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September/October 2004 · Historically Speaking39 Notes on the Boothbay Harbor Conference George Huppert The 2004 conference of our Society took place in an unusual setting. We met in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, from June 3-6. Our host was the Spruce Point Inn, an exquisite seaside resort hidden amid woods and surrounded by the ocean. Some of our participants may have harbored doubts about setting out to meet in this distant rendezvous , but their doubts were dispelled on arrival. Others signed up for the conference, coming from as far away as Berkeley or London , precisely because ofthe setting's powerful appeal. For three days we were able to talk to each other under ideal circumstances, mostly outdoors. The weather was perfect. Our plenary sessions were held in the beautiful conference center finished only hours before our arrival. We broke with tradition by avoiding corporate hotels in big cities. We also departed from conventional ways by having papers precirculated and asking presenters to speak informally instead ofreading prepared texts. These measures went a long way toward erasing the distinction between panel and audience . In most sessions this resulted in lively and fruitful exchanges among all those present . We continued our discussions under the tent adjacent to the conference center, where breakfast and lunch buffets were served by the inn's fine staff. Some ofus still had enough energy in reserve to go on talking into the night. Some of us brought our children who could be heard squealing and splashing in the swimming pool while the imposing figure of Donald Yerxa floated past them. Meanwhile state of the American historical profession serious workwas going Gn in the conference in an atmosphere of rising hilarity, beginrooms where we found ourselves adventur- ning with Kuklick's dissection ofthe foibles ing way beyond the confines ofour fields of of our profession and rising to storms of expertise. It is not often that specialists in laughter in response to Ribuffo's practiced Renaissance studies or labor historyjoin dis- comedy routines. As is to be expected, much of importance happened outside of the formal sessions. The relaxed setting —more like a retreat than a business meeting—allowed us to avoid the usual distractions . Communication with the outside world was severed . No cell phones ringing, no e-mail. The sense of having happily stepped out of our ordinary activities permeated the entire meeting. Instead of arranging job interviews, we arranged a concert offered to us by Deborah Coclanis and her friends. Our experiment with new ways ofinteracting is likely to influence our next meeting . We may want to pre-circulate papers again—we may even go so far as to read them carefully before the meeting—and we may try to retain the informality we achieved in Boothbay at our next meeting, in 2006, when we will descend on the Chapel Hill campus at the invitation of our president, Peter Coclanis. For three days we were able to talk to each other under ideal circumstances , mostly outdoors. . . . The sense ofhaving happily stepped out ofour ordinary activities permeated the entire meeting. eussions of South Indian historiography, Russian church history,Jeffersonian democracy , or Holocaust memoirs. We did not wander too far from the theme of the conference, which was defined as a reflection on the current state of the discipline . Roundtables on world history and global identity were among the broadest topics addressed. Elsewhere we discussed the state ofthe art in Renaissance, Enlightenment , and Latin American historiography , as well as new developments in the study of medieval Poland, modern Islam, and Black nationalism. Among the sessions that provoked a good deal ofargument were the Christopher Lasch Lecture delivered by Sean Wilentz and Sanjay Subrahmanyam's discussion ofworld history. Bruce Kuklick, Leo Ribuffo, and Marc Trachtenberg offered their critical summary ofthe current George Huppert, pastpresident ofthe Historical Society, is the author ofseveral books and articles on early modern European history. In 1989 he was decorated as Chevalier de l'Ordre des PalmesAcade?niques by the French government. ...


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