I Could Never Give a History Paper

13 Mar

I’ve attended enough Medieval Conferences by now, mostly Kalamazoo but occasionally others, to recognize that papers given at these conferences are very different from those I deliver. In fact, what I do would not be considered giving a paper at all but making a presentation.

I’m a pretty decent presenter. When I know my topic I can get on a roll. I use a lot of humor, usually try to throw up some entertaining images and try to keep people engaged. Bill Caraher posted some advice on giving papers which shows me how very far off base I would be and why I have always, when asked (yes, it has happened) if I’d be interested in giving a paper at Kalamazoo, I have said no. My explanation has traditionally been that this is vacation for me and that sounds like work and while that’s a bit of it, of equal or greater importance is due to my knowing that my paper wouldn’t be very good.

Part of this is that for the most part when I present, I’m not delivering an argument to a group of my peers but providing information to people who are less knowledgeable about something. Occasionally this will include detailed concepts, for example in discussing guidelines for developing emergency management capacity within a community to care for animals during a disaster (math combined with a hazard analysis here), but keeping it entertaining, not entertaining through argument, is one of my goals. I’ll echo one statement of his as it’s a peeve of mine. I don’t care what the purpose of your presentation/paper is; NEVER read from your powerpoint. If you’re going to do that you might as well just give each of us a copy and save everyone some time.


Yes, it’s true – I use this image when I give talks about the value of planning (more specifically about what can happen when you fail to plan).

I’ve gotten decent at evaluating the historical arguments of others when I make sure I pay close attention. But constructing an argument myself? I am not trained in doing that and wouldn’t dream of trying to present one to a group of trained historians. I’ll stick to trying to figure out what others are saying and now and then explain why I think an aspect of history is interesting, fun and exciting. That much I can handle.

My apologies for my recent lack of activity. Another period of being absolutely swamped. I have another ten days or so of the same and then it looks as if I’ll have a bit more time.


Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


7 responses to “I Could Never Give a History Paper

  1. Michelle Ziegler

    March 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Have you considered that what you do might be of use to them? Emergency management and agriculture management occurred in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Why not think about what you know that would contribute to the topics they are interested in. You don’t have to give a ‘history’ paper to to give a good presentation at Kzoo.

  2. Curt Emanuel

    March 14, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Thanks Michelle. A couple of other areas I’ve found interesting are urban planning – lots of info about later medieval London and I imagine other cities as well if I started digging – and animal breeding (my BS is in Animal Science). But I’d still prefer to go to a conference to sit and watch.

  3. beverlyjennings

    March 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Hi Curt,
    I enjoy reading your blog and hope you can attend Kalamazoo this year. I have wanted to attend for MANY years and this year may actually get there! But I’m with you – never to give a paper. Just to enjoy attending sessions and being a part of it all, without having to do any work. And the books, I can’t wait to see the book sellers.

  4. Curt Emanuel

    March 18, 2013 at 6:57 am

    Thanks. I’m pretty sure I won’t get there this time. There are a couple of things that could possibly not happen, including the US government continuing operations past April 1, which would change that but I’m fairly sure I won’t be able to take the time off just then. Enjoy yourself there and the books are awesome. I’m tempted to register just to run up there Sunday morning and see what’s available.

  5. Kate Maxwell

    May 24, 2013 at 9:34 am

    I too had to miss Kalamazoo next year, sigh, though my name was in the program. Such is life. I fully intend to go next year, and hope to see you there at a Machaut session.
    And I have to say this is a very impressive blog. Geek status duly awarded (in my eyes at least). If I can tempt you over to the fourteenth century do let me know. In any case, you are hereby followed.

    • Curt Emanuel

      May 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you for your comment. The whole Medieval period fascinates me. Actually history in general fascinates me. I just had to pick something to concentrate on. I’m planning to be there myself next year. Hopefully I can avoid starting a major project two weeks before. Seems a shame to miss it when I’m just a short drive away.


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