so what does it all mean? looking back at asecs 2012–open thread

[image from Yvonne Romney Dixon, Designs from Fancy, Folger exhibit guide to George Romney’s Shakespearean drawings]

I’m posting this picture of Lear to remind us all of Joe Roach’s fine Clifford Lecture of March 24th, which deployed a different Romney Lear sketch to fine effect.  Somehow, Roach moved from his usual discussion of Victorian kitsch Restoratiana to something very different: the theatrically-coded exchanges of an aristocratic father and daughters in the World’s Worst Eighteenth-Century Family.

So that was one of my high points for ASECS.  I’ve got others, but I’m curious about which panels readers found most useful for their own research and teaching.   What panels or papers were your highlights? Hit the comment button and let us know.  And I’d love to hear from any presenters if they have additional insights they’d like to share about their panel discussions.

There were also some interesting side-conference activities, in terms of THAT Camp and tweetering. I’m glad both these activities were there (though I couldn’t make THAT Camp), but I still think ASECS could be made much more available to online users, and archived better, than it currently is.  Any thoughts about how these activities added to the conference, or could be better integrated into the event?

My final comment would be a plea to the organizers of ASECS 2013 to think much more reflectively about the presentation formats for the day’s panels.  The roundtables help, but the default mode for the majority of presentations is back to back papers and very little Q&A.   I think we could be doing a lot more to vary the presentations, to make them more interactive, and to allow better feedback between presenters and audiences than the current set up.

Otherwise, it can easily become this:



25 responses to “so what does it all mean? looking back at asecs 2012–open thread

  1. Emily Friedman


    It’s useful to remember that much of the format of ASECS (at the level of sessions) is in the hands of “us” (ie, those who organize and propose the sessions). ASECS doesn’t require a particular format, and indeed groups like the Grad Caucus, the Burney Society, and others have done great stuff in recent years with pre-circulated papers, respondents, etc.

    Our unsung heroine, VC, is as far as I know the sole person in charge of scheduling — already a daunting task given the number of potential conflicts (roundtables make this harder, since they circumvent the “one paper per person” rule), as well as the sheer number of panels (every affiliate society is automatically granted two sessions, which takes up a lot of room). Add to this the fact that VC is not an academic (she just puts up with our antics with great grace), so she can’t necessarily know all the potential conflicts. I’m not sure at this point *any* one human could.

    One *could*, I imagine, authorize a (the?) Programming Committee to better help, or institute a series of “tracks” that panel organizers could identify at the time of application to help VC know what absolutely must not be double-booked, but to my knowledge the oversight ends after panels are approved/rejected, not extending into the actual schedule itself (I could be wrong).

    I also would put in a plug (which I heard from many) for THATCamp13 to be on Sunday (which I heard from many grads and junior folks), ESPECIALLY since next year we’ll be in April, far far away from *anyone’s* spring break…

  2. Dave Mazella

    Hi Emily,

    No disagreement about any of these qualifiers: VC does a tremendous job herding the many cats who wish to attend; proposals are really where format get decided; it’s complicated enough planning a conference, without adding these kinds of variations. All of this is true.

    My point is that for a larger-scale, more permanent change to occur for ASECS overall, the organizing committee would have to stop for a second and ask itself what would be the most effective format, or mix of formats, given the range of disciplines and range of topics we treat? I love what THAT Camp and the grad caucus have added, along with the poster sessions and so forth, but it still seems to be nibbling at the edges. I would like to see the organizers of ASECS really focus on the question of feedback at the conference, and see if we could find alternative models at other conferences that promote or enhance better, more timely feedback between attendees and presenters. The problems of conference pedagogy map pretty easily onto the problems of classroom pedagogy, if we consider how hard it is to de-emphasize the lecture-model as a default model of presentation. I’d just like to see some thought and discussion about this, if others are interested.

    THAT Camp was impossible for me this year, but I do hope to attend next round. Best, dm

  3. Miriam Wallace

    Thanks for this useful and always engaging blog–and for this update. Love the idea of THAT camp or other similar events on Sunday–I’d stay a little longer perhaps. OR if I’d realized in advance, I might have tried to fly in earlier on Weds. The NWSA (National Women’s Studies Assn) has a workshop 1/2 day in advance of the conference for program directors and others running programs that’s practical, useful, and actually gears you up for the conference.

    Lots of good panels this time–the performance theory RT (even though I was on it) was especially helpful for the way other presentations developed a range of ways of thinking about scholarly situatedness and observer ethics, how focusing on doing rather than being might reframe literary genres like the novel, and in one of the questions, the limitations not only of disciplinary boundaries but national/linguistic ones. The range of disability studies panels this year was heartening and engaging. Panels pushing a bit beyond Britain or even France were also on the increase I think. Practical panels on professional issues, teaching issues, and balancing administration w/scholarship this year and in years past have also made a big impact on me.

    On format–this is a perennial problem. Round-tables, respondents, etc. are sort of minimal ways to shake things up a bit. I was at the Chawton House conference this year (mostly lit critics and some linguists), and they did 3-paper panels with Q&A following each paper. It avoided the tendency to feel compelled to try to draw the papers together and allowed for discussion while each was fresh in everyone’s mind (so no one’s paper got left aside as happens w/Q&A at the end). I also liked the fact that there was at least a SHORT break for tea/coffee aro 20 minutes between most panels. That led to much more flowing conversation and discussion (of course it’s a much smaller conference and there were no concurrent sessions). I completely agree w/David that we should as teachers be able to think of other useful ways to format conference interchange.

    However, remembering what it was like starting out, there are some reasons I think the conventional format is really useful for beginning academics. 1) a 15-20 minute paper does allow you to share a chunk of ongoing work; if you are like me at a teaching-intensive institution where you have really no colleagues in the field, it’s crucial to be able to do this and test the waters. Shorter roundtables produce more speculative and unpolished work which is better for discussion, but doesn’t give a presenter the same kind of testing ground. 2) pre-circulated papers have always been disastrous in my experience–I think of a panel I co-organized where my co-organizer arranged for a respondent. She wasn’t able to make it–and I was still trying to get at least ONE paper to the poor respondent the first night of the conference. I know others do this, but pre-circulating means you have to write it as polished in advance, then someone(s) have to read it. I’m usually teaching like mad until I get on the plane and look forward to a short respite on the flight. Maybe they have worked well for others–I’d like to hear how.

    So I guess I see the increasing number of round-tables, professional development, teaching and technology panels as all good improvements. Given the role also that ASECS has in helping new scholars/academics to get their work out, in training grads and new scholars on the conventions of the conference across disciplines, etc. I’m not sure so many conventional panels is a bad idea. And sometimes it’s just nice to be a passive listener without any obligation to keep the conversation going.

    Thanks though for this terrific forum to think aloud and together about all of these issues.

    • Dave Mazella

      @Miriam, I appreciate the idea that the 20 min paper gives people a more extended scope to work with. I just think that typically what happens is that people scramble to finish, or cut down, those papers, and then get very little feedback because of the length of everyone’s prepared paper. And precirculation can be a problem, too, as you suggest. It just seems to me that the reason why we might want to fly all those miles would be the high-quality interactions with our peers. So how might we emphasize this aspect of the conference experience?

  4. Fiona Ritchie

    I too really enjoyed the Performance Theory roundtable. I do wish there had been slightly more time for Q&A as it got me thinking about so many things. But the presentations were all excellent so I don’t really know how that could have been managed.

    Diana Solomon and I ran a “workshop” on teaching Restoration and 18th-century theatre where we tried to shake the format up a bit. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who attended as to what they thought of it. We didn’t quite nail it but I hope that people did get something out of the session.

    While ASECS was amenable to a new format being suggested, we did find that the set up of the rooms really privileges the traditional panel of papers format. So I think we’d need to start thinking even further in advance about what kind of room layouts would best serve any new formats that we propose so that this could be negotiated with the hotel in advance.

    Very much looking forward to Joe Roach’s presidential address!

    • Dave Mazella

      @Fiona, could you give us some details about your workshop format?

      • Fiona Ritchie

        Hi Dave,
        Happy to give details. We asked people applying to our session to let us know what pedagogical issues interested them. We ended up with 11 participants, who we divided into 3 groups based on common interests. We gave each group a question to discuss (basically they had to come up with ways of dealing with a certain pedagogical issue) and they discussed these questions in small groups for the first 30 mins of the panel. Then we came together and each small group summarised for the larger group what they had come up with. We then had a whole group discussion about issues arising, including questions/comments from the audience (who had been invited to “eavesdrop” on any small group discussion that interested them).
        It may well be that this format would not work for scholarly papers but it seemed to go ok for a session on teaching. The challenge was really how to involve the audience – some people showed up expecting to listen passively for 90 minutes while some wanted to jump into the discussion. While the format was, I think, reasonably clear to our participants in advance of the session it couldn’t be clear to the audience from the programme. So I don’t know how people felt about walking into a session like that with no warning.
        There are some great ideas for new formats here, as well as reminders that sometimes it’s good to stick with what we know. I think we’d all feel reinvigorated about the traditional panel if everyone stuck to their time limit and if the papers always meshed well enough to generate plenty of common discussion (neither of which is always the case!).
        Thanks for this conversation.

  5. Eleanor Shevlin

    Thanks so much, Dave–and also Emily, Miriam, and Fiona–for the discussion this far.

    One of the sessions at THATCamp was devoted to modernizing ASECS to bring it into the 21st century. A number of good ideas emerged from the session as well as an action plan. The plan included conducting a member survey (it will be circulated within the next month or so). A second THATCamp will take place next year, and there was discussion whether holding on a Wednesday or Sunday would be better and which day would attract more people (George Williams and Seth Denbo were the organizers of THATCamp this year, and will be organizing the one for next year). George Williams with Lisa Maruca helped to found the Digital Humanities Caucus, and they both attended the Wednesday workshops. It was thought that the DHC could do more to help with these efforts. Within the week a summary and documents produced at THATCamp should be up on the Early Modern Online Bibliography blog.

    On a different note, Fiona raises a good point about room layout. Yet, when I arrived at Regency East to chair the Digital Humanities and the Archives roundtable, the room had already been re-designed by the participants. About 25 chairs were arranged in two half arcs (or perhaps a U-shaped arc with a row of chairs forming the bottom of the U, would better describe the arrangement). The screen for PowerPoint was located at the opening of the U. Both speakers and attendees occupied these chairs, and others sat in the three rows immediately behind the bottom section of the U. It seemed to work out fine.

    • Dave Mazella

      @Eleanor, I’m pleased to hear about all the work being done at THATCamp. Please let us know when you post your docs.

      I was there at the DH and Archives Roundtable, and it was one of my other highlights. Lots of great stuff, though for me the discussion of keyword and concept searching was the most intriguing piece of the session.

      • Eleanor Shevlin

        I definitely will let all know when the post is up and the documents available.

        Here are some thoughts I’ve been compiling on possible panel formats (some inspired by what other organizations are doing):

        Traditional panels featuring three to four papers and followed by Q & A (90 minutes)

        Roundtable sessions featuring four or more speakers who each offer brief opening statements to generate substantive, follow-up exchange with audience (90 minutes)

        Poster displays (no set time; in a designated exhibit area)

        Poster displays in which all presenters are available at a set time to explain and discuss the work showcased (90 minutes)

        Digital project “poster” sessions in which six to eight presenters use laptops to demo their projects and exchange ideas with attendees,one on one and in small groups (set time; 90 minutes)

        Point/Counterpoint sessions in which two or four presenters offer different perspectives on a topic currently being debated in the field for 45 minutes, followed by audience and panelist exchange (90 minutes)

        Interactive workshops held in spaces designed for small group, team-based discussions (tables and chairs) to be followed by large group discussion and synthesis (facilitated by appropriate technological tools such as whiteboards)

        Workshops that offer hands-on opportunities to explore new digital tools, demonstrate innovative pedagogical practices, or address other topical, timely issues

        Live streaming of presidential address, Clifford lecture, and any plenaries to be made available as podcasts on the ASECS website for later viewing

        Video-taping of select sessions

        Panels tied to pre- and post-conference blog discussions

      • Dave Mazella

        @Eleanor, these are all great ideas. Apropos of your digital poster session, a colleague told me about a “speed dating” approach to presentations, where everyone in a room was paired off in quick succession with every other participant, to exchange ideas for some set amount of time, with a switch to the next at the end of 5 or 10 mins. Depending on the number of people, you could spend an hour talking to 10 other people, then reassemble and compare what you’d learned.

  6. Fiona Ritchie

    Hi Eleanor,
    We were also in Regency East and had no problem rearranging the room. But the poor acoustics in a room that size made it difficult to involve the audience in the smaller group discussions we were trying to run. We’d actually asked for a big room because we knew we’d need space to rearrange the seating, but something a little smaller would have been better. And though we tried to straighten things up again before we left, I felt bad that we left the room in a slightly greater state of disarray than when we arrived!

    • Eleanor Shevlin

      You are quite right, Fiona. The acoustics were not ideal in RE, and I was worried at times about people not being able to hear the comments.

      And I am afraid we also left the room in disarray–unless the next group wished to do something similar with the layout.

  7. Jen Golightly

    I thought the “Underminers of Existence” panel on Burney’s minor characters was excellent, and I really enjoyed the film adaptation panel, particularly Karen Gevirtz’s wonderful paper, which was funny and smart. My favorite, though, was the Jacobin Laughter panel, which featured terrific papers and excellent discussion.

  8. Eleanor Shevlin

    @Dave, there was no “reply” button on your second response in which you mention adapting a “speed dating” format for presentations, so I’m answering here. I’m glad you brought this possibility up.
    On April 3rd a couple of us in my dept. are running a speed networking session for students and English alums to follow our traditional three-person alumni career panel. Friends of mine have done this at Georgetown and have said it works well. I had not considered this approach for an academic conference, but it sounds as if others have.

  9. Miriam Wallace

    Another format I’ve seen at NASSR is a sort of pre-conference workshop–longer, with some readings in common (many things we’d mostly read, but I think there might have been an assignment). It gave one time to focus, a sort of ‘master-class’ feel, and a little less of a smorgasbord feel.

    The NWSA also does pre-conference workshops that are longer, blending some presentation with a lot of small group conversation and sharing.

    And then I also think of smaller one-off conferences like one that U Colorado did a while back on the Romantic Novel I think, where the first day was presentations by four major scholars, the second day was more like four small seminars each led by one of them with pre-assigned readings. Not something we could do at ASECS without losing a lot of content.

    But maybe one thing that could work would be something more like a panel or roundtable to set stakes first, and then in ANOTHER slot say in the afternoon schedule discussion. Only those who wanted to really talk about it would show, but on the other hand, folks would have time to process a bit rather than speaking off the cuff.

    Another thing that came up at the Women’s Caucus was finding a ‘coffee hour’ somewhere that could be less like the cash bars in that it could be a little more focused, but also a little more about exchanging ideas.

    I’d be quite interested in THATcamp and DH–just had already made plane reservations and couldn’t rearrange in time this year. My fear is that by Sunday folks are tired–but then again, something practical and focused Sunday morning (not TOO early) might be a relief.

    Thanks all for the good input and brainstorming.

  10. Eleanor Shevlin

    These are all more great ideas, Miriam. As for your remarks about an alternative to the cash bar, I felt that something more focused was needed for SHARP.

    I thought the Wednesday pre-conference worked out quite well, but for some it was hard to miss three (or four for those who left Tuesday) days during the week. That’s the situation, though, for my colleagues who attend CCCC and other conferences.

  11. Laura Rosenthal

    I organized two “non-traditional” panels, a roundtable (Ideologically Adrift) and the complicated graduate student panel (After Exoticism). Both were lively and led to good discussions. Nevertheless, I also attended some inspiring 4-paper sessions, one on the historical novel and the SHARP panel, for example. If you have 3-4 well-crafted papers that don’t go over the time limit, the “traditional” panel format can be really invigorating, leaving me with lots of ideas and an ever-longer list of things to read. I find that there is something satisfying about hearing someone flesh out an idea and point to examples. While I would never lecture to students for twenty minutes straight, I think that we scholars have particularly long attention spans and can get a good sense of each other’s work in this format. It’s easy to follow up by email or at the cash bar.

  12. Dave Mazella

    Hi Laura, I agree that a good conventional session with 4 papers can give a scope to the panel that otherwise wouldn’t be there. However, I think that one could argue that the cumulative effect of all those sessions is more exhausting than a varied set of presentations during the day; if it’s true of our students, it’s true of us, as are the usual strictures about attention span. I also think that squeezing the fourth paper into the panel is just another version of the “tyranny of content” that causes interaction to disappear in lectures. Presenters need to be very disciplined to stay within their length, and the leeway is much easier to achieve in a less crowded panel. I know how hard it is to change these things, because conventions in academic settings are not only about managing workload, but also conveying expertise and authority. It’s an uphill battle convincing anyone to do things differently. I would just like some thought given to the format and how it might improve the experience and the learning that takes place.

  13. Eleanor Shevlin

    I agree with Laura’s remarks about the value of the three- and four-paper panels, and I would want to see these continued. Not only are they valuable for the audience, but they also compel the presenter to advance his or her work and enable him or her to receive more substantive feedback. I do think, though, that other formats are in order–and are indeed beginning to be offered. I also think that follow-ups using social media –such as blog postings like the one here, Laura’s post on the graduate Exoticism panel, and previous ones from MLA, as well as some of the pre-and post-conference posts that EMOBand other blogs offer makes for even richer conference experiences.

  14. Melissa Mowry

    I agree with Eleanor and Laura. I think there are some architectural similarities between a teaching lecture and a conference paper, but at their respective hearts they seem fundamentally different modalities. My presentation of information in the classroom is certainly interested and invested, but when I deliver a conference paper, I’m really making an argument. I count on these “traditional” sessions to find what others are working on, to hear suprising ideas, and deepen my own thinking and reading. I, for one, would never want to give them up. However, I’m also really intrigued by the format Miriam described about the pre-conference workshop and wonder whether this wouldn’t be a terrific format to discuss some of pedagogical, professional, and methodological issues around a shared group of readings that might draw us out of our 18thc contexts and enable us to talk about issues we all care about.. Maybe one on writing about and researching subaltern, or marginally documented subjects from the perspective of Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Opressed? Or one that looks at democracy’s roots in the Enlightenment, through the lense of various post-democratic theories? Just thinkin’

  15. Dave Mazella

    Well, it doesn’t look like I’ve persuaded many people with my call for more variety in presentation formats. It’s still hard for me to see what would be lost by trying to encourage more variety. And as far as I can tell, most of the arguments for the 20 min paper are from the perspective of the producer rather than the listener of 3-4 closely argued papers in quick succession. Even if people are indeed immersed in those arguments, I am not seeing adequate opportunities for feedback that could follow up on that. But I am perfectly happy to believe that this is a minority view when it comes to conference formats. The larger question is whether real-time, face to face, scholarly communication among peers is substantially different than what happens in the classroom.

    The notion that does seem to have emerged with some support is the idea of a pre-conference or post-conference forum to focus discussions further. If others are willing to participate, this blog could help facilitate the kind of extended discussion mentioned by Eleanor and Melissa. I think it would be very worthwhile, but we would need people motivated enough to commit precious time to this kind of project to make it work. So what would be the best use of people’s time up to, during, and after a conference?

  16. Eleanor Shevlin

    Just a note to let everyone know that Lisa Maruca’s overview of ASECS 2012 THATCamp is now available on Early Modern Online Bibliography.

  17. Laura Rosenthal

    Actually, Dave, I don’t agree with your characterization of the expressed enjoyment of traditional panels. All of us mentioned how much we like attending them. My comment did not mention production at all. I think the feedback might not be in the moment only, but can instead be ongoing. I also tend to agree with Melissa that conferencing is not much like teaching. Ideas discussed in class bear no burden of originality, although original ideas may come out of such discussions. But one goes to a conference paper specifically to hear something relatively new or fresh (although those are of course relative terms). For this reason, there is an unspoken rule that if you publish it, then it is not longer fair game for conference presentation.

  18. Dave,

    I understand the desire for other panel formats. My advisor, after seeing me at morning sessions, her sessions, afternoon–on and on–noted how exhausted I must be. And I was, simply due to the sheer amount of sitting, listening, and note taking. Mind, this isn’t my first conference.

    I’m a bit of an interdisciplinary person and thus have attended CCCC a few times now. I cannot help but note the difference in conference styles. CCCC is huge by any conference standards, but it’s also highly experimental and multimodal. For example, I helped develop a game that occurred throughout the conference to promote networking and learning goals during the conference to illustrate gaming pedagogies. We had nearly 300 participants and we were quite active on the CCCC Twitter hashtag that year. I’m not suggesting we do THAT, but it just goes to show the possibilities that are out there.

    I’m inclined to think that we, as C18ists, are a bit more conservative in our style, with a ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality. I ascribe to that myself for most things in life. But–in a perfect world, where Vickie had all the help in the world, etc.–I don’t see why we simply could not add different formats. There’s nothing saying you’d have to ATTEND those formats, but they’d be available for a change of pace. Frankly, I’d love to see more half-day workshops, perhaps in the afternoons of the conference, etc. As a junior academic, workshops may occasionally prove more useful for me than panels.

    I feel many who are responding here are concerned with a major overhaul in which all panels involve an exercise segment featuring a holographic band. I’m sure this isn’t what Dave is suggesting. Rather, he proposes adding different formats, which in no way removes the formats you know and love. Adding these varied formats can only be a boon for different learning styles and the like.

    I, too, attended the wonderful performance roundtable. And whilst I furiously scribbled notes and tried to keep up, I couldn’t help but notice there was far less banter than I had hoped in a roundtable (which I always imagine as me eavesdropping on the ‘cool kids’ table as they discuss theories beyond my purview). In the end, it seemed mostly the same as other panels, but with 10 minute papers instead of 20.