By Jason Romisher, Simon Fraser University.
I had the pleasure of attending the 2018 International Graduate Historical Studies Conference (IGHSC) at Central Michigan University. I returned to Central Michigan after attending the 2017 Conference because of how well organized it was, the quality of the presentations, an amazing keynote speaker, and an expert discussant who provided me with invaluable feedback that significantly improved the historiography section of my thesis. Once again, the 2018 conference did not disappoint. Julianne Haefner was the conference organizer for the last two years, and she did a great job of ensuring that the conference is organized and that everyone has their needs and concerns addressed. Last year she picked me up from the airport and this year the conference provided shuttle service from the hotel to the conference and to social events off campus. This year’s conference took place over two days and included eleven total panels.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Alan Taylor, the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia. Dr. Taylor had an excellent lecture that challenged a lot of my understandings of the War of 1812. As a Canadian, I very much appreciated learning about a war that is a major part of Canadian historiography. Dr. Taylor’s presentation asked us to reconsider the War of 1812 as a larger series of conflicts that he described as the War of the 1810s. He argued that the central goal of the United States at this time was not the invasion and conquest of the British colonies of Canada but rather, the neutralization and elimination of the alliances between the British, Spanish, and Native Americans. I very much enjoyed chatting with Dr. Taylor at the evening social. It was an incredible honor to have a light-hearted conversation with a historian with not one but two Pulitzer Prizes.
The quality of the conference panels and the way they were thematically organized was quite strong. Furthermore, Central Michigan has a rich diversity of scholars because of their efforts to internationalize the program. CMU has international students from among other places - Italy, Germany, and Scotland. Some of the students have moved from an MA program at a university in Europe to full-time study at CMU at the PhD level. Scholars attending the conference also came from Great Britain, the Czech Republic, France, and Canada. From the United States, there were presenters from various schools in Michigan as well as from Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Alabama, Washington D.C., California, New York, and West Virginia. The presentations included several fascinating examples of new and emerging research covering topics such as 20th century international peace activism, a framework for understanding Armenian Genocide denial, the trial and execution of a twenty-two year old female German concentration camp guard, painted illustrations in medieval Islamic cartography, war and slavery in comics, Scottish razor gangs, and the imprisonment of homosexuals at Alcatraz. I have been to several conferences where there is a chair and no discussant. CMU ensures that each panel has an expert in the field who reads each paper and provides detailed feedback. Many of the discussants also come from outside CMU because of the many universities and colleges in Michigan. I was very happy to have a gender historian not only give me feedback on my paper but detailed edits.
The international nature of the conference really allows for scholars to connect from different universities, nations, and cultures. I very much appreciated the conversations and social atmosphere of the conference. I enjoyed hearing stories about the revival of squirrels using CPR, what it is like to walk the streets of Jerusalem, the location of a Santa Claus training academy in nearby Midland, Michigan, and the thrill and connection to culture and community when hiking a Scottish mountain and playing bagpipes from the summit. I also enjoyed finding hiking enthusiasts and sharing with them the glory of Canada’s National Parks.
The conference included some excellent perks and amenities. For example, it gives out an array of awards including: the President’s Award for best paper, Best CMU Graduate Paper, Best Paper by a Non-CMU Student, Best Paper in Transnational History, Best Undergraduate Paper, and the Women and Gender Studies Program Award. The conference also included a catered dinner on the first night, an open bar social with hors d'oeuvres, and a catered lunch on the second day with different meal and dessert options. The university itself is modern with new buildings and is a state of the art facility.
I have been to nine conferences the last two years at seven universities, and the IGHSC has been the best experience of all of them for the reasons mentioned above. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference!
Jason Romisher recently completed an MA in History at Simon Fraser University. He also holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON) and a Bachelor of Education Degree from Lakehead University. Jason spent the summer of 2016 doing extensive historical research in the New Jersey area as part of his MA thesis entitled: “Youth Activism and the Black Freedom Struggle in Lawnside, New Jersey.” He is currently a secondary school teacher in Ontario with sixteen years of teaching experience. Jason’s non-academic interests include: birding, photography, backcountry hiking, and athletics.