SHEAR 2017: Reflections on Creating the Past

This year’s SHEAR conference was my first, and as I reflect upon it I cannot help but note my appreciation for its intellectually invigorating atmosphere. As a junior scholar, it was exhilarating to see this community of historians jump off the pages of print and into the flesh, where they shared their work with candor and zeal. I consider myself fortunate to have attended SHEAR 2017, from which I departed with fresh ideas and lenses for future projects, not to mention the energy and inspiration necessary to reignite projects of the present. For those that were unable to attend this year’s conference, I and a few others provided live-tweet coverage of multiple panels under the #SHEAR2017 hashtag on Twitter.

At the conference I covered three panels, and although they spanned across a vast array of topics — from the complexities of marriage to embroiled frontier legal trials — one panel in particular prompted me to reconsider what these varied presentations all shared in common. It was panel 16, Creating the Past in the Early Republic: Critical Perspectives on the Cultural Production of History and Memory, that inspired me to look at this variety of presentations not as connected through their examination of the same American past, but through the shared present moment in which they were produced. By the time Creating the Past concluded, I found that the panel had shifted my framework for examining the presentations I had and would see at SHEAR; for me, the panel accomplished this in two specific ways.

First, Creating the Past’s discussion of historical methods in the Early Republic asks us to interrogate how we produce history in the present. The presentations of Michael Hattem (Yale University) and Karin Wulf (College of William & Mary) examined histories of antiquarians and genealogists, agents of the past who we still see in our present. The critical eye that both scholars lent to their subjects and to their subjects’ own interpretation of the past provided a crucial take-away for modern scholars of history — specifically one that asks us to take a similarly critical eye to the structures within which we “do” history. This point was perhaps most evident in Hattem’s presentation, which dissected intricate networks of exchange between historians, antiquarians, and their sponsors in the Early Republic. The network was a system of storing and sharing sources that imparted distinct challenges and biases upon historians of this period. As I listened to his paper, I wondered about how future historians will examine and critique our present methods of “doing” history, a question that only tugged at me further during Wulf’s paper on early New England genealogists. I found myself asking how we’ve come to define the parameters of real history in our present moment — a definition that often omits genealogy — and how valid these parameters actually are. How will historians 200 years from now sit in panels and turn a critical eye to our methods? Perhaps the more productive question to ask is whether or not historians of the present can take their ability to scrutinize the past and apply it to the current state of the field.

Second, the panel redefined the way we should consider the connections between the past and the contemporary moment. To this point, I found Whitney Martinko’s (Villanova University) presentation particularly thought-provoking. Focused on rethinking the production of historic space, Martinko’s paper demonstrated that the current of change flows in more directions than one, a departure from the notion of a set past and an influenced present. Through her discussion of how historic spaces can take on near-sacred dimensions, Martinko shows an alternate way of conceiving of understanding the past/present dichotomy. It is an alternative that blurs the distinctions we typically assume of both. Instead of belonging to a static past, Martinko’s historic spaces only become a part of “history” by way of later periods when businessmen, preservationists, and the visiting public bestow value upon them — and it is a type of value that is defined less by the historical past itself, and more by the contemporary moments in which it is interpreted.

This was a notion that held true to me when I thought beyond Martinko’s topic, and it began to bleed into my impressions of the other panels I attended at SHEAR. Even as I departed from the conference, I found myself mulling over fewer questions that were directly about the past itself. Struck by the wonderful complexities introduced by Creating the Past, I instead considered the tensions between different types of history, the growth to be achieved by greater self-reflection within the field, and the weighty influence of the present upon the past. Taken together, these considerations form the base for the newest critical lens I plan to carry with me as I approach fresh scholarship. As for my fellow scholars who are all focused on the past yet stuck living in the present, perhaps you will consider adopting it too.

Makiki Reuvers is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the spaces of interaction between indigenous peoples and settlers on the southern Appalachian frontier in the late 18th century.

SHEAR: A Model of Community, Engagement, and Support

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When I was asked to serve as a designated live-tweeter and write a blog post for SHEAR 2017, I was thrilled. I had been to SHEAR once previously and had enjoyed the experience. Moreover, I looked forward to helping share some of the exciting new scholarship on Twitter, having benefitted from others who live tweeted the conference in the past when I was unable to attend.

While at SHEAR, I attended some truly invigorating panels, focusing on everything from transnational speculation and state formation to imagining native futures, from life insurance and minimizing risk to the class dimensions of negotiating marital boundaries, and from the president’s cabinet to how to teach the early republic in the age of Trump. (You can find my live tweets by clicking on the Twitter hashtags #PN15, #PN22, #PN29, #PN36, #PN42, and #PN45.) I left SHEAR invigorated, with great suggestions and inspiration for my own work – and new ideas for teaching the early republic.

Initially, I planned to write a blog post recapping one of the panels I had attended and focusing on some of this new scholarship that was particularly fascinating for me. But, as I planned out this blog post and spoke to friends and colleagues about my experience at SHEAR, I kept returning to one aspect of the conference in particular: the level of engagement, community, and support at SHEAR is unparalleled, particularly for graduate students and early career scholars. I soon realized that this aspect of the conference deserved attention.

Most conferences, even the ones that consciously work to support graduate students, don’t come close to the level of engagement and support that SHEAR provides. When I attended my first SHEAR (in Raleigh in 2015), I was impressed by the turnout to different panels – some were standing room only, though I noted that much of the draw seemed to be “big names” on the panels. This year, I paid more attention to the makeup of the panels and the resulting audiences and was even more impressed. Rarely do you find a conference where senior scholars are not only chairs of panels or participating in roundtables but also actively attending other panels and engaging with the work of graduate students and other early career scholars.

As a graduate student who is in the depths of writing my dissertation, I am greatly appreciative of opportunities to receive this level of feedback, engagement, and advice. Following in Lindsay Chervinsky’s shoes, I’d like to offer a few observations about SHEAR’s high levels of engagement, community, and support and why graduate students and early career scholars in particular benefit from attending.

  1. Support of graduate students. This seems like an easy thing to do, and many conferences offer similar graduate lunches or reduced conference registration rates for graduate students. However, one of the things that stands out about the SHEAR experience as a graduate student is the fact that panels that are largely (or wholly) made up of graduate students are just as well attended as panels with more senior scholars. Not only are the panels well attended, but the audience is engaged, providing graduate students with the opportunity to get some real feedback.
  2. The participants. Like Lindsay said in her blog post about the roundtable that she attended, this aspect of the conference is not as easy to replicate. SHEAR brings together a group of scholars who are excited about new scholarship, open to new and diverse approaches, and supportive of scholars just starting out. From discussions that I was privileged to have with some scholars who have been attending SHEAR for years, I’ve realized that this level of support for new fields and ideas was a conscious effort by many individuals within SHEAR to change the status quo. Because of these individuals, SHEAR is a place where a graduate student or early career scholar working in an area that is new (and perhaps not fully understood by the profession as a whole) can present and receive valuable feedback. Not only that, but reflecting on the president’s plenary reveals that SHEAR’s commitment to supporting new approaches extends to a space typically reserved for very senior scholars.
  3. Support of early career scholars. One need look no further than the second book workshops and the roundtable on how not to write your second book to recognize that SHEAR is committed to supporting the careers of younger scholars. While I may not have attended either of these, I heard from others who did attend how helpful they were – and how invigorating the experience was.
  4. Opportunities to network with senior scholars. What stands out about the opportunities that SHEAR offers for networking with senior scholars in the field is that they are all relatively low-stakes. Perhaps the best example of this (although it is limited to women!) is the Boydston Women’s Breakfast. Having breakfast with a host of other scholars, both early career and established, is an informal way to start to form relationships, to hear about the experiences of older scholars, and to receive some advice. The different receptions that SHEAR hosts feel much the same, with more established scholars open to in-depth discussions with junior scholars – whether about research and writing, life balance, or the job market. In fact, one of the best and most productive conversations that I had at SHEAR was actually a conversation on the shuttle returning from the presidential reception on Saturday night, a conversation that gave me new ideas about how I might apply my research to the job market. Opportunities like this abound for graduate students at SHEAR.

The level of engagement, support, and community at SHEAR deserves recognition. Graduate students and early career scholars in particular have the potential to greatly benefit from attending SHEAR. Moreover, other conferences can and should build on SHEAR’s example and actively work to build an engaged, supportive community of scholars.

Mandy Cooper is a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University. Her dissertation research focuses on the role of families in the larger project of nation building in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War.

A Roundtable Done Right: The Art of History in an Age of Revolutions

Now that I am back from a very exciting SHEAR weekend, I have been reviewing my notes and processing all of the ideas that percolated during three days of panels. Not only do I have great suggestions for my own work, but I am inspired by other projects and methods I observed over the weekend.

While I enjoyed all of the panels I attended, one in particular grabbed my attention. Panel 20: The Art of History in an Age of Revolution was fantastic. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw presided over a panel that included Zara Anishanslin (University of Delaware), Jane Kamensky (Harvard University), Cathy Kelly (University of Oklahoma and the Journal of the Early Republic), and Paul Staiti (Mt. Holyoke College). Ann Fabian (Rutgers University) provided an insightful comment at the end.

Yet this was no ordinary panel, it was really more of a roundtable. Each participant shared a piece of art, or a few, from their work and then explained how they use it to unlock a story or approach to history. Anishanslin shared a portrait of Anne Shippen Willing. She explained how she used the portrait to create an imagined community between the subject (Willing), the painter (Robert Feke), the weaver of the silk (Simon Julins), and the artist behind the silk design (Anna Garthwaite). By exploring these individuals, she was able to reveal deep connections between various communities in the eighteenth century Atlantic World. Jane Kamensky showed a portrait of John Singleton Copley and told the story of his life in the middle—the middle of communities, the middle of families, and the middle of empires. Paul Staiti showed a portrait of George Washington and compared many of its features to a famous portrait of King George III. These pictures replaced the images that defined the British Empire and suggested what a republic should look like. Cathy Kelly ended by exploring a republic created from taste by also showing a series of portraits. Kelly argued that “taste” told Americans where to look, how to view things around them, and to read text. For example, a portrait of George Washington guided citizens how to shape their identity and replicate his greatness.

After the short presentations Ann Fabian asked a few questions to start the conversation. How do visuals differ depending on what artist or figure we consider? When analyzing an image and its historical significance, how do you get from looking and seeing to fighting and working? Who and what do visuals leave out? Given the deluge of image in today’s society, are students good interpreters of visuals? How have they surprised you with their interpretations?

The conversation with the audience largely centered around how to use visuals in the classroom and why more historians need to engage with visuals (and do so more effectively). The discussion was riveting and I encourage you reach out to the panels for their thoughts and read the tweets on the panel by many of the audience members. (See #PN20 on Twitter). I also storified my live tweets from this panel.

As an audience member, I had some observations about why this panel was so compelling. This panel was the last of a long day of sessions and stood in between the audience and cocktails. Yet, the audience was captivated, so clearly the panelists did a few things right. I have four take-aways for future panels.

  1. The participants. Unfortunately this suggestion makes the panel hard to replicate. The panelists were special. They are established, successful historians that can speak to both scholarship and teaching. They were funny, engaging, passionate, and some of the smoothest presenters I have seen. The combination of art historians and historians that use art proved to be particularly useful to the conversation as well.
  2. It was clear the panelists had discussed the structure and goals of the panel beforehand. Or the organizer did a fantastic job laying down the law. Each presenter spoke for no more than a few minutes and with the common goal of using art to show research methods, teaching strategies, and make an argument about the “Age of Revolutions.”
  3. The audience asked questions, they did not proselytize or provide comments. I know this complaint is evergreen, but it was refreshing to hear an audience that genuinely wanted to engage the panelists.
  4. The commenter provided open-ended questions for the panelists to consider and the panelists actually responded to them and to one another. They did not ramble off topic. One person did not dominate the conversation. They gave thoughtful, detailed responses, but were mindful of the length at which they spoke.

There has been much discussion in SHEAR and other organizations about how to liven up conferences and move away from the paper presentation format. This panel demonstrated one option for alternative formats that although difficult to recreate, can be wildly successful when done right.

Lindsay M. Chervinsky is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in January 2017 and is currently working on her manuscript titled “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.”

SHEAR 2017: HSP Hours & Free Admission

As in the past, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania will open early (10am) on the Thursday of SHEAR, July 20.  On both Thursday and Friday, library admission will be free to registered conference attendees; please show a conference badge or registration confirmation along with a photo ID when you sign in. (General admission is always free for students with ID, and $8.00 for others.)

If you haven’t been to HSP within the last five years, you’ll need to fill out a new registration form; you can download and print the form here to fill out ahead of time if you wish.

HSP has scheduled extra staff for paging but wait times may be longer than usual due to a high volume of researchers.

General Information:

  • Research hours on Thursday and Friday will be 10am to 5:30 pm, with last admission and last call slips accepted at 4:45.
  • You may bring in anything that opens on three sides like a book: laptops, loose papers, notebooks, legal pads, index cards, phones, tablets, etc.
  • No pens, highlighters, food, or drink in the library.
  • Anything that closes like a backpack, briefcase, or purse may not enter the library (except in cases of medical need); HSP has approximately 80 lockers in the lobby, but if you have a room at the Doubletree it would be best to leave bags there if you can.
  • Microfilm machines accept flash drives for saving images from film.
  • Photography without the use of a flash is permitted for non-commercial use.
  • Photocopies are $0.50/page, and may not be available on the same day depending on the volume of researchers.
  • HSP has a café area available for researchers with a fridge, microwave, water cooler, and a Keurig coffee maker (pods available at the front desk for $1.00)

#SHEAR17 Social Media Recommendations

For attendees who use Twitter during the annual meeting this week, we recommend using the official conference hashtag #SHEAR17 to make conversations easy to follow.

In addition, if you tweet about an individual session, we recommend adding a second hashtag in the form #PN[number]. Tweets about, e.g., Panel 53, “The Public Language of Class in America,” should end in the hashtags #SHEAR17 #PN53. Using both tags will make it easier for other users to follow and engage in the conversation.

Please also remember to respect panelists’ wishes regarding social media broadcasting. If they or the session chair ask that a presentation not be shared on social media, please respect their request.

SHEAR 2017: Less Than One Week Away!

Dear SHEARites, it’s less than a week until our 39th annual meeting opens in Philadelphia and I have a few updates and reminders to share with you.

  • Pre-registration is now closed. You may register on-site but please remember that we can accept only cash or checks, no credit cards.
    • Thursday registration from 5:00 to 7:30 pm at Golkin 100, Michael A. Fitts Auditorium, UPenn Law School, 3501 Sansom St.
    • Friday, Saturday, Sunday registration at the DoubleTree
  • For Saturday’s Presidential Address and Awards Reception:
    • Free shuttle vans will make a continuous loop between the DoubleTree and the Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard, from 5:00 until 8:00 p.m. Return trolleys will begin shuttling back to the hotel between 9:00 pm until 10 pm.
    • If you prefer to make your own way:
      • Subway: Take the Market Street Line east to 2nd Get off and walk south two blocks to Walnut Street, turn left, and walk across the Walnut Street bridge.  The Independence Seaport Museum is the building on the right once you have crossed the bridge.
      • Bus: Walk to Chestnut Street and take either the 21 or 42 bus east.  Get off at 2nd Street, walk south one block to Walnut Street, turn left, and walk across the Walnut Street bridge.  The Independence Seaport Museum is the building on the right once you have crossed the bridge.
      • Walking from the Doubletree: Walk one block north to Walnut and turn right.  Follow Walnut for fourteen blocks; once you have crossed the Walnut Street bridge, the Independence Seaport Museum is the building on the right.
    • A reminder that HSP is offering free admission to conference-goers next week and the Museum of the American Revolution is offering discounted tickets to registered conference-goers from 19 to 23 July.

I send you traveling mercies and look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia next week. If you need anything before then, please e:mail me at robyn.davis@millersville.edu.

Warmest regards,

Robyn Lily Davis

SHEAR National Conference Coordinator

SHEAR 2017: Conference Pre-Registration Ends This Friday

If you are planning to attend SHEAR’s annual meeting in Philadelphia later this month, remember that pre-registration closes this Friday, July 7. Please also note that on-site registration is possible, but you must pay with cash or check (no credit cards), and there is an additional $30 fee as well.

SHEAR 2017: Pre-Registration and Conference Program

Pre-registration is now open for this year’s SHEAR conference in Philadelphia. The conference program is also available.

SHEAR 2017: Pre-Registration, Hotel, and Travel Information

Hello SHEARites! The 2017 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic is only three months away, and plans are well underway. On 1 May, an online version of the program will be available at shear.org; printed programs will be available to conference attendees upon check-in.

For those of you eager to begin making travel arrangements, here is some helpful information:

Hotel
A block of rooms has been reserved at the DoubleTree Hotel, 237 South Broad Street, located in the heart of the Theater District on the Avenue of the Arts. Rates are $159/single or double, $169/triple, and $179/quadruple, and are valid for up to three days before and three days after the SHEAR conference, based on availability.

The hotel’s amenities include 18-hour room service, complimentary fitness center, walking track, rooftop atrium pool and sun deck. All conference attendees are responsible for making their own room reservations directly with the DoubleTree Hotel by calling (800) 222-8733 (TREE); please be sure to request the group rate for SHEAR. The deadline for making reservations at the reduced rate is 14 June 2017.

Travel
By Air: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is the closest airport to the conference, served by domestic and international airlines with non-stop flights from more than 130 locations. Center City is 7 miles from PHL and can be reached by taxi, public transit, and shuttles and shared rides.
• Taxi – trips between the airport and downtown cost a flat fee of $28.50 (before tip) each way.
• Public transit – SEPTA trains run every 30 minutes from 4:20 am to 11:40 pm (to airport) and 5:07 am to 12:30 am (from airport). The closest station to the conference hotel is Suburban Station at 17thand JRK Boulevard (5 blocks north and 2 blocks west of the hotel, an easy 10-minute walk). One-way, on-board, cash only fare is $8.00.
• Shuttle – authorized transportation providers for Center City can be found here.

By Train: Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station can be reached by local, regional, and national rail services. The conference hotel is a short taxi ride from the station, or about a 25-minute walk. The taxi stand is outside the station’s east exit (facing downtown). If walking, take the east exit, turn right, go three blocks south to Walnut Street, then turn left and proceed east down Walnut. Cross Broad Street and then turn right and walk one block to Locust Street. The hotel is located at the intersection of Broad and Locust.
For information about schedules and pricing, please contact
AMTRAK at (800) 872-7245
New Jersey Regional Transit at (800) 722-2222
SEPTA at (215) 580-7800

By Car: Philadelphia is located approximately two hours south of New York City and two hours north of Washington D.C.
• From Philadelphia International Airport: Take I-95 North to Exit 17 (PA-611 North/ Broad Street Exit). Continue North on Broad Street for approximately 3 miles. The hotel is located on the right side, one block past Spruce Street at the corner of Broad and Locust Streets.
• From Baltimore, Washington and points South: Take I-95 North past the Philadelphia Intl. Airport to Exit 17 (PA-611 North/ Broad Street Exit). Take Broad Street North and follow Broad Street for about 3 miles. The hotel is on the corner of Broad and Locust Streets.
• From New York, New Jersey and points Northeast: Take NJ Turnpike South to exit 4 (Philadelphia/Camden Exit). Take 73 North to 38 West. Follow signs to The Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Once over the bridge follow signs for 676 West. Take 676 West to the Broad Street / Central Philadelphia Exit onto 15th Street heading South. Take 15th Street (approx 7 blocks) and make a left turn onto Locust Street. Take Locust one block to Broad Street. The hotel is located directly in front of you at the corner of Broad and Locust Streets.
• Harrisburg, Hershey and points West: Take Pennsylvania Turnpike East to exit 24 (Valley Forge). Get onto 76 E following signs to Central Philadelphia. Take Vine St. (I-676) to Broad St. exit and make a right onto 15th St. Follow 15th St. to Locust, then turn left onto Locust. Go 1 block to Broad St. and the hotel is on the corner.

Parking: Self-parking in a covered lot with in and out privileges is available at the DoubleTree for $28.00 per night.

By Intercity Bus: The Philadelphia Greyhound Bus Terminal at 1001 Filbert Street, (215) 931-4075 is served by Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines. Megabus serves Philadelphia 30th Street Station from a variety of cities along the eastern corridor.

Registration
Information about the conference is available under “Annual Meeting” on the SHEAR website. Preregistration opens 1 May and is $75 for members and $110 for nonmembers; graduate students, public history professionals, independent scholars, and graduate students pay $50 (exclusive of online transaction fee). All preregistration must be completed online by 5 July 2017. You do not need to be a member of SHEAR to present at the conference, but everyone on the program must register.

If you do not preregister, you may register on-site at the conference. The on-site price will include a $30 on-site registration fee and must be paid in cash or a check made out to SHEAR.

On-site conference check-in will be open from 5:00 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, July 20, at the McNeil Center on the UPenn Campus. It will continue on Friday, July 21 and Saturday, July 22, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Sunday, July 23, from 8:00 am to 10:30 am at the DoubleTree.

If you have questions about registration or the conference itself, please feel free to contact me by email (robyn.davis@millersville.edu) or mobile phone at 405/409-5909.

I look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia, and I send you traveling mercies.

Robyn Lily Davis, conference coordinator

CFA: SHEAR 2017 Graduate Research Seminars

SHEAR is pleased to open registration for the 3rd annual graduate student research luncheon seminars.  Reserve your spot for a free catered luncheon facilitated by two senior scholars in the field on Friday, July 21, 2017.

These seminars permit grad students and senior faculty to discuss common themes, important areas of research, and the challenges faced by scholars in the field.  Conversations in each group may turn alternately to subjects like archives, methodologies, and important secondary literature in their area. Best of all, these seminars help participants to network amongst like-minded scholars, and to find potential partners for organizing panels for future conferences.

Eligibility:

  • The program and lunch are free, but you must be registered for the conference.
  • You need to be currently enrolled in a graduate program or have received an AY 2016-2017 degree.
  • If necessary, preference will be given to those who did not participate in last year’s graduate seminars and who do not already appear on the conference program.

Sessions:

  • Native Americans and Borderlands led by Alan Gallay (Texas Christian University) and Denise Bossy (University of North Florida)
  • Politics and Diplomacy led by John Belohlavek (University of South Florida) and Gene Allen Smith (Texas Christian University)
  • Race and Slavery led by Graham Russell Gao Hodges (Colgate University) and Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor (Smith College)
  • Science, Disasters, and Popular Culture led by Susan Branson (Syracuse University) and Cynthia Kierner (George Mason University)

Each seminar is limited to 12 students. We aim to assign participants to their first choice; but if that session fills early, we will accommodate participants in other sessions. To apply, please email a dissertation abstract (250 words max) to egertodr@lemoyne.edu or foughtlk@lemoyne.edu by May 15th.  Include your graduate program (advisor, department, university), expected completion date, and your first and second seminar choice.