Final Thoughts on SHA 2011

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?

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6 Replies to “Final Thoughts on SHA 2011”

  1. I can only echo the comments here. I actually missed out on a couple of panels because it was nigh-on impossible to work out where they actually were. That’s just not good enough – if a conference cannot tell you where to go to hear papers, it kind of defeats the object entirely. And the wireless access was frustrating too. From what I’ve heard, it was circumstances beyond the control of the program committee, but it didn’t leave me with a great impression. Of course, the real benefit of a conference like that is the people that you meet and the fact you get a lot of interesting people in the same place, but they could have gone a lot further.

    1. I want to be clear that I have never left a Southern dissatisfied. It and SHEAR are the only two conferences that I plan to attend every year. But it can be better, which I think is what the comments are emphasizing.

      Unfortunately, as you and Joseph pointed out, the SHA can’t always control what the host does and does not do. I’m sure the SHA leadership was as displeased with the Sheraton’s gaffes as the attendees and will work in the future to minimize those situations.

  2. Thanks for the rundown. It’s disappointing to hear that SHA actively discouraged technology, both because it restricts useful information (as you note for your paper) and the direction the field is going, which is more tech-friendly rather than less.

    I won’t offer a defense, but I’ve heard from other conferences that these hotels tend to charge an arm and a leg for tech capabilities — projectors, the tech person to install everything and the like. A big part of the problem, now that I think about it, is probably the same as my complaint about not getting free breakfast at better hotels: it’s priced for corporations and trade associations, which don’t blink as quickly at prices for active WiFi or slide projectors in presentation rooms.

    That said, it’s something that history organizations really need to take into account. We all teach with PowerPoint and other visual aids; why shouldn’t we also present our research that way?

    1. Joseph,

      I assumed that the SHA would handle the projectors, screens, etc., but your explanation makes more sense now that I’ve read it. It’s a tough spot for the SHA, but since other historical organizations allow technology, I don’t see why it can’t. Of course, the SHA only charges a $20 pre-registration fee for members, whereas the AHA charges well over $150.

      1. If the SHEAR tech initiative is still underway, it’s actually a good point to consider in deliberations. That is, trying to integrate the cost of technology (from having projectors in rooms to getting the conference venue to activate wifi in meeting rooms) into the costs of the meeting, membership, etc. It’s clearly going to become a more pressing concern as time goes on.

        1. The SHEAR initiative is still ongoing. We have a working group that has outlined a proposal; I’m editing it (or will be when I have time) for final submission to Drew Cayton and Executive Council.

          SHEAR, by the way, doesn’t issue the directive about not using technology like the Southern does.

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