note that the two episodes I’ve mentioned here occurred even without such features, which aren’t strictly necessary in order for H-Net to be plugged into the evolving online ecosystems like Twitter.

I would like to add to Caleb’s analysis by calling on Drew Cayton, this year’s president, and the other members of the SHEAR executive and advisory boards to undertake a technology initiative, including the creation of an official Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog. (Michael D. Hattem suggested on Twitter that SHEAR should also record and post certain panels on the organization’s website.) The time and money needed to create and maintain these sources of information and communication would be minimal, but they would help give those SHEAR members (and others outside of the organization) interested in the newer technology a way to network and disseminate their scholarship.

I agree with Caleb that H-SHEAR has its place and is still important, but I also think that it is incumbent on the organization to embrace and encourage newer modes of communication among its members. It wasn’t that long ago that SHEAR experienced a financial crunch; one way to hedge against poor finances is to attract new members, especially younger scholars who will become members in graduate school and stay loyal throughout their careers. I imagine that the demand for the use of new technology will only increase in the coming years, and SHEAR would be wise to stay with the times, as the AHA and other scholarly organizations have done.

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4 Replies to “SHEAR 2011: Conclusion and Thoughts on Technology”

  1. Mark,

    As someone who has worked in the computer field for almost 30 years, I am cautious about some of the new technology. While blogs, websites, and on-line video are great resources, I think that cell phones, BlackBerrys, and Twitter can become a distraction. Personally, I would much rather read a thoughtful paragraph or two written after the event than a short instant message.

    The important thing is that technology is only the means, not the end; the servant, not the master. Maybe these devices are so new that we’ll just have to wait for people to figure out how best to use them. It gives you a sense of how the telegraph or telephone must have appeared to those in the 19th century. They couldn’t predict the uses of their new technology any more than we can.

  2. As someone who was following SHEAR tweets from across the pond, I must say I was slightly underwhelmed – I just don’t think you can get across the richness of a conference panel no matter how furiously you tweet! (As a side note, I think I’d find it distracting if people were tweeting during a panel in which I was participating, too). That said, I’ve found your posts reflecting on panels to be far more informative – partially that’s because it’s more work (for which I’m very grateful that you put in the time!), but I think that conference panels deserve a little more consideration than can be provided for by instant reactions via Twitter.

    1. Ken,

      I understand your thoughts and agree that Twitter can’t replicate the “richness” to which you allude. (My fingers don’t move fast enough to tweet in real time, so I usually forgo that avenue.) Other SHEARites have mentioned that they enjoyed getting updates in real time, so it may depend on one’s expectations. Combining live-tweeting with blogging hopefully provides some semblance of connectivity for those not present.

      Michael Hattem’s suggestion to record certain panels also struck me as a way to bring the conference to those who can’t attend. History News Network does a great job of recording sessions at the AHA and OAH and posting them within 12-24 hours. It isn’t quite the same, but it’s something.

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