Usually, when I mention conferences on this blog, I talk about the research I presented. This past week though, I participated in two conferences in a different role. Instead of presenting my own research, I served as moderator, helping to provide a space for others to share their work.
The first was the annual symposium for the Chesapeake Digital Humanities Consortium, an organization I’ve been involved with for a few years now. I first presented with them in 2020, when I offered a five-minute lightning talk about my long-terms plans for a DH project focusing on the Community Art Center Project. Last year, I did a walk-through of my Scalar Project on the Roswell Museum’s WPA era. This year, I decided to take on a more proactive role with the organization by serving as the Steering Committee chair, helping to put together the planning committee for the conference.
For this year’s theme, the planning committee decided to focus on digital pandemic studies, with presenters invited to submit works addressing either public health, structural oppression, or both. We included structural oppression in the Call for Papers because it’s intimately linked with public health, as has been repeatedly been shown in studies addressing the infection and mortality rates of COVID-19 in different communities. A lot of the papers addressed the current pandemic, but historical cases, such as the smallpox epidemic that took place in Boston in 1721-1722, were also included.
This year’s keynote speaker was Kim Gallon, founder of COVID Black, described as “a Black health data organization that uses data to tell stories about the Black lived experience to advocate for health equity. The goal of COVID Black is to honor and value each Black life that is lost to COVID-19.” For Gallon, it’s crucial to recognize the lives lost to COVID as more than numbers or statistical data, and her project strives to recognize the humanity of both the Black people who succumbed to COVID and the communities they left behind. Throughout her talk, she emphasized the importance of recognizing crises as opportunities for re-engaging our humanity, and to acknowledge that the various disasters we read about or study affect real people.
The session I moderated, “Visualizing Pandemics” similarly emphasized the importance of recognizing the humanity behind different crises, with mapping and other tools used to help bring a sense of place and individuality back to the numbers so often associated with public health. This was an enjoyable session to moderate, both for getting to learn more about topics outside of my own research and for getting fresh perspectives or ideas about my work. Although I don’t map the movement of epidemics myself, I am interested in questions of mobility in relation to art access. Seeing these projects and how they approached questions of dynamic mapping helped me better understand my own long-term objectives, and in the future, I’ll definitely be taking a closer look at public health projects for inspiration.
The other conference event was the annual meeting for the College Art Association. Founded in 1911, this organization is one of the main academic organizations for art historians and artists working in academia, museums, or related fields, and their conference is considered one of the big ones in terms of sharing your work. It’s also one of the few conferences where I haven’t been able to get an abstract accepted, not yet at least. I’ve been trying for several years, but so far, I haven’t been successful.
What I did get accepted, however, was a proposal for a panel. Entitled, “Reconsidering Art History through Access,” this panel took inspiration from my prospectus. As readers may recall, I explored a lot of topics while putting it together, from artist collectives and other alternative venues for exhibiting art, to social media tutorials as a means of teaching art and art history. While I ultimately decided to focus on outreach exhibitions for my own work, I suspected that other scholars were probably researching these other topics, and wanted to learn more about what they were doing. I decided that if I couldn’t get my own work into the conference, I’d offer a platform for others to share their work and get feedback.
While many people will identify their presenters before submitting a panel, I opted to leave mine an open call for papers, allowing people to submit their work for review. The three speakers who shared their work addressed a wide range of topics, from TikTok as a teaching platform, to Black exclusion as a key component to the exhibition spaces of MoMA during the 1930s, to the impact of revising AP art history courses to include more global perspectives. I enjoyed listening to each paper, and while the audience was small, the participants asked engaging questions.
These two conferences aren’t the first time I’ve taken on the role of moderating, but it’s always an interesting experience that gives you a different perspective on conferencing. You may not be presenting your own research, but you’re arguably more engaged with the session as a whole because your attention is focused on the entire panel rather than your own work. You not only time each paper to make sure you stay on schedule, but you help set the tone for the discussion through your own remarks, the preliminary questions you might ask while attendees collect their own thoughts, and the overall panel’s organization itself. After all, if you chose all the papers, you clearly saw some idea or theme connecting them. As moderator, it’s your role to help audiences recognize it.
Overall, it’s been an event-filled week, and I was glad to take part in these two conferences. At the same time, I’m ready for a break from virtual conferencing. Between these events and the workshops I’ve been putting together for the Career Center, I’ve been on the computer a lot lately, and I’m ready to log off Zoom and engage in more tactile work. With a research trip to the Met archives happening next week, I’ll definitely be getting that change.