Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In defense of one-day symposiums


I recently attended a one-day symposium at the University of Reading (Authors, Publishers and Readers: Selling and Distributing Literary Cultures, 1880-1940). It was a tremendous day. Andrew Nash and Nicola Wilson started with two excellent papers based on their research in the publisher’s archives at Reading. Dr. Nash focused on nineteenth-century writers who sold their copyright (despite being advised not to do so by the newly-created Society of Authors). Dr. Wilson talked about working-class writers published by the Hogarth Press and Chatto & Windus in the 1930s.

I then went to the “Genre and Marketing” panel. It was a pleasure to hear Kate Macdonald present her research on Hodder & Stoughton (a subject that reminded me of my days as an MA student, when I was working in the H&S archives at the Guildhall Library in London). Claire Battershill then talked about genre at the Hogarth Press. Claire is a PhD candidate in the prestigious book history program at the University of Toronto. Finally, Vincent Trott presented a very engaging paper on the War Books Boom. Vincent is working on his PhD dissertation at Open University.

During lunch, we had a discussion on the merits of one-day symposiums versus longer conferences. A young scholar said she avoids crossing the Atlantic to go to a conference (“simply not worth it”). Being based in Vancouver, I know how hard it is to get funding to travel to conferences. Many PhD students cannot afford to fly to a distant place and pay for four nights of accommodation. So one-day symposiums are a solution (at least for those who live in the South-East of England and other regions with extensive transport systems).

It is difficult to suffer from “conference fatigue” during a one-day symposium. The last panel of the day was composed of Shafquat Towheed, Mary Hammond and Nickianne Moody. Dr. Towheed talked about the Reading Experience Database, a helpful tool that Dr. Hammond used for her own project on the “photoplay” editions of popular novels. Finally, Dr. Moody presented her research on Boots Book-lovers’ Library. The main problem with one-day symposiums is that they are not longer…