This year’s Southern was a good one. I presented for the first time (after multiple attempts to convince past SHA program committees of my brilliance), heard some great scholarship on southern history, met a few new people (my fellow panelists and Paul Bergeron, for example), caught up with former acquaintances (the Mississippi State crew), swindled 80¢ from Jim Broussard, Gene Smith, John Belohlavek, and David Nichols, and avoided the Mafia at a local restaurant.
All that being said, Christopher Graham at Whig Hill made some criticisms of the conference experience with which I happen to agree and want to add my two cents.
- The first is Internet access. Even if the hotel charges for Internet in the rooms, it should have free wireless in the public areas. When I asked for a wireless access code to use in the Sheraton’s ballroom area, a hotel representative said that they were no longer giving them out. The Southern can’t force its host hotels to implement wireless access, but in the future, it should try its best to book hotels with free wireless access.
- The Southern also discourages the use of technology. The exact language I received was “the SHA discourages use of technology in presentations. If you have images, please bring xerox copies to distribute to the audience.” On one hand, I can see why this policy is in place. How many times have you been at a presentation at which the presenter(s) fumbled with the laptop or thumb drive, eating up precious minutes in a tightly scheduled panel? Or how many presentations simply try to do too much or devolve into the presenter simply reading from the Powerpoint slide? But on the other hand, I’ve seen well-done presentations that incorporated technological components. My own paper had two charts that might have been helpful for audience members, but I didn’t want to haul copies in my luggage, and there’s no way to know how many to bring, either.
- My last point isn’t a criticism of the Southern, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the chaos and confusion that permeated the room situation at the Sheraton. The hotel overbooked forty hotel rooms, which led to some attendees being bumped to the Radisson. More importantly, the room changes for panels were inaccurate. I wrote about my “adventure” in finding the room my panel was in, and I heard several other attendees mentioning trouble with their panels as well. I’m fairly certain that the Southern won’t consider using the Sheraton again, but just in case, DON’T DO IT!
All in all, though, it was a productive meeting. Any conference that ends with Dan Feller calling you a wunderkind has to be considered a success, right?