Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Wolfe's Tone on Day 3 at the AHA

The Wolfe's Tone is getting a bit tired from all of his work pounding the floor of the AHA Convention, but like any good reporter, he remains on the beat. Enjoy reading his report from Day 3. If his work is new to you, feel free to go look at his previous pieces. History journalism at its best!--JF

Saturday was the most lively day of the conference yet. The numbers seem to swell because the crowd that arrived late is here, and so is the crowd that is leaving early. Today many (including me) were informed that "The University of ******* cannot interview you at this time." There is a message center with several computers for prospective employees to receive the dreaded news. It is actually quite sad to watch people's shoulders literally fall as they read their messages while you wait in line. The human element of the hiring freeze is felt everywhere.

However from here on out- we accentuate the positive! Yea Norman Vincent Peale!!!

Remembering the Good

CS Lewis said "The person who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer." That is true of events like this, even if some historians still refuse to break bread together because they interpret British Imperialism in opposite ways. It is easy to scoff at the well worn faults of professional conferences. All the standard tropes still apply: vanity, competition, antiquarian topics, libations and libidos. However I am struck by the singular fortune of being here. Almost every table is filled with scholars discussing their passion over a drink: Ancient China, Rome, Greece, Russia, the Atlantic, slavery, religion, revolution, industrialization, racism, labor history, world wars, .... the list goes on. All across San Diego diners are filled (okay- not quite filled, the AHA reports attendance is way down.... lets go with "patroned") with people who love the Enlightenment in the Atlantic more than anything in the world talking with other people passionate about just that thing (insert your passion here). Everywhere you go, people are just enthralled in their conversations. That, I think, is a good thing.

We go to conferences, especially this conference, for the job side of the equation. But in reality, the thing we enjoy the most is talking with other people like us. Why? Those folks aren't getting us any jobs. We are hired by faculties who don't do what we do. If you meet a colonial historian, chances are you will never work at the same university or college. We are hired by people outside our own subfields. There is very little cross pollination going on at the Conference of Policy Studies (or your other conferences of choice).

The great joy of conferences is that no one in my nuclear family thinks that my dissertation topic makes any difference in anyone's life but mine. But today I had lunch with a guy from a university near my own. We have worked in the same archives, seen the same sources, and have complimentary (thankfully not contesting) dissertation topics. We happened to sit next to each other in the back room of a panel. When the panel was over, we chatted, discovered our mutual interests, and I enjoyed the next 2 hours as I have few others. Here was someone like me! So remember- the dread and drudgery of these things is overblown. Conferences are great. Now if we could just make them free.

Hardball

Tonight's political blurb: a well attended rally occurred outside the Hyatt complete with several megaphones, and about a hundred signs. I'd estimate a few hundred protesters. They marched around the entire hotel chanting at AHA attendees to "check out now! check out now!" Since I've already made a comment on this yesterday, I thought I would pass this tidbit along without further comment.

Grant Workshop

I forgot to include these notes on the grant writing workshop held yesterday. Here are the highlights.

Get a non-history specific or discipline specific academic to read your grant proposal--- probably at least one of your evaluators will NOT be an historian

The Project Proposal should consist of a succinct overview, the argument you anticipate making, the "pay off" of their investment (i.e. what this will do that is significant), a clear discussion of your research methodology, your qualifications, and your time frame.

The most common error regarding the "qualifications" section is a rambling list of achievements, 'I did this, I did that'.... Instead, try to show how every step in your professional career has led logically to this project you are proposing.

Make sure your letters of recommendation reflect what you are doing. If you make a research change, notify your references and make sure they include those changes. Incongruous references that speak about something not in your report are a bad thing.

The proposal should answer the questions that are asked. If they ask for circles, don't give squares. If the announcement has gray areas, it is OK to call and ask for clarification. Also pay attention to deadlines.

Remember the human reviewer. They are weary and reward getting to the point. Strong sentences, main points, no fluff, answer the questions, no grammatical errors.

Remember the Rule of 10s:
  • You have 10 minutes to sell your reader
  • Get the whole thing summarized in 10 sentences or less
  • Write 10 versions of your draft
  • Make sure the font size is LARGER than 10- be kind to the reader's eyes
Remember, there is $307 billion given away annually, so there is money out there. $229 billion is given away by individuals

Network- get to know the people who are on these boards. Is someone at a conference who serves on a funding panel? Get to know them. Remember, people give to people.

To search for private $ check out Foundation Center or the Catalog of Domestic Assistance or Grants.Gov. You can also Google the federal funding report of the House of Representatives. (Between these you will get everything the federal government does in relation to grants)

For private libraries fellowships, convince them that without their assistance, the information in their archives will never be known to the reading public. (FYI- the Huntington Library has the
largest collection of British material in the world outside the UK, and it is in California of all places--I didn't know that). Also- don't contact the curator first. They are overworked. Do all your research so that you know everything you could possibly know before calling.

Look at a private funding institution's federal form 9-90. This lists all the people/projects they gave to last year.

If the organization is offering $1000 grants, don't ask for $2,000. Keep it within their limits

It is OK to overreach a little bit for grants outside your exact focus, since some groups still have $ left over and might chose you as beneficiary. However don't get carried away. Some people acquire a reputation amongst grant readers/decision makers and become persona non grata.

Sit on a grant review panel yourself. Insights will abound into the process AND expand your network with other people.

Panel of the Day

If you are a religious history buff you missed a good one today. The panel examined the Enlightenment in the Atlantic World, but really all the panelists focused their remarks on the concept of religious liberty in the eighteenth century. The various definitions given to the word liberty--some to support Whig views and some to undercut--were very informative. The panelists discussed the religious connotations of liberty stemming from Anglicanism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism, the French Huguenots, Baptists, and Genevan Calvinists. Surprising no one, the most thoughtful paper came from Notre Dame professor Mark A. Noll. He examined several views, including those of Canadian Catholics, to explain why the Quebecois (among others) rebuffed American calls to join them in the cause of religious liberty. Canadian Catholics, for instance, believed the British government, through the Quebec Act, had secured their religious liberty to practice their faith unmolested. I am not doing the paper justice, but it was wonderfully done.

Rant of the Day:

Don't say "I probably don't need this microphone." Yes you do. Stop imagining yourself as George Whitefield preaching to a field of unconverted sinners. (For information on the ability of Whitefield's ability to project his voice- see The Divine Dramatist by Harry Stout). You are an academic not a revival preacher. Use the mic.

The job market stinks, but hundreds of young historians plow ahead regardless. And when the day is over, we sit at the top of the Hyatt with a wonderful view of the skyline and debate history over drinks. We who are about to die salute you.

The Wolfe's Tone

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