This is the final post in a series about my experience at the OAH/NCPH 2012 Annual Meeting. I started out talking about some of the more "traditional" sessions I attended at the meeting and then highlighted a couple of the "non-traditional" sessions that I found particularly enjoyable. However, by far the most invaluable part of the trip to Milwaukee and attending NCPH 2012 was making connections with so many different people in the field.
This brings me to the single piece of advice I would offer to any grad student or new professional planning on attending a conference - especially a large one for your field. Take advantage of every opportunity offered to meet new people and have a new experience.
The first opportunity for me, was to sign up to be a volunteer at registration for the conference. Grad students could volunteer and have our registration fee waived (so a great way to save money as well!) Laura and I were assigned the unenviable time slot of 7:45 - 11:30am of the first day of the conference. As much as it pained us to get out of bed so early, after such a long drive the day before, what previously seemed like a necessary evil to save some money turned out to be one of the best experiences during the conference. Greeting members of both NCPH and OAH as they arrived, I had a chance to introduce myself, make contacts, and put names with faces of people that I wanted to hear speak. It turned out to be a great opener when talking with people later in the conference, "Didn't I meet you at check-in?" and even resulted in some consulting work for me!
NCPH provides grad students and new professionals attending NCPH annual meetings for the first time an opportunity to connect with conference veterans through the mentorship program. I signed up, and was paired with Mary Rizzo, Associate Director for the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. We exchanged a few emails leading up to the conference, and then planned to meet at the opening reception the first day of the conference. Mary was enthusiastic and easy to talk to, and introduced me to several other people at the reception. We talked a bit about how we each got into public history, our roles in NCPH, and Philadelphia (we both love the city!) I felt fortunate to have such a great pairing in the Mentor Program, because Mary had just as many questions for me as a new member of NCPH (she is a board member) as I had for her, a veteran in the field. It made me feel that NCPH is concerned with meeting the needs of its members (which can be tricky for such as diverse field.)
Women in the Historical Profession Luncheon
The conference offered many opportunities specifically for grad students, and one was free tickets (on a first come, first serve basis) the the Women in the Historical Profession luncheon. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to network (and - let's be honest - get a free meal) Adriana, Laura, and I signed up. This event was hosted by an Organization of American Historians (OAH) committee (it was a joint OAH/NCPH meeting.) This was a change of pace for us, as most of the functions we had been attending were geared toward NCPH members (though some were for both organizations, like the opening reception.) The three of us found ourselves at a lunch table with professors, authors, and traditional history PhD students. I had a nice chat with a professor next to me about the UWO Public History program and what I planned on doing once I finished with my MA. While it was a good opportunity to talk with people at the conference I likely wouldn't have otherwise met, it was also a bit of a reminder of why I am in public history as opposed to more 'traditional' history.
Overall, the conference was an amazing experience, and this was mostly a result of the people I listened to/talked with/met while I was in Milwaukee (as well as the fabulous people I traveled to the meeting with!) It gave me a feel for what I dynamic organization NCPH is, and that is because of the diverse membership. This was a wonderful opportunity, and I would recommend attending an annual meeting to anyone in the public history field.
Come to Ottawa in April for NCPH 2013!