Reflections on #RRCHNM20

I always know I chose the right profession when conference season comes around.  I get excited for conferences like children get excited for Christmas and  every year I plan my schedule around them.  When I found out that the Roy Rosenzweig Center or History and New Media 20th anniversary conference landed on my birthday this year, it seemed appropriate.

However, the RRCHNM20 was unlike any history conference that I’d ever been to before.  At times I was mesmerized by the conference and other times I felt like a complete deer in the headlights.  I was expecting it to be like all of the other conferences that I attended and presented at in the past, where there was a fixed schedule of rooms full of people who stared at the speakers and nodded their heads constantly.  This definitely was not the environment of my first digital history conference and–in a way–  it was a lot more refreshing.  Having the ability to have a say in what panels would be presented that day by voting in between sessions and watching the audience live tweet intently made me fell like I was a part of something more important and like my opinion mattered along with everyone else’s.

The sessions I attended dealt with subjects that affect the world of digital history and the entire historical community.  How do we fight the cultural constructs of gender in our field and give women the same respect as men in centers?  How do we collaborate more with public historians and museums in order to reach larger audiences?  Perhaps one of the most important: how to we get the funds to accomplish all of these goals?  These sessions were encouraging and inspiring because at time it felt like a digital history summit to take over the world instead of listening to panels with three different interpretations of the exact same subject.  It was refreshing and terrifying.

The conference reminded me exactly how new I am to digital history and that while I’ve learned so much in one semester (thanks to RRCHNM) that I still have a long way to go in the field before I truly understand enough to feel comfortable making assertions in panels or offering my own opinions in front of the digital historians whose articles I’ve read in class.  I felt very much like a green horn, especially after Dr. Robertson turned on the large screen in the conference room with the live #RRCHNM20 tweets.  All of a sudden my 20 tweets a minute turned into 2 tweets an hour because I realized these digital history giants would be reading my Twitter banter.  I started questioning whether on not I had to right to comment on digital history when so many people in the room had built its foundations.

While my own fears got the best of me at times, I was constantly surprised and comforted by the amount of the support in the sessions and throughout the conference.  I was approached by many digital historians who knew that I had the words “graduate student” tattooed on my forehead.  Many people asked me questions about my research, the support I’d received from RRCHNM, and why I chose George Mason.  It was fun to explain that I’d chosen George Mason because of RRCHNM and how I wanted to become a part of something bigger in our field and I knew digital history was what would get me there.  The digital historians at the conference made me feel –even though I had my own concerns over how much I actually knew–that I belonged in this group of tech-savy historians.

The conference also reminded me how lucky I am to be at RRCHNM.  Listening to all of the stories about Roy, his legacy and what that means to digital history, left the biggest impression of what exactly I am a part of.  I go to work every day for a center that not only changes our conceptions of history, but reaches audiences at the academic, public, and international level with our projects and tools.  RRCHNM’s 20th anniversary conference has reminded me of why I got into history into the first place.  It’s all about changing the way we view our pasts and teaching to large audiences.

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