Every year, the Program Committee can accept only 50 panels for the conference, and every year the number of proposals goes up. For the 2016 conference we received 75 panel proposals and 31 individual paper proposals, so we had to decline more than a third of all submissions. How do you give your panel the best possible shot at success?
First, read—and follow—the instructions. You’d be surprised by how many proposals ignore them. Nor are we just talking about a missing commentator (panels of three or fewer papers need two comments) or neglecting to list an email address. A number of proposals break the rules of nepotism established by the organization (graduate students from the same institution or with the same advisor, a grad student/advisor combination, a voting member of the Program Committee). Don’t give us easy reasons to lower your ranking before we read the proposal. Finally, please note deadlines. This year’s due date is December 1, 2017.
Second, identify a clear topic or problem that distinguishes you from the pack. One of the Committee’s duties is to try to flesh out the program with something for everyone. Some submissions stand out immediately for their timely or unusual topics. But remember that some of the most exciting areas of our field are also quite popular right now (slavery/race, capitalism/business) which means that competition is fierce. Do what you can to identify your panel as having distinct, vivid, and relevant questions or problems at its center, particularly if your central topic is a popular one. One solution might be to interweave a hot topic with second, less ubiquitous subfield that helps set it apart (slavery and the history of medicine; capitalism and historical memory, and so on).
Third, submit a panel rather than an individual paper. Every year the Committee does what it can with the individual paper submissions—and we often succeed with a minority of them—but these combinations often pale in comparison to the full panel proposals because they lack the intentionality (and require the Committee to come up with chairs and comments). It complicates matters with the Committee if one of the commentators has agreed to serve on more than one proposed panel, so please make sure that the people you have asked for this job have not done so.
Fourth, use social media—as well as members of the Program Committee—to find people. H-SHEAR and Twitter (#SHEAR2016) have proven to be effective ways of bringing people together. It can sometimes be harder to find commentators who might be appropriate, so don’t hesitate to contact the Program Committee, whose members represent a variety of subfields, to ask for suggestions.
Finally, display diversity in your selection of personnel. The best panels have a mix of presenters—by gender, graduate students and professors of different ranks, racial diversity, people from a range of universities, non-academic presenters, people who haven’t appeared on a SHEAR program before or in a while, people who don’t all live within the city limits of one university town.
Good luck! We’re looking forward to seeing your panel proposal next year.