Reflections from the Conference Coordinator
Those of you who attend SHEAR’s annual meetings cannot help but have noticed Craig Thompson Friend, our longtime Conference Coordinator and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Distinguished Graduate Professor and Director of Public History at North Carolina State University. During his tenure, Craig took what was already a terrific conference and made it better: larger, more diverse, more dynamic, and (if this is possible) even more fun. We have all benefited from Craig’s year-round efforts to make the four days we spend together in July as exciting and comfortable as possible. After eleven years of toiling on our behalf, Craig has returned to his senses and is stepping down. After this summer’s conference, he will hand the reins to Robyn Lily Davis, assistant professor of history at Millersville University. As Craig’s term comes to a close, we asked him to reflect on the conference that serves as our intellectual home. Here is what he had to say:
‘‘In 2004, SHEAR centralized its organizational activities in Philadelphia, shifting to a new stage in its history. As part of that reorganization, I assumed the role of conference coordinator. As of the 2015 conference in Raleigh, I will have overseen eleven annual meetings, and I would like to brag about what we have accomplished.
My predecessor, Dan Feller, had served as conference coordinator for twelve years and rightfully took great pride in his 2002 report to the advisory council for firmly establishing SHEAR as a ‘major event on the academic calendar and the premier venue for scholarship in our period.’ The organization’s first generation (1977 to 2003) nurtured a distinctive spirit for SHEAR: scholarly excellence, intellectual democracy, and an open, embracing academic collegiality. I remember my first SHEAR meeting in 1993 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill specifically for the congeniality of the ‘big names’ who I admired as a graduate student. Most of SHEAR’s conferences during that first generation [End Page 303] (with some notable exceptions like Harper’s Ferry in 1998) were on college campuses with attendees staying in dormitories and sometimes sharing hallway bathrooms, symbolic of the true democratic leveling that happened at SHEAR conferences. That commitment to scholarly equality became part of its mission statement in 2004: ‘SHEAR cherishes a democratic ethos in scholarship and cultivates close, respectful, and productive exchanges between serious scholars at every level of experience and recognition.’
But while Dan and his peers had created a conference that was a major event, it would not have grown had it remained on college campuses. Personally, I was never quite comfortable seeing my ‘big names’ having just showered and strolling the dorm halls in nothing but a towel. More importantly, however, is that SHEAR just wasn’t as young as it used to be. We needed more ‘grown up’ accommodations and meeting spaces. We became a hotel conference. Still, when we were not in Philadelphia, we tried to find unique, smaller hotels to facilitate a greater sense of intimacy and collegiality. Our last campus conference was at the University of Montréal in 2006; it was also the last time our attendance was below 300.
Since my first two conferences in 2006 and 2007 when I was really just learning the ropes, we have expanded the numbers of conference participants by increasing the program panels and eliminating dual participation. Conference attendance has grown as well, culminating in last year’s 534 attendees in Philadelphia. Enlarging attendance resulted in increased conference profits. SHEAR was not always on good financial standing after moving to Philadelphia, and the conference became a way to help strengthen the organization’s coffers. By the time I step down at this summer’s conference in Raleigh, we will have earned over $100,000 for SHEAR. Much of this profit came from taking control of our book exhibit (which had previously been contracted out) and creating advertising, exhibiting, and sponsorship opportunities for presses and cultural institutions.
We have also made significant strides in diversifying the conference. As in the profession, racial and ethnic diversification has not been easy, but we are certainly less homogenous than we were a...