14.0045 down with conferences

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Thu Jun 01 2000 - 06:15:20 CUT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 45.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim@panix.com> (15)
             Subject: Re: 14.0041 down with conferences

       [2] From: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk> (27)
             Subject: Re: 14.0041 down with conferences

       [3] From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com> (33)
             Subject: Re: 14.0041 down with conferences

       [4] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (41)
             Subject: conferences and the intellectual life

             Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 07:01:46 +0100
             From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim@panix.com>
             Subject: Re: 14.0041 down with conferences

    The problem with conferences is that it's not a random group of people who
    are excluded; it's a specific group - i.e. the unaffiliated and/or the
    poor. This creates a closure in academia - the conferences I've been to
    have been 90% social/networking, and people who can't make them simply
    don't get the contacts.

    The second point is, that we all know that conferences cost; I've done
    some conference organization myself. But you can plan right from the start
    to make it easier on people who literally can't afford attending otherwise
    and who have been asked to present and/or be on a panel.

    These issues are serious, I think, because already there is too great a
    distance between academia/humanities and the street - and basically closed
    conferences make it worse.

    Alan (sondheim@panix.com)

    Internet Text at http://www.anu.edu.au/english/internet_txt
    Partial at http://lists.village.virginia.edu/~spoons/internet_txt.html
    Trace Projects at http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/writers/sondheim/index.htm

             Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 07:02:33 +0100
             From: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: Re: 14.0041 down with conferences

    It's true that the conference that can pay all the expenses of all the
    participants is rare. But funding for students in particular is
    something that many more conferences could arrange: there are more
    people and institutions willing to contribute money for students than
    for general expenses or other participants, for quite good reasons:
    it's pretty likely that a student actually needs the money, a small
    amount of money does actually make a difference, and it also makes
    more of a difference to get to your first or second conference rather
    than to your twentieth. Much the same applies for any group of people
    who face the financial barrier: there's a good argument to be made for
    a subsidy and there are people willing to be persuaded to offer

    It's best for the conference organizers to line up such funding
    themselves and announce it when registration opens, though; and the
    pitfall here is that work on this needs to start very early, because
    some willing donors are foundations with rather infrequent deadlines.
    You need to be working on this from the moment you know the
    conference's date, and not at some convenient time later on when
    you're less busy. Scholarly organizations should also consider
    offering their own grants for this purpose, rather than leaving it up
    to whoever organizes their conference in any particular year, since
    the amount of money involved can actually be found in the budget even
    of fairly small organizations: I note that the Association for
    Literary and Linguistic Computing <http://www.allc.org/> has for some
    years offered bursaries to its annual conference for students and
    younger scholars.

    John Lavagnino
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 07:03:23 +0100
             From: "Norman D. Hinton" <hinton@springnet1.com>
             Subject: Re: 14.0041 down with conferences

    I suppose I should say, by way of disclaimer, that I am now Emeritus,
    and have no travel money. But I still try to get to at least 2 or 3
    meetings per year, though there is nothing whatever now that will
    "count" for any pay or rank questions.... It costs me over $100 per
    year, a big chunk from retirement money, and I have had to beg off from
    several meetings because of this.

    Nonetheless. THere are several reasons for having meetings, and
    "conferences" via computer are not substitutes in any way at all.
    Willard already mentioned one category --face-to-face meetings with
    colleagues. This has several important aspects: there is the joy of
    seeing old friends, which gets keener year by year. There is the chance
    to ask someone "Just what did you mean by that last article?', etc,
    which is much easier to answer in actual talk than via e-mail.

    Then there are the chances to mention a friend and/or former student who
    might be a good fit for a job opening. (On this, I stay away from the
    big "meat market" meetings, such as MLA, and have stayed away for over
    30 years -- it has never made the slightest difference in my career that
    I can see. I prefer meetings without job appointments.)

    The book exhibits are very important -- it is much better to walk around
    and compare offerings, pick up the books and look at them, perhaps read
    a chapter, buy them at the meeting price (often 30% or more off list),
    talk to publisher's reps about forthcoming books, even make appointments
    to talk about possibly publishing ones' own work....often seeing and
    handling the books is more important than going to hear papers. And
    then there are the used book dealers who set up at meetings and often
    are sources for hard-to-get books at reasonable prices.

    There is the chance to enjoy food and drink with old friends and new

    And for some, there is the "same time, next year kind of affair which it
    is often fun to watch from a distance....

    None of this can be replaced by computers, no matter how gee-whiz the
    software might be.

    There are people who cannot get to meetings. I feel sorry for them but
    I don't see that as a reason to abolish meetings.

             Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2000 07:05:36 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: conferences and the intellectual life

    Perhaps I am romanticising the past, but what I know of it suggests that
    the professionalisation of the disciplines has not been an entirely good
    thing. I think it was once far more the case than now, to a significant
    degree, that individuals who had obtained advanced degrees but not academic
    jobs would continue to work in the fields in which they had been trained.
    J. Bloggs, manager in the Acme Tool and Die Works, would write articles on
    Virgil, and these would be published. Now Mr or Ms Bloggs is highly
    unlikely to have the opportunity. Has professionalisation resulted in an
    altogether higher calibre of work? I wonder. It seems to have resulted in
    exclusion of those who are not within the academy, who don't walk the walk
    and talk the talk because they simply haven't the time to practice.

    Be that as it may, it is clear that the academy cannot employ all those
    whom it trains to the academic way of life. At one university I know well
    it was said in open meeting that the English department produced more PhDs
    in one year than the entire country in which this university is located
    could employ in 10. The crude economics of higher education in this case
    meant that the department would be severely penalised for doing the right
    thing, but never mind. Suppose, unrealistically, that this university and
    others like it actually told the incoming students what their employment
    prospects would be. Still, high-minded students would want to go ahead,
    undergo the rigours and obtain the advanced degree. So, the question is,
    how do we provide for an intellectual life to proceed outside the narrow
    confines of the academy?

    I ask that question, then pause. Isn't the asking of it a rather damaging
    admission? Doesn't that question signal an end to the World as We Know It?
    "Hmmm, the ground is rather sticky here, and black. I cannot seem to move
    my feet...."

    Allow me to recommend very highly Jim O'Donnell's book, The Avatars of the
    Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Harvard, 1998), which effectively and
    eloquently locates the concerns of Humanist in our broad intellectual
    tradition and reflects on the changes which asking the question I just
    asked clearly points to. "We are immensely fortunate", O'Donnell says,
    "that academics have been in the front line of computing and networks. This
    gives us now an advantage -- technical, intellectual, and even just
    financial -- that we would be fools to squander." (p. 148). Are we fools?
    Can we make the world-wide electronic seminar anything like what it could be?

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
    voice: +44 (0)20 7848 2784 fax: +44 (0)20 7848 5081
    <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/>
    maui gratias agere

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