July 26, 2010 by Lo
This past weekend was my first SHEAR (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic). conference. It was a wonderful experience both in a personal and a history sense; I had a good time and it was intellectually exciting as well. The conference was better attended, and had more panels of a higher average quality, I think, than the Omohundro conference I attended in June (which was nonetheless also fun, and which I’ll write up in a separate post).
One good thing was the presence of advisor Sean Wilentz, who not only sat front and center for both my paper and that of my colleague and fellow Wilentz student Dael Norwood, but delivered a very moving tribute to his friend Paul Johnson, as part of a six-scholar Johnson festschrift which took place at a dramatic location in downtown Rochester with the High Falls of the Genesee, which figure prominently in one of Johnson’s books, directly in the background.
Another good thing was that my paper on Edward Livingston and the Batture, which to me was the barest of bare outlines of the Batture controversy, went over reasonably well and got me a lot of good positive feedback. Not only that, but the other papers on my panel were also high quality, and the three papers were more thematically coherent (all dealing with land speculation) than is often the case with these conference panels.
I also really enjoyed the panels that I went to as a member of the audience, which included one on the politics of slavery in the antebellum period, one on anti-abolitionist agitation, one on language and print culture, one (Dael’s) on the “problems of peace” after the War of 1812, and one on “anglophobia” (a term I don’t really like) in the early republic. Not every paper I saw was great, but some were really interesting, the overall quality level was very high, and every paper gave me something, at least, to think about.
Seeing these panels and participating in the discussions was also a great way to come out of my year-long Louisiana history cocoon. Buried in archives working on one’s own project it is all too easy to forget what a wide field of historical work is out there (even in the narrow subfield of the early national period). Scholars have to balance expertise in their own research areas with a broad familiarity with the themes and debates of their broader field and SHEAR was a great way to get back into doing that.
Finally, I enjoyed the schmoozing and meeting people that is a big part of these conferences. I met quite a lot of people from fellow grad students to senior scholars, and talking with all these very smart people, all engaged in interesting research, and all so knowledgeable about history and historiography, and many very quirky personally, as well, is one of the treats of being in this line of work. I’ll list a few names of people just because I need to follow up with them via email about one thing or another: Sungho Ha, from University of Alaska; Chris Clark (roots of rural Capitalism); Jeff Looney, senior editor of the Jefferson Papers retirement series; Paul Johnson; and Andrew Burstein of LSU. (Not to mention how good it was to see Sean, Dael, and my co-panelists Susan Stearns and Adam Constanzo!)