Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ms. Peppercorn Considers: Successful Panel Proposals

Ms. Peppercorn has brazenly joined a proposed panel, just submitted to the powers that be for the annual ASLH meeting to be held in Washington, D.C. later this year.  The deadline is actually tomorrow, so our submission is thankfully in good time. Ms. Peppercorn’s efforts along these lines have caused her to reflect on the art of appealing to conference program committees.  ASLH, for example, has become a competitive environment, turning away many great proposals.  This is thanks not only to the impressive growth of the field of legal history, but also to the high quality and diversity of topics that members have come to expect when they attend the annual conference. 

So what hints does she have for the hopeful legal historian either for this or other conferences?  First, it helps to have a full panel to propose.  Program committee members are harried individuals, and seeing clearly that a group of people have come together to create a more or less coherent topic makes the committee’s job considerably simpler.  They don’t have to worry that papers won’t fit together, because the proposers have already assured them that they will.  Smashing papers together that don’t fit naturally can be a disaster, as many committees have learned at ASLH and elsewhere.[1]  

Second, making some effort to address the announced theme of the conference is also a good idea.  That said, Ms. Peppercorn failed hopelessly at this.  She will light a candle to the program gods, in hopes that they will forgive the oversight.

Finally, it helps to bring in panelists from outside the field, if at all possible.  There are many great historians whose work touches on topics of interest to legal historians but who may not attend the meeting on a regular basis, or any basis at all.  Ms. Peppercorn often finds that such folk are more likely to accept an invitation to present or comment if they don’t have to travel far to do so.  Thus, a careful look around the local schools (fortunately, in Washington there are many excellent ones to choose from) can yield good results.  In our case, we approached a fine local expert to comment on our panel, and thankfully he agreed.

So at this season of proposals, just remember to travel in panel-sized packs, listen to the group leader (in the form of the CFP theme), and enlist new recruits. 

It also helps, Ms. Peppercorn should mention in closing, not to be greedy.  If you gave a paper last year, don’t try to hog the sandbox.  And don’t attach your name to multiple proposals.  The invaluable Miss Manners would call such behavior “Infectious Greed.”  Ms. Peppercorn recognizes that most legal historians cannot be accused of such a disease, but nonetheless on occasion we have been known to stray gently into the danger zone.  When tempted, remember that double dipping is never good manners, even in the land of the multidisciplinary.

[1] Some groups (can you say Law and Society Ass’n?) have made such smashing a brand of their organization.  They thus provide valuable presentation notations for many scholars’ CVs, but a less satisfying environment in terms of predictably high integration of papers.