Thursday, April 8, 2010

Draper Alumn Matt Williams on the Barnes Club Graduate Conference (March 2010)

Matt Williams graduated from Draper in 2008 and is currently a Ph.D. student in the history program at SUNY Binghamton. Matt recently presented a paper at the Barnes Club Graduate Student Conference and agreed to write about the experience for in.ter.reg.num. Thanks, Matt!

Over the weekend of March 26-27, I had the chance to present an early version of a new paper at the 15th Annual James A. Barnes Club Graduate Student Conference at Temple University. Bringing together students from across the country, working in fields as varied as media, comics, political history, and the Cold War, the conference offered an almost dizzying array of temporal and theoretical perspectives. I recommend it highly to anyone working in nearly any American, European or Global history field.

The weekend’s activities began on Friday evening with a panel discussion on how articles and books get published. Racing down from upstate New York, this panel alleviated a lot of confusion on my part about the process, despite the fact that I spent a decade in trade publishing before attending Draper. Academic publishers welcomed work from graduate students; in fact, few seem to submit material meaning that there is opportunity for those of us willing to try. The bad news is that peer review is not for the impatient: even accepted articles undergo months of revision and publication is contingent on producing an acceptable final article.

After some chit-chat with panelists and fellow presenters, I went back to my hotel and practiced reading through my article a few more times before collapsing into bed. My panel began at 9:00 am Saturday and I went first. My paper is a new work titled ‘“Launched among Strangers”: Personality and Politics During the Administration of Governor William Cosby, 1732-1736.’ This era in New York history was highly contentious, and historians often consider it as a precursor to the American Revolution. In contrast, I focus on the personal disputes between Britons like Cosby and their colonial adversaries in more personal terms where each was strange to the other, especially in their assumptions over who got the short end of the imperial relationship. I got some good comments on my paper and Power Point but almost would have welcomed more criticism.

Of course, I can’t blame anyone for not knowing or being interested in my specific little field. I suppose that’s the one drawback to a conference with such a wide range of work: it’s difficult to know enough about various fields to think of a probing question. I felt this myself later in the day while attending others’ presentations, wanting to comment critically without coming across as a wind-bag or know-it-all.

The day concluded with some awards (not won by me!) and comments from the student and faculty organizers. I would have loved to stay for the post-conference karaoke at a nearby bar, but had to high tail it back to New York, where I still live while commuting to Binghamton. Not only did the conference motivate me to get working on a new project, it also opened my eyes to some of the creative work being done at campuses across America.

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