Virtual Conferencing

Yesterday’s conference sessions were really interesting. Yesterday was a pretty good day all around. My lunchtime program for the museum with our guest speaker went very well. This was my first time hosting a virtual event like this with another speaker. I introduced the speaker. I had written a nice introduction if I do say so myself. The speaker gave a fascinating talk on women warriors through history, and when it came time for the Q&A portion, I came back on the screen and acted as a moderator, having some lovely banter with the speaker. All in all, I don’t really think it could have gone any better.

The only hiccup in the day was that for some reason, the desktop computer in my office would not let me load the conference webpage, but that wasn’t too bad because it meant I had to go home early and participate in the conference on my laptop at home. I will be leaving early today to do the same thing. Today’s sessions are not as attractive as yesterday’s, but they may surprise me. Today, there is one on publishing books based on oral histories and then a session on museums and oral histories. The plenary session (a session of a conference which all members of all parties are to attend) will be a live oral history interview, which might be interesting, but we will see. I’ve watched people conduct oral history interviews before, so it might be interesting to see someone else’s techniques.

The thing about all conferences is that in the conference program, they list all of the sessions with a title, a description, and a list of the participants. As a general rule, you can only count on the list of participants being correct. Session titles and descriptions never convey what the session is actually going to be about because when you propose a session, you send in an abstract. Then you have basically until the conference to write your paper. I think most people who have ever written anything will say that the end product is rarely what you initially imagined it would be. At least, that is how it is for me. Even with these blog posts, they have a life of their own once I start writing. My first session yesterday was like that. The description didn’t convey what the session was about, and it ended up being about highly technical issues, which quite frankly went over my head. I should have realized that because I have seen one of the speakers present numerous times, he is always over my head with the technology and programs he is discussing.

The other session, though, was one of the few that lived up to its description. I was about the Human Rights Campaign Oral History Project at Columbia University. Something happened at the beginning of the session that surprised me and probably would not have occurred if it had been in person and not virtual. I logged onto the session a few minutes early so that I wouldn’t miss anything. I did not expect that the lead facilitator for the panel would start up a conversation with me. It caught me off guard, and I had to scramble to turn on my microphone to answer him. We had a friendly little chat as everyone was setting up and getting ready. He also later gave a fascinating talk using some of the oral histories from the HRC project. If this had been an in-person session, I would have come in, sat down, and probably busied myself with my phone waiting for the session to begin. I have struck up conversations with someone sitting next to me at these things, but I have never had one of the presenters strike up a conversation with me. The exciting thing is that I would love to work on this oral history project about the HRC, especially if they were to delve into the campaign to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With my oral history and military history background, I would be well suited for that aspect of the project. Who knows, maybe I made a good contact yesterday.

As a general rule, whenever I mention who I studied under for my oral history training, people are inevitably impressed. One professor went on to become the head of a major oral history project in North Carolina and was on the board of the state’s oral history project. Another professor is now the head of the Baylor University Oral History Project, which, under his leadership, has become the most respected oral history program in the country. Both, I believe, were also past presidents of the OHA. My third professor is the Executive Director of the OHA Executive Office. In the history field, it’s not always about where you studied or where you work, but about who you studied under, and I studied under three of the best.

One of the things I enjoy about the OHA’s Annual Meeting is that I never feel out of place or out of my depth. Yes, some of the technical issues about website design and such is a bit over my head. I am not a computer science person, though I know my way around a computer for the most part. However, when it comes to oral history, I do know my stuff. I have researched legal aspects of the discipline, best practices, and methodologies. I have taught oral history workshops, and I give an annual lecture to my current university’s historical methods class on oral history and its importance. I don’t often toot my own horn, but I am very knowledgeable about oral history. There are still things to learn because no matter what your field of study is, there is always more to learn. What I am saying is, I feel confident when I discuss oral history. I can’t always say that about other things.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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