Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 15, No. 530.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002 06:51:38 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: terms for conferencing
As you know (and possibly grumble about into your morning coffee) Humanist
passes along numerous announcements of conferences, colloquia and symposia,
not to mention town meetings, or just plain meetings, seminars and the
like. Occasionally we hear about a convention. Indeed, I myself am
responsible occasionally for organising events of this kind, and of course
I also actually attend some, especially the ALLC/ACH. So I have been
wondering, do these terms denote different kinds of events, or do we simply
vary our words as a matter of style or to carry a particular emotional
payload? The OED says the following:
COLLOQUIUM. 3. A meeting or assembly for discussion; a conference, council.
spec. an academic conference or seminar.
CONFERENCE. 6. A formal meeting for consultation or discussion; e.g.
between the representatives of different sovereign states, the two Houses
of Parliament or of Congress, the representatives of societies, parties, etc.
CONVENTION. 4. An assembly or gathering of persons for some common object;
esp. a formal assembly met for deliberation or legislation on important
matters, ecclesiastical, political, or social.
SEMINAR. 1b. A conference of specialists; also, more generally, a course of
instruction for managers, etc. orig. U.S.
SYMPOSIUM. 2. transf. a. A meeting or conference for discussion of some
subject; hence, a collection of opinions delivered, or a series of articles
contributed, by a number of persons on some special topic.
If I were to hazard a guess from anecdotal evidence, I'd say that the terms
are chosen on the basis of size or intimacy, "convention" denoting the
largest of gatherings, as in the MLA Convention of more than 10,000 souls,
and "seminar" the smallest, with "conference" in the middle but larger than
a "colloquium" or "symposium". As the learned will know, the term
"symposium" also carries the sense of "1. a. A drinking-party; a convivial
meeting for drinking, conversation, and intellectual entertainment:
properly among the ancient Greeks, hence generally", and "seminar" is both
a synonym for "seminary" as well as "a select group of advanced students
associated for special study and original research under the guidance of a
professor. Also transf., a class that meets for systematic study under the
direction of a teacher." Under this last sense we at King's College London
refer to our "Seminar in Humanities Computing".
But still I am left wondering about the terms we use. Is there a (to me)
hidden consistency that I am overlooking?
Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
+44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
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