Five Things I Wish I had Known at My First OAH

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William D. Carrigan is Chair and Professor of History at Rowan University. He is a member of the OAH Membership Committee and an OAH Distinguished Lecturer. H​e is the author or editor of four books, including The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836–1916 (University of Illinois Press, 2004), winner of the Richard Wentworth Prize. 

1. Don’t hesitate to reach out and introduce yourself to people.

  • It might be someone you had never heard of until hearing them speak at a panel or meeting them at a reception. One of the best things to come out of the OAH for me has been new friendships with peers in other parts of the country or world. These are folks you reach out to via email to ask about teaching, advice on research, etc.
  • In addition to folks who are unknown to you, you may also want to connect with someone whose work you admire. The ability to meet scholars whose work you admire so much is one of the great things about these conferences. I remember meeting John Hope Franklin and C. Vann Woodward, and even though I established no long-term connection with them, I quite enjoyed getting to shake their hand and tell them about how much their work influenced me. I have gone up to folks in the lobby or elevator, but there are some more ideal times to reach out to such folks, who are often busy. Right after they have delivered a paper or commented at a panel is an ideal time. Another opportunity is during one of the many receptions at the conference, especially the opening reception. If it feels too awkward to just go up and speak to someone directly, perhaps you could ask if it is possible for you to be introduced by someone else, such as one of the hosts of the reception or the chair of a panel.

2. Consider all the angles in planning your panel attendance. What are you looking for in your panels?

  • Many of us attend panels looking to learn about the latest research in our own specialties. This is obviously an important thing to do, but sometimes I have found that I am actually already pretty aware of this scholarship and will in any event catch up with it in print since I read everything in that area.
  • So, you might also consider panels on topics not in your current specialty but ones related to the “next project” that you have, one that you are beginning to learn about and get ready for even if, maybe especially if, you are just starting.
  • It is okay to go to a panel that you are not sure you are interested in just because you might be looking to meet an individual whose work (on another topic) you admire or an editor of a journal in which you would like to publish. Go to their panel. Perhaps the topic will surprise you, and it is okay to introduce yourself to the person afterwards even if your question is about their earlier work or another aspect of their professional life.
  • Finally, some of the panels that I have most enjoyed have been the ones with the most give and take. This is something that doesn’t happen as well in print and is hard to duplicate except in a panel format. They are relatively rare I think but the best places for this experience are the plenary sessions and state of the field panels, especially where you know that people on the panel may have fundamental disagreements about the big questions in their field.

3. Prepare for and explore the many dimensions of the Book Exhibit.

  • Of course, use the book exhibit to collect the latest books in your area of specialty.
  • Use the book exhibit to consider new texts that might be better fits for your teaching. Ask the folks in the booth for their recommendations and ask for what audiences certain texts were written?   Don’t hesitate to ask for “examination” copies, which you can get for free or at a discounted rate if you are considering them for the teaching of a class.
  • If you are interested in publishing a book someday and are beginning to mull over potential publishers, study the kinds of books that are published at a press and even how they are displayed at the exhibit. This might give you some insight into not only how receptive the press might be to your proposal but also how it would be marketed once it is published.

4. Schedule appointments ahead of time with editors and presses.

  • In preparation for the meeting, reach out to editors and presses with whom you are interesting in exploring publication. This will give you an early indication of which presses are most interested in your work. Having a set time for a meeting before the conference is critical as well as giving the editor time to read your work before the meeting. Handing them something at the OAH is okay but it is much more likely to be forgotten and lost in the chaos of the convention.
  • If you do get some meetings scheduled, be prepared for the meeting. In addition to being ready to listen and receive the feedback of the editors, you should also come with a set of specific questions.
  • It is too late to schedule a meeting for this OAH obviously, but one thing you could do instead is ask editors or presses if you can email them after the conference and ask them how long you should allow for them to catch up before sending the email. You could also ask them what other conferences they will be attending in the next year and in case you will overlap with them again, if you could schedule a meeting there.

5. You need to thank the OAH Staff and the volunteers who run the convention (I had no idea of the work behind the curtains)!

 

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