Blogs > Cliopatria > Conference Rejections.... Myth or Reality?

May 29, 2004 9:22 am

Conference Rejections.... Myth or Reality?

I just got word that our panel has been selected for the 2005 AHA Annual Meeting. I'm really proud of this one, too: it's really focused (1870s Japanese reforms) but we're all doing very different work (local history; education; gender and politics), and the commentator is a gentleman whose work has influenced all of us with its fine detail and thematic power. I'm not the chair this time, but I did my share of the leg- and paper-work putting it together.

The thing is.... I've never been turned down for a panel presentation, and I was wondering just how common that is. I'm pretty proud of my record, but we never talk about these things so I don't actually know whether batting 1.000 (Six regional, three national [including two panels organized and chaired], five graduate or one-shot meetings; all but two in the last seven years) is excellent, good, normal, or if I'm actually not trying hard enough. (For what it's worth, my current institution does not consider conferences to be evidence of scholarly productivity; the last one claimed they did, though I never got to test that theory.)

Is the self-selection process sufficiently strong (in other words, does graduate school make us such self-critical overachievers) that rejection is very rare? I haven't been on the selection side of a conference since the Society for Japanese Studies at Harvard conferences in the late '90s, and that was a bunch of graduate students just trying to fit everything into halfway-coherent panels. I know that some other fields use much more stringent selection processes, almost peer-review, rather than the"this is what I think I'll have written by then" abstract that historians and Asian Studies scholars are used to. Anyone here served on a regional or national committee and want to enlighten us? Or want to share a story of rejection, personal or second-hand, deserved or otherwise?

Non Sequitur: Fellow Cliopatriot Miriam Burstein is trying to identify the malady/syndrome resulting from intense archival experiences. My best suggestion so far is"Historian's Cramp" but I actually prefer my wife's"Attention Surplus Disorder": it has more generalizable potential. Other suggestions?

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Ralph E. Luker - 5/29/2004

My wife once had a case of the hives. Couldn't we simply say "I've got the archives"? The symptoms are quite different, of course. Instead of itchy red blotches, ours would be a lonely, bleary-eyed and badly misguided sense that the world was about what we were doing. I remember a prototypical research isolate of a professor talk about the job-related accidents we risk. He vaguely recalled having a bound volume of the _London Times_ fall on his head.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/29/2004

Jonathan, Your sense that the experience of selection varies widely is correct. I've been the primary gofer on one major national conference and served on the program committee of another. The former technically publicly solicited proposals from the whole history profession. In reality, a few people put their heads together and came up with group proposals that they thought represented the best contemporary work in a wide variety of fields. Very few proposals that came in without insider sponsorship went anywhere. And, of course, single paper proposals got nowhere.
When I served on the program committee of another national organization, the experience was fairly chaotic. Proposals were widely and openly solicited. We clearly had two to three times as many proposals as we had room for on the schedule. Conscientious people did, in fact, make thoughtful decisions about which were the most mature proposals. There were other considerations, as well: there was a certain sort of consideration of coverage of diverse constituencies and so forth.
On the whole, I'd say that you do have reason to be proud of your record. It is shaped in ways I don't know much about because of your particular interests in Japanese Studies. So, I can't speak to that. But, no, graduate study doesn't prepare people so well that all proposals are well thought out. I've see proposals that were clearly not well conceived get put aside, as they should have been.

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