Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘academia’

This week I attended the online SHARP 2021 book history conference. SHARP is the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, and holds annual academic conferences for book historians. Usually these are held face to face, and I have attended many of them in the past. But this year, because of the Covid pandemic, it was a fully online conference, hosted by the University of Muenster. The conference ran over five days, from Monday 26th July 2021 to Friday 30th July 2021, with often very packed days of parallel sessions, up to 12 hours or so each day.

I was particularly grateful for the conference being online because due to my progressive neurological disease it is now increasingly difficult for me to attend face to face conferences, even those held relatively nearby to me. It may also not be feasible for me to travel to attend any more international ones, given how knocked out I am from my brain disease, the logistics of getting there and extra costs/difficulties of attending with a helper, and problems re wheelchair access.

Even so I could only attend a small fraction of the time available to attendees, being knocked out sleeping for up to 18 hours a day due to my brain disease. Luckily I could attend from bed, in my pyjamas, with my iPad and headphones. Hence my not turning my camera on at any point when asking questions!

The conference programme was full of variety and interest, as well as some experimentation in the format of panels. There were quite a lot of 5-1-5 panels where 5 speakers would each speak for 5 minutes about a single slide per speaker before a Q&A. I must admit that I was initially rather baffled at the start of the week by what 5-1-5 meant, and ended up going back to the conference’s original call for papers for clarification! Generally though I tuned in for 60 minute panels with 2 speakers (the conference’s 60 minute variant on the more traditional 90 minute panels with 3 speakers), where each would speak for 20 minutes, before usually a lively Q&A with the audience. All handled by a chair – always very effectively in my experience at SHARP 2021. I must also praise the speakers for running admirably to time, allowing lots of time for audience participation.

The conference’s primary online delivery method was Zoom, with up to 4 rooms used simultaneously for individual sessions. Generally this worked well for me, tuning in on my iPad. Though I had some hiccups on day 2 getting into the relevant room, with initial passcode errors. So I missed the first 25 minutes of that panel, but fortunately caught most of a talk I was particularly keen to see. Online conferencing can sometimes seem very impersonal, but I found it very effective for following speakers and their slides, and for good Q&A sessions afterwards. There was also a lively text chat section available during each session, which was well utilised by audience members to make comments on points mentioned, share references and knowledge, and to ask questions. Other questions were asked live via webcam/microphone as appropriate.

The range of participants at SHARP conferences is always varied, and unusually welcoming to young scholars. But I felt this online version was particularly wide ranging in the people taking part. It was especially nice to see many questions being asked by PhD students, as well as PhD and Masters students presenting their work at the conference alongside more established academics. There was throughout a very strong sense of camaraderie and willingness to help and share information and knowledge, which was very much appreciated.

Most of the sessions were held live and not recorded, so had to be watched at the scheduled time or you’d have missed it. But a fair number were pre recorded, allowing conference attendees to watch when suitable, including throughout August. I even started watching two recorded panels on the Sunday before the conference officially started! This did not allow me to take part in live discussion with the presenters, but was an appreciated and welcome innovation. It probably also helped with some time zone and availability issues. Though it was very nice to see people attending from all around in the world, in multiple time zones. For example North Americans waking up to watch during the day in Europe while Antipodeans were staying up late to catch online panels live.

Over the week and my earlier pre-conference start I watched 9 panels. Topics covered were diverse, ranging over bookselling during a pandemic, biblioforensics and book biography, the early modern English book trade and copyright and stationer wills, dispersed libraries and library organisation (including Samuel Pepys!), the book trade in present day Mexico City and New Delhi, SHARP’s own journal Book History and its new paperback incarnation, new research into Scottish library borrowing registers (a project I’m involved with, having gifted some of my own transcripts of borrowing records from my many years ago PhD on historic Scottish reading habits), translating medieval/Renaissance books between English/Scots and Spanish and vice versa, and initiatives at the Bodleian library in Oxford re digitisation of material. All were fascinating for me, and again just a tiny fraction of the events on offer to attendees over the full 5 days of the conference.

For all the events I attended I was an avid viewer of the presentations. Often participating in the chat too, and asking questions in the panels, sometimes through the text chat, occasionally unmuting my microphone (but camera still off – pyjamas!) to discuss something more complex. Throughout I felt thoroughly engaged, inspired, and eager to do more research of my own, and learn more about some of the issues and topics I learned about during the conference.

A nice bonus is that attending the conference prompted me to rejoin SHARP. I have been a member for many years in the past, but drifted away in recent years, as my progressive disease was worsening quite dramatically. But I am still an active researcher of book history and reading history, and attending the conference inspired me to rejoin the society. The only question was whether I would rejoin with a Book History journal included. While attending the event discussing the new incarnation of the journal my mind was made up: get the new paperback journal! Plus I should add that the $38 reduced rate for students / independent scholars / retirees helped too!

Over the coming weeks – throughout August – I plan to watch more recorded panels and keynote sessions. I’m very much looking forward to this. Looking further ahead I hope that I can participate in SHARP conferences in future in some way, albeit remotely. I think it’s unlikely as I say that I can ever attend SHARP in person again. So I hope there will continue to be some online provision, even after most book historians have returned to a more normal way of working.

I also want to thank the organisers for an extremely well run event. I would particularly like to praise conference lead Corinna Norrick-Rühl, who valiantly helped me when I had connection problems. And she must have had so much else to deal with all week! I really appreciated the personal touch.

Read Full Post »

I have a guest post today on the Depressed Academics site, which is a place for academics, if they want to, to discuss mental health issues affecting them like depression and anxiety. I have the latter, and wrote about it at some length there. Partly to destigmatise the issue, partly because sharing my story may help others going through similar issues.

Read Full Post »

Early this morning I got a tweet from @TwBirthday to say it was my 5th Twitter birthday. I’d joined the site on 5th June 2008.

Initially I followed astronomy tweeters, such as the team behind the Mars Phoenix lander. I studied astronomy for two years as part of my science degree at St Andrews in the early 1990s, and would have continued to honours level had the university not just scrapped the joint honours Computer Science and Astronomy degree option (my husband would have too – he ended up choosing the space side, I went for the CS route). Then over time I followed others: fellow Call of Cthulhu gamers and enthusiasts, archivists and historians, professional writers (I find the writing process fascinating), and later computer scientists.

It’s been an interesting 5 years. I tweet a lot now myself, but mainly use Twitter as a source of finding out interesting new things. For example I often learn of relevant academic conferences through it, or interesting new archival resources. I also find it a good medium for chatting to people. For example I’ve been able to contact quite a few of my favourite authors with queries or comments, and get tweets back quickly from them: something that would have been impossible in the pre-Internet era.

I’m currently in the middle of analysing the 1000 or so tweet streams that I follow on Twitter, to see how they break down in terms of numbers of historians, archivists, gamers, astronomy, etc. I’m curious about this myself, and was able to extract the list of Tweeters I follow using BirdSong. Now I have a big spreadsheet that I’m slowly categorising, as the mood grabs me, to work out the numbers. It’s very similar to what I did during my PhD for books: having a big spreadsheet of titles, and categorising roughly by subject, then looking at the overall statistics.

Meanwhile I will close with some words I wrote here on 23rd May, in a blog post reflecting on the pros and cons of various social networks:

The most useful social network I find for following academics is Twitter. This only works for academics who tweet regularly, but I follow a lot of historians, and archivists, and many of them tweet about their research in progress, interesting conferences, and new publications. On the downside following these tweets takes time, regularly. I follow nearly 1000 people on Twitter (not just academics), and given how knocked out I am I can’t see all their tweets. But I put a bit of time in each day to follow them, using Flipboard on my iPad to browse hours of recent tweets in a nice way. And I find the time put in is well rewarded with the info I get back. I also tweet myself. I describe myself on Twitter as an “Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan”, which pretty much sums up the subject pattern of my tweets. But I find tweeting rewarding, and often make good contacts, and have good discussions on Twitter, with fellow academics and researchers.

Read Full Post »

I was having lunch yesterday with a friend, and something we were chatting about got me thinking about the pros and cons of different social networks for academics.

I’m an independent academic historian, unable to work in academia due to a progressive neurological disease, though I have an honorary research fellowship. So I’m essentially non-affiliated, and don’t have, for example, a departmental contact address.

Because of this I’ve made a conscious effort to set up an online presence for myself. I have a web page. You can tell I’m a former computer scientist: like most academic computer scientists it’s remarkably simple HTML coding, and looks quite retro. But it’s functional, and describes my credentials, and interests, and gives links to other things.

But I’ve also reached out to various social networks. Linkedin is nice for keeping a contact method with people I’ve known in the past and more recently. And I quite like getting the update emails, on people’s new jobs and so on. But I don’t find it very useful for keeping up to date with people’s research, and, for example, publications. I’ve found that most Linkedin members don’t update their profiles that often. It’s more a handy keep-a-contact method for me.

Academia.edu has often been lauded as the most appropriate social network for academics. But I find it the least useful. Again the problem is that most people don’t update their profiles that often. Also it tends to only favour completed research, where it’s been written up, and, for example, published as a paper. Research in progress is less likely to be mentioned. I do like the weekly emails I get telling me about new papers in my areas of interest. But even these are just a drop in the ocean, since most members on the site don’t update their profiles that much. And I don’t find following other academics has been terribly useful. I also don’t like the site’s tendency to over email. I’ve fiddled with my settings, so I no longer get an email every time someone looks at my profile etc. Oh and can I just note how irritating it is that I don’t seem to be able to set up a secondary affiliation for my honorary research fellowship. As soon as I do that it clobbers my primary independent academic status. And vice versa. Aarrgghh!

The most useful social network I find for following academics is Twitter. This only works for academics who tweet regularly, but I follow a lot of historians, and archivists, and many of them tweet about their research in progress, interesting conferences, and new publications. On the downside following these tweets takes time, regularly. I follow nearly 1000 people on Twitter (not just academics), and given how knocked out I am I can’t see all their tweets. But I put a bit of time in each day to follow them, using Flipboard on my iPad to browse hours of recent tweets in a nice way. And I find the time put in is well rewarded with the info I get back. I also tweet myself. I describe myself on Twitter as an “Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan”, which pretty much sums up the subject pattern of my tweets. But I find tweeting rewarding, and often make good contacts, and have good discussions on Twitter, with fellow academics and researchers.

I’m also on Google+, again as a sort of storefront for my academic identity. My Google+ profile is handy for linking to all my other online presences. But it’s a bit of a ghost site, and although I use it, and post to it, I don’t make many contacts with academics there.

The major social network I haven’t mentioned so far is Facebook. I don’t find that useful for being in touch with academics. It’s more for keeping in contact with friends and family. And of course it’s a closed network, not open to general readers unless they are Facebook members. Even then I have my settings set so only my Facebook friends can see my posts. It has a role, but not for academia for me.

For independent scholars like me I would strongly recommend cultivating an online presence. But, as I’ve argued, Twitter is likely to be the most useful academic social networking tool you can find, and the one that gives most rewards for the time you put into it. Even following a few key active academics in your field is likely to reap rewards.

Read Full Post »