Big Conferences

I was told I might hate it. I was told I might find it hard to meet people, and that it could be overwhelming. I was told I’d feel exhausted between the jet-lag and the hectic conference schedule. However, as of the very end of the second day of the Renaissance Society of America conference (April 4-6, 2013) I’m feeling pretty lively and content. It seems I do like big conferences or this one, at least. This is a brief post about preparing for and attending large conferences which will point to a future post on Digital Humanities which I hope to write soon!

RSA 2013 is hosting approximately 1,200 delegates this year. We have four sessions a day with thirty or more parallel sessions, to choose from, not to mention keynotes and plenaries in the evenings. The schedule of sessions and talks was posted online in advance along with details of special events, such as a welcome reception at the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timkin Museum in Balboa Park.

A few days before I set off for the conference I read through the schedule and made a plan of sessions and events that looked interesting to me. I would recommend all conference delegates do this before they attend any conference with parallel sessions. It’s easy to miss things that would really interest you if you don’t plan in advance. That said, treat this plan as a guide and allow yourself to be flexible during the conference itself. If someone recommends a panel to you or you just feel differently about the sessions on offer once you arrive, mix things up.

In my conference plan I had marked down one Digital Humanities session because I hope that my next big  project after my PhD will be a digital resource. Even so, I thought that this panel might be a bit of an outlier for me, maybe a welcome change from the literary-historical sessions I was attending throughout the rest of the conference, but probably a challenge in terms of jargon. I was right on both counts. During the hour and a half session I collected a list of about a dozen technological terms I’d never heard of, but at the same time I didn’t feel lost in translation. In fact, attending this session  sparked off a new focus for day 2 of the conference. The session I chose for day one was chaired by Michael Ullyot (University of Calgary): ‘Renaissance Studies and New Technologies IV: Surfaces, Archives and Immateriality’. Speakers included Andie Sylva (Wayne States University), Scott J. Schofield (University of Toronto, University of Victoria), Mara R. Wade (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), and Rebecca Welzenbach (University of Michigan and EBBO). I was so impressed by the range of technologies and approaches to the humanities that they collectively put forward that I wound up attending two more Digital Humanities sessions on the second day of the conference, including a roundtable in which most of the speakers from this strand of the conference were able to come together to exchange ideas and speak with an audience comprised of well-established Digital Humanities practitioners; graduate students; professors; publishers; librarians and archivists.

Coming up: advice from the digital humanities round-table participants for those dreaming up digital projects.

Now it’s time for day three of RSA!

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