I’m at SHOT 2012 in Copenhagen this week, the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, though I’m only halfway attending the conference. For the last two years, I have served on the Executive Council of the organization, and we met all day on Thursday. The conference itself started today, but besides from chairing one session on technology and propaganda, I have only hung out in the coffee area (the ceiling is depicted below) to watch my kids (who are here with us this week), talk to old and new friends, look at new books from the few presses who were present (the book exhibits are always much nicer at the US meetings), and to discuss a potential book project with an aquisitions editor from a university press. To me, this has become the real purpose of going to the main conferences in my field – listening to paper presentations in sessions is just something I do if a paper looks particularly interesting (this is different in smaller, more focused conferences, though).
I’ve come back to SHOT every year since the Amsterdam meeting in 2004 (where I met my wife!), and a significant part of my professional network grows out of my continued presence at this conference. The other graduate students I got to know back then are now gaining tenure one after another, working on exciting projects and driving the field forward (or sideways. Or in other directions – I did not mean to imply a linear progress story…). I think there is a good lesson here for young scholars wanting to get to know the key people in their field – just ignore whoever is important right now, get to know your cohort instead. They will be the key people in not too long! And you can be one, too!
On a side note, it’s been interesting to see how SHOT has continued to have a rather modest social media community, unlike for instance ASEH, where the Twitter backchannel was quite humming at the 2012 meeting. We have generally only been 4-5 SHOT people on Twitter, and the #SHOT2012 hashtag hasn’t seen all that much traffic. I wonder if this indicates a lack of excitement in the field, of scholars not all that interested in engaging with each other. Or are the SHOT conferences still small enough that people feel they can get a good enough overview and talk to all the people they want to in person? I don’t know what the answer is, but I suspect any change will have to come from the next generation of SHOT scholars.
Next year’s SHOT conference will be in Portland, Maine – I’m really looking forward to going there! New England is a rather unexplored area for me, except for my visit to Boston this spring.