As the first conference I’ve ever attended, all I can say is WOW. I was overwhelmed (in a good way) from the moment I arrived in Monterey, California for the annual National Council on Public History Conference.
I knew I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as possible, so my colleague and I filled up our days to the absolute max! On the first day at 8:30am I attended the pre-conference workshop entitled “Digital Preservation for Local History and Cultural Heritage Collections”. This workshop was led my Cinda May of the Indiana State University Library. It was incredible. Cinda May was a commanding speaker and quite humorous too. She provided us with a workbook that included all of her slide with space to take notes and a section of resources that are helpful in the field of digital preservation. Cinda May told us that it is easy to digitize things, the trick is to keep all of the digital pieces together. You have to come up with a digitization system, include metadata in the file names, and make sure you are backed-up in case of emergency. Her rule of thumb is three digital copies stored in separate locations, preferably separate geographic locations! However, she thinks that seven copies is the absolute best. Cinda May directed us to various online tools that could help us in our own institutions. Many of her online tools were actually Canadian, and being the only Canadian in the room, I felt pretty darn special. She pointed out CHIN’s Digtial Preservation Toolkit that can be accessed by anyone is a great resource for this type of digital preservation planning. Cinda May also discussed the importance of disaster planning. It’s all well and good to have a disaster plan, but if you only have a copy online, you’re going to be in a pickle when your computer gets wiped out. After three hours of intense learning, I asked Cinda May if I could get a photo with her. She was quite surprised but obliged. She was flattered when I told her that I had been live-tweeting her session, she thought it was great because then more people would learn about digital preservation! If you are interested in any of the resources Cinda May provided us, I would be happy to send them to you!
I went out to lunch with my new American friends who attend the graduate program at New Mexico State University. We had a lovely time jesting about Canadian/American differences. I was teased for using the word washroom instead of restroom and other things of that nature. The funniest part was when I asked for vinegar for my fries. The waitress looked at me kind of funny, but said yes. She returned with two small bottles, one with red liquid inside and one with green. I was confused so I asked my new friends what it was because I had asked for vinegar for my fries. To which they responded “What are you, British?” Apparently malt vinegar isn’t as common in California so I was forced to stick with ketchup. Next, I went back to the hotel and finished some homework, there is no rest for the wicked… or Canadian grad students.
That evening was the First Time Attendee and Mentor/Mentee Reception in the Museum of Monterey, followed by the Opening Reception. It was neat mingling with Public History professionals before we had really got into the meat of the conference. Everyone was very welcoming and interested in what I had to say. NCPH as a welcoming and friendly conference certainly lived up to the hype. The New Professional and Graduate Student Social at London Bridge Pub followed which allowed all the grad students to get to know one another a little better.
The next day (March 20th), I started out nice and early with session 4: “Sustainable Practices for Co-Created Exhibits” which was followed by Speed Networking. I posed the question in session 4 “how do you deal with conflicting personalities in co-created exhibits?” Everyone laughed because it can be such an issue in creating exhibits as a non-cohesive group. They suggested that not all conflict is a negative, it just means that the people involved care deeply for the project. They also suggested that Kumbaya moments make for really boring exhibits. You need someone being the final decision maker in order to make things really work. My favourite quote from the session is that “co-created exhibits are more like cooking than baking”, with cooking you can throw a little of everything in and it usually turns out alright. With baking, you have to stick to the recipe (or model) otherwise you’ll have a disaster. I really appreciated the honesty that came from the panelists. Then I attended the Speed Networking session that was phenomenal! I had the opportunity to speak with six different professionals that offered advice for moving ahead in my career and told me how they got to where they are. All of the professionals provided their cards and suggested we contact them if we want to discuss things further. It was a wonderful experience and I hope that it continues in the future.
After a quick lunch I sat in on session 17 “Broadcasting History: Radio, TV, and New Media”. Very interesting session discussing the medium through which we convey history and how it must be different for the different forms of media. I then served my volunteer shift, recording attendance in afternoon sessions and later handed out drink tickets for the Consultants Reception where I got to know a lovely grad student from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. After my volunteer shift was finished, I attended a Dine Around at a local seafood restaurant. The conversation was stimulating even though the restaurant was so popular it was tough to hear one another.
Friday March 21st, my colleague Jess and I went exploring the shops on the wharf and finally got to see the sea lions we had been hearing so much about! They were hilarious. We also had some delicious apple cinnamon caramel crepes before heading back to present in the Digital Project Showcase. I presented on my digital project on the County of Oxford Jail in Woodstock, Ontario. Check it out here. It was my first conference, so I was a bit nervous to present, but I made it through and even made people laugh, which is always a bonus! After my presentation I got to meet with my mentor Andrew T. Urban, Assistant Professor at Rutgers University. I was able to discuss my research and bounce ideas off him without feeling intimidated. It was really neat to have a professor at a university see serious merit in the things you want to research and further explore. He suggested multiple books and articles that would be helpful on topics I am interested in and offered to look over things I am working on. To say the least, I am so glad I was a part of the mentorship program, and am glad that my mentor/mentee relationship will continue into the future.
Then I attended session 44 “Public History in Practice: Strategies for Sustaining the Profession”. This topic generated some seriously heated discussion but was quite interesting and entertaining. I also attended the Public Plenary “The End of Growth” with Richard Heinberg which was well attended and incredibly pertinent to the NCPH theme of sustainability.
Saturday was not only the last day of the conference, but it was the day we flew home and wanted to go to the Aquarium that EVERYONE and their grandmother said we had to see before we left. So, as good grad students in search of summer internships, we attended session 52 “Internships: To Pay, or Not to Pay. Then I attended session 54 “Small Stories in the Big Picture: New Approaches to “Micro-Public” Histories”. Jess and I quickly said our goodbyes, grabbed last minute business cards and rushed off to pack up, check out, and burn over to the Aquarium. Luckily one of our NMSU friends was there for a second time and offered to show us all the good stuff quickly since we only had an hour until we had to cab to the airport and get on the flight home. Yes, the Aquarium was everything we thought it would be and more! Thanks again to Will, our lively Aquarium tour guide.
After attending the sessions I did and meeting the people I met, it is safe to say that Public History as a field is definitely a sustainable profession that is always expanding. I am excited for what the future brings in Public History as I am merely at the beginning of my career. After attending NCPH, I feel like I am a part of a welcoming, professionalized field that I am incredibly proud to be associated with. It was a remarkable experience and I can’t believe how lucky I am for being able to attend and be immersed in everything NCPH offered. Attending NCPH is going to be a birthday present to myself for years to come.
If you are interested in any of the sessions I attended and live-tweeted, visit my twitter feed: @1StephanieJohns