Do you miss seminars? I sure don’t. Don’t get me wrong. There are some things that I miss terribly. I really miss spending time with my cohort, seeing my advisors regularly, and going out for the occassional post-seminar beer. However, there were a lot of seminars that I took before my qualifying exams that I would like to forget. (I am still waiting for the day that my nightmares about my methods and historiography seminar stop.) And there is a lot of good drink to be found in Japan.
This past weekend, I sat in a seminar-like event put on by Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE) New Scholars group. While there are about 20 participants total, the sessions were small and focused on one or two works-in-progress papers. Around 5 – 8 people per session talked about academic papers at different times of the day in different time zones. The number of people in attendance made it feel seminar-like.
However, the sessions were very different from many — not all — of the seminars that I have suffered through. To begin with, the sessions happened everywhere. They happened wherever the participant was located and had a reliable internet connection. In one of the sessions, we talked about 2 papers on histories of fisheries in Australia and Canada with people siting in London, Ont., Melbourne, Ottawa, Toronto, and Atsugi. People spoke from their offices, bedrooms, and favourite coffee shops. We even had one person participate from his sleeping bag!
There were, of course, challenges to talking to people about their work without seeing them, of course. During the wrap up session, in which we had 10 people online at the same time, some people commented that it was sometimes challenging to talk to people without physical cues. Many of the calls were punctuated with moments of silence. However, I often took the silence as moments of thoughtfulness. People were just preparing themselves to say something brilliant. Besides, there some physical cues that I could do without. Yawns in seminar aren’t usually times when people are warming up to say something fabulous.
And despite being on the computer all day, I think that most people were focused on the conversations and not on email, Facebook updates, or on who won the game. During the conversation, you didn’t have the time goof off. Because the physical cues were not there, you had to be totally focused on the conversation. I was always worried that someone was going to blindside me, catch me off guard when I wasn’t listening. Nobody really worries about this in a seminar, discussion section, or conference. You know when people are not listening.
Last weekend, everyone in attendance had done their reading. Everyone paid attention. Everyone talked. Everyone was respectful. And everyone had a great time. Weird, right?
For me, the success of the conference was yet another reminder of why I stay so engaged with NiCHE New Scholar’s monthly workshop. If you are a graduate student or postdoc studying environmental history or a related field and are interested in getting involved in the NiCHE New Scholars Reading Group, please following link. CLICK HERE. Or you could contact me directly through this blog. Just write a comment, and I will put you in touch with our leader.