Scholarly Community: Why You Should Participate

This month, I’m sponsoring 10 graduate students as Omohundro Institute Associates. As an OI Associate you will receive a paper copy of the William and Mary Quarterly, a 20 percent discount on OI and UNCPress books, and invitations to OI seminars, conferences, and our not-to-be-missed AHA and OAH receptions. But MOST importantly, you will gain access to one of the best scholarly communities in the world.

In 2004, my undergraduate mentor and advisor, William Pencak, introduced me to my first scholarly community. He told me that as a historian I should have twin goals in my career: produce high-quality work the field can benefit from and be a good, collaborative colleague. He told me being an active member of the larger scholarly community would help me achieve both goals. He then sponsored my first conference paper and my first membership to a professional organization to introduce me to this broader community. 

Bill Pencak was a generous colleague who gave this advice to many of his students and modeled it so we could follow his example. Bill’s advice stands among the best professional advice I’ve ever received and it has played a big and crucial role in my career. The scholarly community Bill introduced me to through my first professional organization membership has provided me with more knowledge about our early American past and has given me opportunities to build my professional network. It’s a network that has come in handy so many times over the years. The people within it have helped me as a graduate student, as an independent scholar in search of a place within the profession, and as a working historian once I found my place. 

In fact, my journey to the Omohundro Institute started because Bill Pencak introduced me to the importance of scholarly community. In 2007, I briefly met another scholar at a conference. This short encounter proved to be enough that I felt comfortable talking to this person when we met again in different venues in 2012 and 2013. And because I had conversed with this person in 2012 and 2013, I felt I could reach out with a request for real assistance when Ben Franklin’s World started to take off and I needed to know how to transform it from a hobby into a professional publication. This professional connection came from my active membership in a scholarly community and it led me to the Omohundro Institute in 2014.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with the rest of my story, the people of the Omohundro Institute generously agreed to share their knowledge with me on what it takes to build a professional publication. They also further offered to help me implement and adapt their advice in ways that worked for my project. Today, Ben Franklin’s World stands as the reigning best history podcast, a podcast that performs in the top 7 percent of all podcasts, and as a publication that is achieving its goal to make great scholarly history available to people outside of the profession. 

All of this success happened because of a chance meeting I made while taking Bill’s advice to become an active member of the scholarly community.

My intent with this drive is twofold: First, I want to pay back Bill’s kindness and honor his memory; Bill passed away in 2013. My hope is that if I introduce you to the Omohundro Institute’s scholarly community you will do what Bill gave me the opportunity to do: read its journal, share your ideas at its conferences, attend its receptions, and work on building your professional network. 

My second goal is quite selfish: I want you to join my primary scholarly community because it benefits me and my colleagues. Many of the great ideas we get for new projects and how we can improve and expand our current projects come from OI Associates. So, I want to hear about your ideas at our conferences and meet you at our receptions. I want you to enjoy the ideas and examples of high-quality work the OI publishes because they will help you generate more ideas. Ultimately, I want to introduce you to this community because I think once you join us, you will stick around for the remainder of your career and help us with our mission to support the production of high-quality scholarship and to get that scholarship out into the world where it can be useful. 

So, if you are a graduate student and would like to join the OI community as an Associate, I will sponsor your membership. Send me an e-mail. Please tell me who you are, what you are working on, which graduate program you are affiliated with, and where the OI can mail your WMQ.

How to Bridge Academic and Public History

BridgingDo you consider yourself an academic or a public historian? How do you bridge public and academic history?

I get asked these questions quite often. People ask via e-mail messages and when we meet in-person at seminars and conferences.

In this post, you will discover how I work in both the academic and public history disciplines.

Two Disciplines, One Historian

The simple answer to how I work in both academic and public history: I am a historian.

Intellectually, I am an interdisciplinary historian. I trained as an academic because I wanted to better understand how historians produce historical knowledge and learn how I could participate in this process.

I also have a bit of training as a public historian. I worked as a seasonal interpretive ranger for the Boston National Historical Park for five years (2001-2005). In this role, I witnessed the “David McCullough Phenomenon”: The ability to generate interest in and create advocates for history through the effective communication of history.

The challenge of trying to adapt the "McCullough Phenomenon" for scholarly history fascinates me.

My interest in the entire process of history, from knowledge creation through knowledge dissemination, means I must work in both historical disciplines. I would be dissatisfied intellectually if I had to choose between parts of the process.


4 Ways I Navigate the Worlds of Academic and Public History

1. Network. I network a lot. I attend seminars and conferences about both academic and public history. I engage fellow #Twitterstorians on Twitter, and I network through e-mail; never underestimate the power of a thoughtful reply.

Of all the networking techniques I engage in, attending seminars and conferences is the most powerful way to cultivate relationships with colleagues because interactions happen face-to-face. Additionally, seminars and conferences offer fantastic opportunities to stay abreast of new historical research and interpretive techniques.

The best way to become a part of the academic and public history communities is to know what is going on within the disciplines and to interact with your peers.


2. Participation. I participate in the processes of both history disciplines.

As an academic historian, I produce scholarship and participate in peer review. I research historical questions, analyze and interpret evidence, and I write up my findings for academic journals and (hopefully soon) book publication. I also present my work at conferences.

As a public historian, I interpret scholarly history for non-specialist or public audiences. I distill both important historical research and the historical process and convey it in blog posts, newspaper and magazine articles, and through podcast episodes. I also volunteer at public history organizations when time permits.


3. Education. I try to keep up with scholarship and happenings in both academic and public history.

At present, I subscribe to 6 different journals: The William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of the Early American Republic, Early American Studies, The Public Historian, Journal of American History, and American Historical Review.

Honestly, I lack the time to read all of these journals, but at the very least I read the table of contents for each issue and skim articles that look intriguing or helpful.

Although I am behind in reading journal articles, I am fairly up-to-date with the book historiography for early America. The interview-driven format of Ben Franklin's World ensures that I read at least one history book per week.

I also read a fair number of history blogs each morning by individual historians, historical organizations, and mainstream media.

Knowing the literature of your field, and what is going on within the disciplines, will help you learn about and become a part of the professional communities. Knowing what is going on will also help you network and participate in conversations at your next conference or seminar.


4. Combine Interests. My public history project combines my interest in academic and public history. Ben Franklin’s World is both a public and academic history communications project.

Ben Franklin's World is where I grapple and engage with the challenge of history communication. Each episode represents an attempt to answer: How can I convey history and the historical process in a way that will appeal to a public audience? I want each episode to reveal the importance of history and historians’ work.


Concluding Thoughts

I am not sure if my four techniques will work for everyone, but this is how I bridge the disciplines.

A Note of Caution: If you have the same interdisciplinary historical inclinations that I have, you may find it difficult to find a job with an institution or organization. It has been my experience that both academic and public history organizations want their faculty and staff to focus on one aspect of the discipline. This is why I created my own job.

With that said, both disciplines are changing. In the future, we may see academic training include aspects of public history and public history training include aspects of academic history. It’s an exciting time to be a historian regardless of whether you prefer one side of the discipline to the other or, like me, enjoy them both.


How To Tweet A Conference Panel

How to Build Your Historian's Platform with TwitterIf you have attended a conference during the past two or three years you have likely witnessed the following scene: three to four panelists at the front of the room reading their papers one-by-one, while several people in the audience alternate between watching the presenters and looking down at their smartphones or tablets while frantically texting. This is the scene of many #Twitterstorians at work live-tweeting a conference.

In this post, you will find tips and tricks for how you can live-tweet a conference panel as well as why I think conference tweeting has become a necessary part of the profession.


Why Tweet a Conference Panel

Tweeting conference panels has become a mainstream activity at professional conferences.

Conference tweets help spread new ideas, start conversations about those new ideas, and allow colleagues who couldn’t attend to stay up-to-date with the latest professional information.

Conference tweets also serve as a powerful public relations tool. Anyone interested in a particular profession can gain insight into the inner-workings of that profession by following tweets from a professional organization’s annual conference.

In the case of History, not only does tweeting information from a conference help fellow historians gain insight into what areas colleagues are exploring, but it helps non-historians gain insight into the work historians do.


Conference Tweet Etiquette

Caution: Tweeting conference panels is important work that should not be undertaken lightly. Live-tweeting a conference requires a high-level of mental focus. To tweet well you must really pay attention to the presenters and the ideas they convey. 


Conference Tweet Etiquette

There are several stated and unstated rules you should follow if you want to be a successful and professional conference tweeter.

1. Know Your Venue: Tweeting from conferences has become an accepted professional practice. However, it would be unprofessional to tweet from a seminar that has a reputation as a workshop for fresh ideas.


Drawing of a bird holding a hashtag for social media tag2. Use the Hashtag: Nearly every conference has an official hashtag that you should use when you tweet. The hashtag serves several purposes:

1. It tells your followers that you are at a conference.

2. The hashtag allows anyone interested in the conference to follow tweets in context and in sequence.

3. Hashtags make it easier for conference organizers to aggregate tweets.

4. It is a powerful networking tool that will connect you with other conference-goers.


3. Give Credit: Always attribute the ideas of a presenter to that presenter. All tweets containing another’s idea should contain their name. Proper etiquette requires that you first tweet their full name, affiliation, and paper title (sometimes this requires more than one tweet) and then use either their last name or twitter handle (preferred if they have one) at the start of each subsequent tweet.


4. Number Your Tweets: If you need more than 140 characters to tweet a presenter’s idea, number your tweets. The number should be at the end of the tweet and in parentheses: (1), (2), (3). You should number your tweets as a sequence if you know how many tweets you need to convey an idea: (1/3), (2/3), (3/3). Numbering your tweets helps followers know that your tweets are part of a sequence.


5. Issue Corrections: Tweeting a conference panel is fast-paced work. No one performs it flawlessly. If you discover that you mis-tweeted a panelist’s ideas, delete your original tweet and issue a corrected tweet.

You should consider letting panelists know that you are willing to issue corrections. You can tell them in person or tweet at the end of a panel, or the conference, that you will gladly correct a mistake if someone finds one.


6. Identify Yourself If Requested: Some conference organizers request that you introduce yourself as a #Twitterstorian or tweeting attendee to the panelists before a panel starts. In my experience, this happens only at academic conferences and more of these conferences are rendering this introduction unnecessary by issuing badges that say “I Tweet” to those who tweet.


7. Do Your Best: Conference tweets represent presenters' ideas and convey an image of you as a professional historian to colleagues and the outside world. Do your best to convey ideas, the profession, and you accurately.


TwitterHow To Tweet A Panel

There are two ways to tweet a conference panel: live or after the fact.

Those who live-tweet use their smartphones, tablets or laptops to type tweets as panelists speak. Some conference attendees prefer to tweet after they have paid attention to the entire panel and digested its ideas. In both cases, you should introduce and attribute your tweets to the person and paper where they came from.

How to Live Tweet A Conference Panel

Many Twitterstorians live-tweet from their smartphones or tablet devices. I prefer to tweet from my laptop because I can take all the notes I want and then cut and paste what I want to tweet with ease.

I also prefer to live-tweet from my laptop because I type much faster on a full-sized keyboard. Capturing notes on my laptop allows me to focus more on ideas instead of on whether my thumbs hit the right key on a touchscreen device. Additionally, typing notes enables me to capture the context of an idea and better judge if and how it should be tweeted.

My Live-Tweet Workflow

Equipment/Tech: Laptop, smartphone, power cords, Evernote (my favorite note-taking app) and Tweetbot (my favorite Twitter app).


Step 1: Sit by a power outlet. Whenever possible, I show up to a panel early and sit near an outlet. This allows me to charge and save my laptop and smartphone batteries for rooms where I cannot sit by an outlet.


Step 2: Connect to the internet. History conferences have a spotty record when it comes to providing free WiFi. Many #Twitterstorians tweet from their smartphones because they are portable and already connected to the internet. I prefer to work on my laptop.

Before the panel begins, I either connect to the free WiFi or create a private WiFi hotspot for my laptop with my smartphone.


Step 3: Make note of speakers, paper titles, and twitter handles. I try to do this the night or morning before, but if this doesn’t work, I pull out my conference program, flip to the appropriate page, and place the open page on the floor in front of me or on the chair next to me (if available).

Although, conference programs tell you the names and proper spellings of the speakers and their paper titles, I have yet to see one include the presenters' Twitter handles. I perform a quick search to see if I can locate one. Often I attribute tweets using the presenter's last name.


Step 4: Use shortcuts/hotkeys. Hotkeys or shortcuts won’t help you on a smartphone or tablet, but they can simplify your live-tweet workflow on a laptop.

If you are logged into Twitter you can launch a new tweet box by pressing [N].

I set [option + /] as my hotkeys for Tweetbot. I prefer to use Tweetbot because I can launch a new tweet box while I take notes in Evernote.

Other shortcuts/hotkeys you might find helpful are those for cut and paste. On a Mac the keyboard shortcut for cut is [command+ c]. Use [command+ v] for paste.

Tweetbot and Evernote for Conference Tweeting

Step 5: Tweet.


John Quincy Adams TwitterConclusion

I started tweeting conference panels to help colleagues who could not attend the conference. However, the more I have tweeted and interacted with non-conference attendees, the more I have realized that conference tweets don’t just help fellow historians catch a glimpse of the ideas being discussed, they help anyone interested in history gain insight into the inner-workings of the historical profession. This is an aspect of conference tweeting that the profession should welcome. The more people who understand what we do and why our work is important, the easier time history departments and organizations will have finding funding and students.

Share Your Tips!

Do you live-tweet conference panels? Do you have helpful tips to share?


Conference Note Taking: Is there a Goldilocks Method?

Boogie Board SHEAR Promoted Post

What tools do you use to take notes at conferences?

You may recall that I am a huge fan of Boogie Board Sync, an eWriter that has the tactile feel of pen and paper and saves directly to Evernote. Over the last month, I have taken my Boogie Board to two conferences with the hope that I had stumbled upon the perfect conference note taking tool.

In this post, I share my experiences using my Boogie Board Sync at professional conferences and why I think the eWriter is an extremely useful tool for historians.


The Search for the Perfect Conference Note Taking Surface

Legal Pads

Have you ever gone to a conference and tried to take notes on a legal pad?

Legal pads and pens served as my first conference note taking tools. They seemed like the perfect choice: dark ink and a paper pad that doubled as a sturdy writing surface. However, by the end of my first conference these note taking implements had let me down.

Legal pads involve noisy page turns. Its writing surface becomes flimsy the closer you get to the end of the pad.

Frustrated, I took a [simpleazon-link asin="8883701127" locale="us"]Moleskine classic notebook[/simpleazon-link] to my second conference.

Sturdy Notebooks

800px-Moleskine_-_03Moleskine notebooks provide a sturdier writing surface than a legal pad, but they can be difficult to keep flat as you write.

Every time I approached the middle of the notebook the binding caved in and changed the angle of my writing surface. As a person who maintains their focus and processes information best when writing, I take a lot of notes and I take them fast. The frequent change in writing angle annoyed me as it slowed my ability to jot down notes quickly.

Despite this flaw, and the fact that I had to replace my notebook every fourth conference, I continued to take notes in a Moleskine until two or three years ago, when it became socially acceptable to use laptops at conferences.



Taking notes with my laptop has made my life easier. As I type faster than I hand write notes, my laptop allows me to capture more information. It also has the advantage of providing me with a sturdy writing surface with endless amounts of virtual paper.

Taking notes with my laptop has also ensured that I remember and find my notes when I need them.

I type my notes into Evernote, my digital filing cabinet. Every time I perform a keyword search, Evernote pulls up relevant information that I have stored in the app. This information includes notes I have taken at conferences.

With that said, recording notes on my laptop has not been a perfect solution. Although my Macbook Air has a quiet keyboard, those who sit next to me hear the soft clicking of keyboard keys as I type.

Additionally, I have short arms. I often place my backpack on my lap and prop my laptop on top of my backpack in order to type comfortably. This tower of stuff provides a comfortable typing angle, but often means a slight shift in leg position can turn my writing surface into a wobbly mess.


Boogie Board Sync

Boogie Board on Lap

In June and July, I tried taking conference notes on my Boogie Board Sync.

Like my laptop, my Boogie Board never runs out of paper and it can save my notes directly to Evernote. Unlike my laptop there is no audible clicking of the keys and the writing surface is wide enough that I can comfortably take notes with the surface resting on my lap or knee should I cross my legs.

However, like my other note-taking tools, Boogie Board has its drawbacks. First, you may mark the writing surface if you wear a watch or bracelet below your writing hand. The marks will erase when you press the “erase” button, but sometimes the marks can interfere with the clarity of your notes when you sync them to Evernote.

Second, Boogie Board does not assist with tweeting.

When I type notes into my laptop that seem tweetable, I cut and paste the information into my Twitter app and tweet them.

When I take tweetable notes on my Boogie Board, I have to snap the stylus back into the Boogie Board, pull out my smartphone, and type the information I want to tweet into my Twitter app.

The extra steps that tweeting from Boogie Board requires means I might miss important information if I live tweet a panel. Therefore, when I take notes with my Boogie Board, I often wait until a break in the Q & A, or until after the panel, to tweet.

Boogie Board Writing


Until I find a “Goldilocks” note taking tool, I will alternate between my laptop and [simpleazon-link asin="B00E8CIGCA" locale="us"]Boogie Board[/simpleazon-link].

I will use my laptop when I want to live tweet a panel. I will use my Boogie Board when a room lacks WiFi, good cell signal, or I want to attend a panel without tweeting.

I will also carry my Boogie Board to every conference I attend, even if I plan on using my laptop. Boogie Board's long battery life ensures that if my laptop runs out of power, I won’t be without a great note taking device.


Share Your Story

What is your preferred conference note taking method?


First Step to Publishing: Network to Build Relationships, Guest Post by John Wilsey

John Wilsey teaches history and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of [amazon_link id="1608997928" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America[/amazon_link] and blogs at Successful-Guy“How can I get my ideas published in book form?”

This burning question can sometimes animate a young scholar’s mind, body, and soul for months, sometimes years.

For most new Ph.D.s, the dissertation represents the deepest and widest river of writing and scholarship they have ever crossed.

Therefore, the question of how a new Ph.D. can get their dissertation published is not only natural, it is expected.

In my experience, personal and professional connections go a long way toward getting your revised dissertation published.


Questions to Ask Before You Network

Just as significant to these connections are the questions that young scholars should ask themselves:

  • Whom do I know?
  • Do people respect my work?
  • Do others like me on a personal level?
  • Am I willing to ask my connections for help?
  • How willing am I to market myself to people who do not know me?
  • Am I willing to adapt my work, within sensible limits, to see it published?

Think first about the obvious question—to whom are you willing to entrust your intellectual baby?

A university press might be the natural choice for your work.

Perhaps a trade press is the best fit.

Only you can decide whom you are willing to entrust with your intellectual property and regardless of the choice you make, it will be important for you to establish a personal connection with potential publishers.

Thoughtful-WomanHow Do I Establish Personal Connections?

Attend academic conferences and present conference papers.

If you are not in the practice of at least attending one conference in your field, I have simple advice: Start.


Meet Scholars

Conferences are the best way to meet fellow scholars who work in your field.

You need to build relationships with your colleagues, even those with whom you disagree.

Presenting a conference paper allows you to formally introduce yourself and your research to other scholars.


Meet Publishers

Use the conference website or program to find out which publishers will be present at the book tables.

Look upon most these presses as potential publishers of your work.


Don’t Discount Small Publishers

Don’t be proud or closed-minded. Many small imprints are growing in size and sophistication.

For some, small imprints may be your only option.

Many scholars dismiss small imprints usually because they think their work is too good for them.

Remember: pride goeth before destruction—and obscurity.


CalendarMake Appointments with Acquisitions Editors

Make appointments with acquisitions editors two weeks or so ahead of the conference.

Search for the names and e-mail addresses of editors on press websites.

If possible, e-mail editors directly.

Request an appointment in a concise letter that explains your thesis in one sentence.

You might also attach your book proposal and a copy of your CV so the editor can see what you are offering.

You might have to send a letter as a general inquiry.

No problem. Just do it. The worst that happens is you get no response.

Be sure to bring a hard copy of your book proposal, your sample chapter, and CV when you meet for your appointment.

If possible, make appointments with as many of the editors as possible.

The more editors you meet, the more likely one of them will be interested in your work.


Set Realistic Expectations for Meetings

Keep your expectations realistic.

Few will offer you a contract on your first meeting, but the first meeting will establish a first impression, which is the most important one.

The best you can expect is to meet an editor (or two, or three perhaps) who is genuinely interested in your work and willing to start the process of formal consideration by taking your proposal to a committee.

The least you can expect is everyone rejects your work.

If this happens, keep a positive attitude. You will have gained valuable experience by establishing contacts and founding relationships among editors, which is pure gold.


publishing contractKeep a Positive Attitude

Editorial contacts have enormous potential, and if you are winsome, respectful, and willing to reasonably adjust your work to meet an editor’s standards, there is hope.

An editor who rejects your work may forward your proposal to another editor, just because she liked you.

Attitude is everything.

Go into every meeting convinced that someone will publish your work; maybe not the publisher you meet with, but someone.

Confidence—with humility, and a willingness to listen—go a long way.


Share-Your-StoryWhat Do You Think?

How did you find your publisher?

Interested in Sharing Your Wisdom on Uncommonplace Book? Email your post ideas to  lizcovart[AT]mac[DOT]com.