IGHS Conference Recap

by Erik Noren

As a former graduate student at Central Michigan University, and current PhD candidate at Wayne State University, I was recently invited by the leadership of the International Graduate Historical Studies Conference to come up to CMU to serve as a commentator. It was an honor to be given this responsibility, and I also learned a great deal from the panels during my stay. 

Acting as commentator on a conference panel was quite the learning experience. Just as a teacher learns their subject material far better after teaching, one also learns much more about a paper after engaging with it critically. I enjoyed hearing the presentations by Julianne and Kristian at my panel, but reading their papers beforehand had given me a better grounding in their respective subjects. Julianne’s presentation on the Ford Administration’s involvement in the Angolan Civil War in the 1970s was very intriguing, discussing it through the lens of the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and international economics. Kristian’s work explored the history of the Equity, a farmer’s union that formed in 1902 and helped pave the way for larger organizations to follow. In both cases I couldn’t be a passive member of the audience, but instead had to constantly follow the material. Even if the criticism towards a paper is minor, writing comments can be quite challenging.

Thankfully, my visit did not stop at providing comments. Instead, I was able to attend other sessions and learn from those other panels. Following that, I was able to reconnect with several familiar faces. It had been a couple years since I had spoken at the IGHS conference and it was good to be back. My earlier time at CMU was a significant period in my development as a historian. I earned my MA in History here back in December 2014. Walking through those familiar halls brought back old memories. Some of those memories included my time as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Dr. Donohue, the informative classes I took with Dr. Euler, Dr. Harsanyi and many others, and also the great conversations I had with my fellow colleagues. Even though some of my old colleagues were not on campus that day, it was good to meet up with some of the current graduate students in the department and learn about their interests.

Another part of the conference that is definitely worth highlighting was Dr. Lynn Hunt’s keynote address. Her examination of the recent role of social media was very interesting. In many cases it resonated with her previous work Writing History in the Global Era, in which she stipulated that writing history from below requires a familiarity with how people think and act. Even though I was not able to talk to her for very long, I still enjoyed meeting such a fantastic scholar in person. In my own classes I have often used the short Bedford books as useful ways to introduce students to primary sources, and Dr. Hunt is at the top of the series’ advisory editors. To conclude, I found my short visit back to CMU for the IGHS conference to be both eventful and rewarding. I hope in the future to be able to return to the conference as a commentator or presenter. The scholarship in my panels was top-notch, and I look forward to seeing more good work in the future.

Do You Think You Have What It Takes to Organize a Conference?

By Julianne Haefner

With the end of this year’s International Graduate Historical Studies Conference also comes the end of my tenure as conference coordinator. In the following post I am going to take you through my work as the coordinator. My main job description would probably be: make sure everything runs smoothly, and in the process write lots and lots of e-mails. These past two years have been a great experience in which I have learned organizational, multi-tasking, and problem-solving skills. Who knew that in this process I would also learn which countries require a visa to enter the U.S.? Or that the university does not allow the use of confetti in its event space?

The preparation for each year’s conference begins in the fall of the preceding year. Since our conference is an international one, the call for papers goes out both internally and externally: it gets sent to some of Central Michigan University’s departments and to universities all across the globe. In the weeks before the submission deadline I monitored the e-mail address, acknowledged the receipt of the abstracts, and informed the potential presenter of their acceptance to the conference. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work as the coordinator has been reading all the abstracts. It is absolutely fascinating to see what other graduate students work on.  This ranges from studying Scottish razor gangs in Glasgow, to examining painted illustrations in Medieval Islamic Cartography, or studying female high school students’ activism in a New Jersey community.

Once the final submission has passed, the real work begins. One of the biggest challenges at this point is putting together the panels. Each panel has three presenters and a common theme, a geographic area, or time period. Some panels are a natural fit. Others are more difficult to group together and it takes some creativity to come up with a connection. After the panels are put together the conference director e-mails potential commenters and chairs. Commenters are from outside universities and provide valuable feedback for the presenters. Presenters in the past have often commented on how helpful the commenter’s feedback was for taking their work to the next level.  In addition, each panel has a chair. Chairs introduce the presenters and commenters, and have the hard but fundamental role to keep track of the time so that at the end of the presentations there is time for questions from and discussion with the audience.

As the conference comes close much of much work is to advertise it: send out the program to various departments, make sure all outside presenters and commenters are aware of the parking situation on campus, and answer any questions about transportation to and from Mount Pleasant. Especially in the last weeks before the conference, all members of the organization team come together to make sure it runs smoothly: the conference director, catering, the office staff who puts together the program and the conference folders, and graduate and faculty judges who read the papers for the awards. And it is at this stage that having rigorous organizational skills becomes a must. Indeed, being able to keep track of all the several things going on and of all the individuals involved so that everything runs smoothly requires good managerial and problem-solving abilities.

However, it is only after a lot of work behind the scenes that my favorite part of being the coordinator finally comes: meeting everyone on the days of the conference. After e-mailing with many of these people for months, it is a pleasure to finally meet them in person and get to know them. Graduate students from all walks of life, different nationalities, and specialties come together – and the one thing they all have in common is a passion for history. The days of the conference are usually the first time to take a deep breath. On the days of the conference most of my work was technology-related. However well prepared one is, technology also has its own will. (My best advice for that always is: Have you tried turning it off and on again?) Other than that the conference coordinator also gets to listen to the presenters, attend the keynote, and of course enjoy the conference dinner and luncheon.

At this point I would also like to thank everyone involved in the conference: from the conference director, to the History Department’s Office, catering, University Events, and members of the History Department. They all make it possible that the conference runs so smoothly. This year has been my final year as the conference coordinator. I am taking with me a range of skills: organization, time management, problem-solving, and the ability to multi-task. While I have enjoyed this learning experience, I am also looking forward to once again being a presenter at the 2019 International Graduate Historical Studies Conference, and I know that I won’t be bringing confetti to my presentation.

For more information regarding past conferences, please visit: http://ighsc.info/


Julianne Haefner is a German-American doctoral student. Her main research interests include the Cold War, the Vietnam War, Ford Presidency, and diplomatic history in general. She has been a CMU squirrel enthusiast ever since arriving on campus.

Attending Conferences: Tips for Grad Students to Maximize Opportunity

By David Papendorf

As many graduate students know, conference activity is both important professional experience and vital for being seen in your scholarly community. But, for graduate students, conferences are big, expensive, and inconvenient trips that can mess with deadlines.  However, I want to encourage students (myself included) to continue to press on and attend conferences.  Based on my experiences – both good and bad – I’d like to offer some observations and suggestions:

First, continue to take initiative.  Look for conferences year-round.  For my field, often some of the smaller conferences will take place during the second semester.  Though attracting fewer presenters, the smaller community gives you an opportunity to speak with more scholars in a more meaningful and substantial way. My suggestion is to spend some time looking around online for conferences.  Start with the journals you read and consider their conferences.  You can also look at faculty pages of scholars you admire for ideas.  Often they have a CV that shares where they present.  Get a little stalker-y and see what people in your field are doing.  If you would like a chance to meet someone, go to a conference that they routinely attend.  Chances are other important people will be there too.  I actually sent an unsolicited email to a scholar I admire concerning conferences and, not surprisingly, received an extremely helpful reply in return.  Simply put, get out there and take initiative.  Conferences are not going to find you, you have to find them.

Second, conferences are more for networking than anything else. You will present a paper that people will really only remember by its title and basic content (if you’re lucky). Most scholars treat conferences as opportunities to receive peer reflection upon their current or future writing projects rather than as an opportunity unveil brand new ideas. Conferences are a great place to vet your research.  If you are at a later stage in your PhD, it can be a great place to propose the premise and basic evidence of your dissertation chapters.  Getting comments and questions from colleagues can be very beneficial. But, remember, you only get about 20 minutes to present your paper, and over the course of the conference you will only manage to take in some simple research profiles. Therefore, the real benefit is meeting people and seeing their research process.  Do not be afraid to go up to someone and chat with them concerning their research.  A great way in is to tell them you enjoyed their paper, and most scholars are happy to engage from there. Most scholars are happy chat with you.  Also, send a follow up email with the people you have conversations with for more than five minutes.  This solidifies the connections and gives you an in next time you’d like to speak with this person.  Networking can be hard especially if you are more introverted, but it is so important.

On that note, when you find a conference that is important for your field or beneficial professionally be sure to go again.  Plan to have a “home conference” that you attend every year.  If you go more than once, your likelihood of being recognized is much higher.  Imagine what consistent attendance will do for your recognizably.  I have friends who have reminded me that this is how they got writing projects.  Just this past weekend, I got an offer for a multiple book review from a prestigious journal just from being around and talking to people at the conference.  If you consistently present on a topic, you get known as a person who does research in that area.  You never know when someone will contact you or speak with you about a project you’re doing and see if you can write an article/chapter/entry or something else.  It is important to think this way – parlay your conference experience into future writing projects.  On another level, consistent attendance gives you the opportunity to organize panels for future conferences and be even more connected with scholars and researchers in your field.  Who knows, you may hear of open positions for which you can apply.

Hopefully these words of advice from my experience are helpful.  I’m still learning on how to do conferences well myself.  To get to more conferences in a cost-effective way, try to piggyback trips together with research ventures.  Or, find a colleague that can go with you so you can share gas/lodging/meals, etc.  Your experience with conferences can be rewarding if you have have high expectations and prepare in advance.  If you are proactive in talking to scholars and selecting your work for presentation, you can make experience beneficially personally and professionally.