For early Americanists, fall is conference-planning season. Proposals for the Omohundro Institute Conference were due in mid-September, SHEAR is accepting proposals until December 1, and a bevy of other conferences have posted CFPs in recent months. Watching this flurry of activity has led me to think about the intellectual goals that structure the formation of conference panels.
Of course, the conference panels we form—and whom we invite to participate in them—are partly functions of pragmatism. Each of us wants to find our way onto the program of our desired meeting, and mobilizing our networks is one way to do this. We scramble to find friends, colleagues, friends-of-friends, and acquaintances from research trips and prior conferences to join us on our panels. But if one of the goals of conferences is to enter into scholarly conversations, rather than simply to share our work with academic audiences, then it is essential to think about the kinds of questions our panels are asking and answering. Continue reading