It’s that time of the year again: conference season! For most Canadian historians, this means the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) Annual Meeting, which starts on May 30th and runs until June 1st! I can’t go this year, but my intrepid friend Catherine Ulmer has agreed to serve as my “official” CHA report. So we can look forward to her reports in two weeks. If this is your first time attending the CHA conference, or Congress in general, everything can seem really intimidating. So in this blog post I’m going to give you a beginner’s guide to the CHA conference, and at the end, give you my suggestions for must-see panels!
First Things First: What is the CHA?
The Canadian Historical Association, better known as the CHA, is the national professional association for historians in Canada. While it might seem like this organization only represents historians who study Canada, it’s actually for any historian who researches or is Canadian (although non-Canadian subjects tend to be very underrepresented).
The CHA and Congress
The CHA holds its annual meeting as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Basically, each year, the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the umbrella organization for all of the different humanities and social science professional associations, organizes a congress, which is a collection of conferences that all happen at the same time, usually at the end of May and beginning of June. The location for the congress changes each year; this year, Congress will be meeting at the University of Calgary. In total there will be approximately 70 different associations meeting with more than 8,000 attendees.
Expert Tip: There is a general pattern to the location of each Congress, though it’s not a hard and fast rule. It alternates between a central location (Ontario or Quebec), and the coasts. Last year (2015) it was in Ottawa. Next year it will be at Ryerson (Toronto), and the year after that it will meet in Regina. I don’t think Congress has ever been held in the northern territories, but don’t quote me on that. Also, the conferences in the western part of the country in particular tend to be smaller, while those in Ottawa are the largest.
How do I attend the CHA Meeting?
There are two basic ways to attend. The first is to submit a proposal to give a conference presentation. The deadline for this is usually in October, and I will be doing a blog post all about applying to do a presentation closer to the actual date. The second way is to register as an attendee. You will need to do this over at the Congress website. To attend the CHA, you must register with Congress as well as sign up to attend the CHA annual meeting. You can register ahead of time online, which I highly recommend – the website is really straightforward and you won’t need to worry about anything once you’ve arrived. You can also register in person. Check here to find out details about how to register. If you choose to register online, I highly recommend doing so as early as possible – rates go up after March 31st. You will also need to make sure that your membership with the CHA is fully paid up. Again, it’s super easy, and all of the information you need to do this can be found here.
Expert Tip: I’d suggest registering even if you don’t plan to attend the conference, since you get a quarterly bulletin as well as one year of print copies of the Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, which publishes the best conference presentations in article form.: I’d also recommend taking this opportunity to join any of the smaller affiliated committees of the CHA. For example, I’m a member of the Canadian Committee on Women’s History (CCWH). Each committee will hold it’s own event at the CHA and will often sponsor special panels. It’s definitely worth checking out. The CCWH, for example, has an annual wine and cheese-slash-book launch, and you can totally fangirl all over your favourite women and gender historians.
Finding a Place to Stay
Aside from booking your flight, you will also need to find somewhere to stay. While you might be lucky enough to have a friend you can stay with, chances are you will need to book a room. If you can, stay at the university where the conference is being held. The room rates are great, and the location can’t be beat. However, these rooms will fill up super fast and, since these are dorm rooms, you will likely need a roommate (though you can also be assigned one). Otherwise, the Congress books blocks of rooms at local hotels at a discounted rate for attendees. You can find more information about all of this on the Congress website. Again, book as early as possible, since the closest and/or cheapest hotels get booked really far in advance! You should also figure out how to get from your hotel to the university and back. Again, the link above will have all of the necessary information.
Expert Tip: Are you a poor graduate student or recent graduate? Try applying to work at the Congress. It’s a great way to still attend, but have some of the cost defrayed. Applications are closed for this year, but it’s something to think about for the future. My husband did this a couple of years ago and he loved it. He also got to work the book expo, the lucky duck.
What to Pack
There are lots of really great blog posts out there about how to pack for a conference. Some of my favourites include this guide from the Geeky Artist Librarian, this one from More than Just Desserts, this classic from The Professor Is In, and this one from My Laser Boyfriend (not just for fashionable lady scientists!) The only thing I would add is that comfort is the most important. While I wouldn’t personally wear jeans, you don’t need to look super professional unless you are presenting. Most historians just wear slacks and shirts, and sometimes dresses and skirts. And I cannot recommend a pair of comfortable shoes enough!
Expert Tip: If you’re super organized and you’re presenting, you should try to finish your paper before you leave for the conference. Hauling around a laptop is a pain, not to mention all of the panels you will have to miss!
I suck at flying, so we’re just going to skip this. 😉
Arriving on the First Day
The first thing you need to do once you’re arrived for the first day of the conference is to pick up your registration package (or register if you haven’t done so already). You can ask one of the helpful Congress guides for information on where to go, or just look for the largest concentration of people wearing glasses and carrying papers or briefcases. 😉 Resist the tempting call of the Book Expo until after you register. Or try to.
The building that registration takes place in is the “hub” of Congress. There are lots of talks that are also given in the building, but the main attraction is the Book Expo. Usually (but not always) the Book Expo is held near or in the same building as registration. Basically, all of the academic publishers in Canada and some from the US set up shop and show us their pretties. The books are often cheaper to buy here, and if you’re a historian, chances are you’re a bibliophile too. Just remember two things: you’ll have to lug those things around you all day and then you’ll have to lug them home on the plane. Shop wisely.
Get (with) The Program
The next stop you should make is to get your CHA program. This is always available from the CHA office during their office hours (8 am to 4pm). This year, the office is in Science A-249. If you’re tech savvy, you can also download the program their website here, though this is just the preliminary version. And if you’re super tech savvy, you can even use the CHA’s their new app! This is brand new for this year, so I have no idea how it works. But you can get it here. You might also want to take a look at the official welcome statement from this year’s chair, which can be found here.
Expert Tip: Near the office, there are often pastries, tea, coffee, and juice. Stock up. They get raided really quickly.
Which panels you attend are totally up to you (more than below). But there are a couple of major events that happen at every CHA that you should attend.
Expert Tip: If you are a graduate student, don’t miss the Graduate Student Committee Social Event, which is happening May 29th, at 6:30, at the Kilkenny Irish Pub Brentwood (3630 Brentwood Road NW http://calgarysbestpubs.com/kilkenny/).
The first one is the Keynote Address, which basically serves as the introduction to the conference and usually features a great speaker. This year it’s in Science B-103 from 10:15 to 11:45, and the speaker will be Jean O’Brien (University of Minnesota), who will be presenting “Memory and Mobility: Grandma’s Mahnomen, White Earth.”
On Tuesday, you’ll want to stick around after the presentations. The Annual General Meeting is at 3 until 5 in Science B-103. I’ve never personally attended, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Just be aware this is a formal general meeting. At 6 there is the CHA Banquet and Award Ceremony, at the Royal Canadian Legion # 1 116 7th Avenue SE. There will be food, though the quality varies tremendously from university to university. But more importantly, there is the Award Ceremony, where they will present awards for the best scholarship over the past year, including the prestigious John A. Macdonald Prize for the best book in Canadian history.
The Banquet and Award Ceremony are immediately followed by the epic Cliopalooza. This is a dance party that always features karaoke, awkward dancing, and inebriated historians. You have been warned. 😉
Expert Tip: If you belong to an affiliated committee, you should try to attend their business meeting. The times and location vary, so check out your program.
Good Things to Know
- Most of the presentations will be in a small group of rooms, usually in the same building. Otherwise, herding historians is like herding cats.
- Panels that are held first thing in the morning and last in the evening tend to be sparsely attended. This is doubly true for the last panel slot of the conference, since many people leave early. Recently though, they are getting sneaky with this and putting really interesting panels at the end.
- Each year there are certain special panels that will be the talk of the conference. You can usually tell which ones these are by looking for big names, topics du jour (often political), or large crowds of historians going into one room. But there are always a couple of surprises, so don’t be afraid to go to the panels you are interested in!
- The CHA is much more relaxed than the AHA. While networking is always good, most of the people who attend do so for the scholarship and the chance to see friends who live far away.
- Try not to stalk your favourite historians or get star-struck. They don’t really like that, and most historians are super nice. Though admittedly, my former supervisor has been trying to cure me of my star-struckness for years, with limited success.
Annoying Things that Happen at Every CHA and Conference
- Someone will ask a question at a panel and then use it to talk about their work until time is up.
- Someone will ignore the time warnings and go over their allotted speaking time, thereby reducing the amount of time left over for questions.
- People will enter the room late and leave early or bounce between panels.
- People will only hang out with their friends and/or people from the university they came from.
- Panels or papers will be completely unrelated to the theme of the conference or the title of the presentation.
- Almost everything will be in English, even though this is a bilingual conference.
- A few presenters will be woefully unprepared and spend the entire time talking about nothing.
The CHA and Twitter
There are always a couple of people who live-tweet the entire conference. I did this last year, and it was a lot of fun. The official hashtag for this year is #chashc2016. You can find a helpful list of Canadian historians on Twitter on this very site! And don’t forget to follow the official Twitter account of the CHA, @CdnHistAssoc.
Expert Tip: You might want to set up a saved search, the instructions for which you can find here.
SUPER Expert Tip: Twitter doesn’t archive material, so unless you take steps to save tweets, they will disappear after a certain period of time. I always create an archive of tweets from each conference, using TAGS. It looks intimidating, but it’s definitely worth the trouble. I’m also planning to upload an archive to this blog once the conference is finished.
How you approach each conference is largely up to you. I’m not going to give you any specific advice, since there are already tons of great blog posts out there with advice on working conferences. The absolute best comes from Tenured Radical, and although it’s about the American Historical Association, nearly all of its advice applies to the CHA as well. Seriously, read that post. The other must read comes from the Professor Is In. This isn’t history specific, but the advice is golden. There are three parts (part 1, part 2, part 3), so make sure you check them all out.
Expert Tip: If you are female or shy, I’d also recommend checking out “I’m Sorry I Wasn’t More Clear”: Gendered Pitfalls in Presentations–A Guest Post,” though the feminist in me has to point out that women shouldn’t need to ape the oftentimes masculine culture of academic conferences. Which is definitely a blog post for another day.
Other than that, try to have fun! The CHA is always exciting, filled with some great scholarship, and amazing people. I know I’m definitely sad that I’m not going this year.
And Now My Top Picks!
Please keep in mind that these are just my suggestions, the panels that I would likely attend if I were at the CHA. Feel free to complete ignore what I say. Or don’t – it’s up to you. 😉
- The first must-see panel is at 8:30 (sorry!), and it’s a roundtable by the editors of the biggest Canadian history blogs. The panel includes Tina Adcock of NICHE, Keith Grant of Borealia, Stacy Nation-Knapper from Findings, Beth Robertson from Active History, and Corey Slumkoski from Acadiensis.
- I’d also recommend checking out Hot Docs: The Politics of Archives, Ethics, and Protocols|Archives sensibles : éthique, manière de faire et politiques face aux archives at 2:45, since the conversation is sure to be amazing.
- Finally, at 7:30, there is the CCWH Keynote address, by Dr. Barbara Brookes (University of Otago). The title of her talk is: Subject to Citizenship: the British Crown, New Zealand Maori Land, Women’s Suffrage, and komiti wahine.”
- there are two panels at the same time (8:30) that both look great (damn you CHA!).
- The first is Canadian Children’s Television History: Nationalism, Regulation, and the Formation of Canadian Identities|L’histoire des émissions de télévision canadiennes pour enfants : le nationalisme, la règlementation et la formation des identités canadiennes. Television is one medium that Canadian historians still haven’t worked with much, so this should be interesting.
- And then, since I’m a feminist historian, I would love to see Stories that Matter: Beyond Women’s Words Feminist Project | Les histoires qui nous tiennent à cœur : les suites du projet féministe Beyond Women’s Word.
- I’d recommend checking out Canadian Women, Suffrage, and Human Rights | Les femmes canadiennes, le suffrage et les droits de la personne at 10:15. Lots of big names!
- Or, on a purely selfish note, at the same time (gaaah) go see my conference reporter and dear friend, Catherine Ulmer, presenting on the Architecture, Urban Design, and Stories of Progress | L’architecture, l’aménagement urbain et l’histoire du progrès panel. Make sure you say hi!
- Later in the afternoon, at 1:15, I’d recommend going to see A Neighbourhood Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese-Canadian Enclave in East End Vancouver |La destruction d’un quartier : la génèse et la décrépitude de l’enclave nippo-canadienne de Vancouver-Est. Some of the presenters will be speaking on the Landscapes of Injustice Project, studying the forced resale of property following Japanese internment. Amazing project.
- At the same time, there is also Restorying Colonial Canada?: Stories of Resistance, Resurgence, and Reconciliation from the TRC | Nouvelle narration du Canada colonial ? : histoires de résistance, de renouveau et de réconciliation de la CVR. The TRC report came out during the last CHA conference, so it will be interesting to see what has happened since.
- At 8:30, go see The Stories Staples Tell: Resource Economies in Canada |Ces histoires que racontent les ressources de base : les économies de ressources au Canada. Anne Dance will be presenting! Then at 10, definitely don’t miss the roundtable, Teaching the Global South from the Global North: A Roundtable on Canadian “Third World” Relations in the Classroom | Enseigner l’hémisphère Sud dans l’hémisphère Nord : table ronde sur les relations canadiennes avec le « tiers-monde » en classe .
- Two other awesome panels, again taking place at the same time-ish (10:15).
- Check out Roundtable on Jean Barman’s French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest, winner of the 2015 John A. Macdonald Prize from the Canadian Historical Association | Table ronde sur le livre French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest de Jean Barman, lauréate du prix Sir-John-A.-Macdonald 2015 de la Société historique du Canada
- Or the Roundtable: Confederation in Canadian History | Table ronde : la Confédération dans l’histoire canadienne.
- Or maybe you should just clone yourself.
- In the afternoon, at 12:45, you might want to check out Historical Scholarship and Teaching in Canada after the TRC | La recherche historique et l’enseignement au Canada après la CVR. I know I’m always interested in hearing more about integrating research into teaching. Or you can check out Intimate and Collective Narratives of Politics and Community | Récits intimes et collectifs de politique et de communauté. Nadia Jones-Gailani will be presenting, and she always does amazing work.
- At 2:30, there is Restor(y)ing Western History through a Métis Lens: Family, Land, Bodies and Nation |Nouvelle narration de l’histoire de l’Ouest sous l’angle Métis : la famille, le territoire, les collectivités et la nation. I would go just to listen to Adam Gaudry, who is always an engaging speaker.
- Then, the last panel (sneaky CHA), at 4:15, there is Second-Wave Feminism and the History of Emotions | La deuxième vague du féminisme et l’histoire des émotions. Some of my favourite speaker and scholars will be presenting, including Lara Campbell, Patrizia Gentile, and Eryk Martin.
And Before you Go
One last tip: on the last day of the conference, bring your luggage with you and check it in at registration. It’s a real time saver.
So that’s my beginner’s guide to attending the CHA. Academic conferences, including history ones, can seem really intimidating. While I’ve focused specifically on the CHA, much of this advice can apply to just about any academic conference. I think the most important thing to remember here is that everyone gets something different out of conferences, so you should do whatever you need to in order to have your best conference experience.
Any tips or suggestions I missed? What do you love or hate about the CHA? Are you attending? Which panels are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments below!