I’m a little intimidated to try and blog about this year’s NAVSA. We’ve talked here about the pleasures of going to smaller conferences–two of my favourites are the CUNY Annual Victorian Conference and NVSA. Posting about those is never too bad, because usually you’ve seen most of the panels, so you have some small claim to authority. But NAVSA is huge! This year I think there were around 500 participants and up to twelve consecutive panels over ten sessions, not to mention networking lunches and workshops! So, my post here is a small snippet, feel free to chime in in the comments as it’s entirely likely that people experienced entirely different NAVSAs.
First of all, this year’s NAVSA was probably held in the most beautiful conference center I’ve ever been to, Monona Terrace, a Frank Lloyd Wright building overlooking Lake Monona. And the late September weather was perfect in Madison–complete with an autumnal farmer’s market on Saturday morning. There were a number of ways (as always) that people could take the networking theme. I liked hearing about technological networks (the telegraph, the postal service), and how their forms might relate to literary forms, and was particularly drawn to work being done on kinship and publishing networks.
I’ll concentrate my post though, on what I think was a new feature of the conference, the “networking lunches.” These had several themes (from animals to religion), and you didn’t need to sign up beforehand, which I thought was great. I went to the one on the digital humanities led by Dino Felluga and Andrew Stauffer. As we ate our boxed lunches, we were introduced to some great DH tools, including Juxta (a collating tool that allows scholars to compare versions of a text), Neatline (which does geo-temporal visualization–they have a neat plugin with Omeka which I’m struggling to get going on my nineteenth century disability reader right now, but I’m sure the struggle is my fault, not theirs!), BRANCH (a really cool timeline with free peer-reviewed articles on various event in the long 19th-century, which I will use the next time I teach), and Prism. Prism is really brand new, a tool for the crowd-sourced interpretation of texts. Users can highlight say, all the parts of a text that they think have to do with a certain theme. The program collates user’s responses to a text so you can see what most people thought. I think this would be really fun to use in a class. I would love to have twenty students mark up a sonnet for ten minutes and then visualize and discuss their responses. I thought this networking lunch was a great success. It was casual enough that participants felt they could interject and ask questions, but also structured enough that we really learned something.
At the end of NAVSA, I realized that there are strategies to attending a larger conference that go beyond marking which panels you plan to attend. With so many participants, even during the generous half hour coffee breaks (totally necessary to have good breaks, by the way, they make a conference so much more pleasant!) I couldn’t find everyone I wanted to meet or catch up with. I did manage to have some really good catch up time with a close friend from grad school and to meet some Ontario scholars interested in the digital humanities through my advisor. But there were at least two people (including the Floating Academy’s own Fiona Coll! and contributors to the special issue on Dinah Mulock Craik that I just edited) who I would have loved to have a coffee with, and somehow the whole conference went by without it happening. Such a bummer. I saw that some senior scholars had coffee dates lined up in advance. I’m going to have to take note and do this in the future so that I’m not flying back home wishing I had gotten to talk more to a friend or colleague.