New Modes for the Next Meeting: RD Calls for Comments
Mériam Belli, September 2005
From the Annual Meeting 2006 column of the September 2005 Perspectives
The Philadelphia annual meeting of the AHA will mark a significant milestone in the Association&'s history because attendees will see—and participate in—a whole range of new modes of presentation. These reforms are being implemented by the AHA&'s Research Division (RD) and Council both to encourage broader participation and to find more interesting and innovative ways of presenting scholarly thought. Prospective attendees who responded to the call for proposals and others who have been following the discussions in these pages have already been introduced to the range of session types that they may see at Philadelphia. The RD decided that it would be helpful to set out at this juncture more detailed descriptions about the different kinds of sessions, and what may be expected from participants. Because many of the session types are new (and experimental), the RD seeks feedback from members. Members are invited to send comments and ideas on how these sessions might be expanded or clarified as well as accounts of any good sessions that they may have attended (either at past AHA annual meetings or at meetings of other organizations). Comments and suggestions can be e-mailed (with the subject heading "AM 2006") to Mériam Belli before October 5, 2005.
Discussions/roundtables are informal in style, and are intended to facilitate the free-flowing exchange of ideas between the expert discussants and attendees. Discussions/roundtables can serve for the presentation of original research, but they are most suited for the discussion of works-in-progress or debates about professional issues. Ideally, they would take place in a more congenial, less didactic setting, preferably at a roundtable (that is, without a podium), where attendees sit at the same table as, and around, presenters.
The discussions/roundtables are intended to reach out to a larger audience than the presenter's narrow scholarly niche (unlike, that is, usual formal sessions). The participants should, therefore, present general issues and questions that the audience can take up for discussion with the presenters—and among themselves. Because the primary purpose of this type of session is to facilitate interaction between panel and audience, the presentations should be brief and concise, and should not exceed 10 minutes. There will be more than 50 discussions/roundtables in Philadelphia.1
Workshops are multiple panels on a specific topic or theme, which are spread over several sessions, and over one or more days, and can include any session type. For instance, a three-session workshop could comprise a round table, a precirculated papers session, and an exhibit-based session (in which panelists offer their presentation for examination on panel boards prior to discussion).
The AHA offered a workshop at the 2004 annual meeting entitled "Entering the Second Stage of Online History Scholarship." This two-day joint project included an introduction, three plenary sessions, and five concurrent discussion sessions (see http://www.historians.org/annual/2004/2004Program/04sessions_AHAworkshop1.htm).
The AHA also offers restricted participation workshops, in which only a limited number of participants might attend (without, that is, a "nonparticipating" audience). It should be noted also that for these workshops, the AHA can only provide space, and cannot provide administrative support. The AHA sponsored such a workshop, "The Education of Historians: A Workshop for Directors of Graduate Studies (and Others Interested in Graduate Education)," at its 2005 meeting.
All workshops (open or restricted) have to be proposed in a preliminary form well before the usual deadline for proposal submission (for example, for the 2007 meeting, the preliminary proposals have to come in by December 15, 2005).
Since the formal session is the "standard" session, members are already familiar with its formula. Formal sessions ordinarily include a chair, a commentator, one or two discussants, and three panelists. In the interests of providing for extended discussion, we would like to strongly recommend limiting oral presentations to 15 minutes each and to avoid rote reading.
Exhibit/poster sessions consist of "visual display and interaction between presenters and viewers" of original research or other forms of reports, during which the audience will be able to examine your work. There will be 20 poster presenters this year.
Ideally, the topic itself must be amenable to visual depiction. What you want is an appealing display that will raise attendees' curiosity: limit text to a minimum, simplify your argument, use maps, graphics, charts, and pictures/photographs to the fullest. The form of your poster will depend on your goal, but your display should always have two fundamental characteristics: clarity of display and clarity of argument. (See sidebar for web sites that provide helpful information on creating effective posters.)
The AHA will provide a table that will allow you to display a three-panel (folded) poster board. In addition, you might also want to use your laptop and offer a PowerPoint presentation that will complement your poster session and furnish supplementary visual materials and/or sound bites (music, interview excerpts). Please note that the AHA cannot provide audiovisual equipment for poster presentations but will provide electrical outlets near the presentation table. Do not forget to carry business cards and a stack of handouts (50 is generally recommended) that summarize your presentation. You might want to collect contact information so you can mail or e-mail the full paper (or the outline) to those interested. Also, bring any other equipment you may need, including tacks and other essentials. Please note that the AHA cannot provide these nor can it provide an Internet connection, computer, or projector.
E. Precirculated Paper Sessions
There will about 10 precirculated paper sessions in Philadelphia. Precirculated paper sessions are designed for expanded discussion with the audience and might be structured as roundtables/discussions. Papers for these sessions will be available online in early December—a note will go out to members reporting their availability. These sessions are most effective when attendees have read papers prior to the meeting, but they do not preclude attendance by individuals without prior knowledge of the papers, because panelists will make brief summary presentations at the actual session. Presenters using this format are encouraged to explore its full potential—such as integrating graphs and pictures into their papers. The precirculated paper sessions offered by the AHA this coming year range from three to five presentations, with a chair or organizer, and with or without commentator.
F. Experimental Sessions
The AHA offers only one experimental session in 2006, which consists of a conversation about public history between academic historians and representatives of local museums and historic sites, and followed by field trips. The AHA hopes to host more experimental sessions at future meetings. We introduced this category to accommodate presenters who wish to offer presentations outside the format of the above categories. This format best fits innovative sessions that use multimedia, readings, and performances or experiments with new structures (such as sessions in which presentations are collective efforts or sessions followed by activities taking place outside the convention center). Although experimental sessions are, by definition, fluid and flexible, it is important for organizers of such panels to keep in mind the ability of the session to reach an audience, and the timing of the session.
Tips for Preparing Exhibits/Posters
The simpler your display, the clearer. Use only one style, one conventional font; and a clear background, preferably white. Think of exhibits that please your eye and mind. We recommend your display materials to be readable at a distance of 5 to 10 ft. We also urge you to use at least 48 pt font for titles and 36 pt for body text and tables. Many web sites give practical advice on how to set up an exhibit/poster. The following is especially useful:
—Mériam Belli is research associate for the AHA's Research Division.
1. In their enthusiasm to have all views represented, some panel organizers for the Philadelphia meeting have included up to 8 presenters in their discussion/roundtable session. They will have to be particularly careful to time their presentations—perhaps by making them briefer still—to leave sufficient time for the discussion, which is after all, the raison d&'être of the format.