Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Berks

Well, I got my rejection email from the Berkshire Conference of Women's Historians yesterday. This was the third time I had submitted a panel and the third time it has been rejected. It is a good thing that I don't evaluate my entire career on whether or not I am accepted by women's historians - because I am quite certain I would have given up and become computer programmer if I did.

I am sure there are some historians out there who are thinking 'buck up- maybe your proposals are just not that good.' Okay, MAYBE, but similar proposals were good enough for me to present at other national conferences. I've been to the AHA three times, they love me at SHAFR, at PHS conferences there is standing-room only available at my sessions (this last one is a lie - about the standing room only - but my proposals have been accepted at PHS conferences regularly since 2000).

So what is the problem with me and the Berks? As far as I can tell, it is that I'm not 'edgy' enough. I write traditional history about women, women who are involved in politics and foreign policy. I can just imagine how my proposals have been viewed by the program committee.

Committee member 1: Oh, another proposal for a session on the historical importance of the clitoris.

Committee member 2: Haven't we already accepted proposals about 'The History of the Vagina' and 'The Origins of Foreplay?'

Committee member 3: Yes, but a scholarly discussion of the clitoris is so much different than those other panels.

Committee member 1: Very true. Are we all agreed it is in? (general nodding ensues) Good. Next?

Committee member 2: I have a proposal about women's involvement in U.S. diplomacy prior to the 1960s.

Committee member 3: Political history? How very 1970s! (everyone laughs and then my proposal gets thrown in the trash can without further discussion.)

This must be how military historians feel.

Of course to add insult to injury, the form rejection letter the Berkshire Program Committee sent was from 2005 - first line reads: Thank you for your submission to the 2005 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians.

I think I'll write back and let them know that luckily I didn't apply for the 2005 Conference, but to let me know when they get around to rejecting my 2008 proposal.


Tim Lacy said...

Ah, the frustrations of scholarly life! That stinks. And there's nothing like a "well-written" rejection letter to raise one's hackles.

But don't give them the satisfaction. They want you to be disappointed because they want to be the conference to which everyone aspires. By lamenting here, you're playing the game on their terms.

Besides, based on your mocking, do you really want to be there? It would seem not.

Hang in there! - TL

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice thoughts Tim. There is probably nothing worse than an academic scorned. I still hold a grudge against the history department that turned me down for its Ph.D. program 15 years ago.

I don't really think that Berks Program Committee are awful, but I do think they dislike political/diplomatic history. I'll just be bitter for a couple of days then get over it - more or less.

Oh yea, at the bottom of the rejection letter the Berks people were like 'We hope to still see your in Minneapolis!' - not bloody likely.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. History

Sorry to hear about your rejection letters. I just wanted you to know that I've been reading your blog for over half a year already and I have finally decided to post a comment. Does it help professors to be accepted/be part of these conferences to gain a better slot for tenure? I always thought professors had to publish certain # of papers/books --- I am currently a grad student in History (MA) and I'm trying to explore every nitty gritty detail of what professors should/need to do in order to become fully recognized. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Funny post! Sorry to hear about the rejection, but you really made me laugh with this post.

Ann said...

I'm sorry to contact you this way--I looked in vain for a private e-mail address, and I don't want to violate your anonymity by looking through my files from the Berks applications.

I am the U.S. and Canadian History co-chair of the 2008 Berks, and I'm very sorry that your panel wasn't accepted. It's the same story everywhere: too many great applications, and too few places on the program to accomodate anyone. You are in excellent company--I myself have a 50% rejection rate for Berks applications before working for the 2008 conference. (There are zero papers or panels on clitorises, although the history of the body is big this year.) Every proposal was reviewed by 2 sub-committee members who were very respectful of other people's scholarship and grateful for their interest in presenting at our conference. You can check the program on-line now at berks.umn.edu.)

Contrary to Tim Lacy's point, we don't take any satisfaction in keeping people out of our conference (although I understand the supportive sentiment that motivated his comment). We have expanded the conference enormously in the past several years to include nearly 1,100 people on the program this year. This is a huge conference, especially considering that we are an all-volunteer organization, and don't have the paid staff that the OAH and AHA rely on. This is perhaps the most limiting factor, and the numbers of disappointed people we must turn away suggest that there is a LOT more interest in women's history than a triennial conference can accomodate. My wish is that more women's history conferences would blossom, but realistically the service load that most women faculty carry mitigates against their creating new organizations. (Still, there must be time and energy that we could spare to create a series of regional or more topically-focused women's history conferences.)

Finally, you are right to feel insulted at getting a rejection letter for the 2005 conference--that was an inexcusable oversight on our part--and you're right to mock us out for it! You'll have to take it on faith that not one but at least 3 Ph.D.'s proofread that letter, and none of us caught the glaring error embedded within. (Maybe it was just my way of allowing people who received that letter to feel superior to me? Anyway, I'm sure you're not the only one who noted the error gleefully.)

Incidentally, I found your blog because we at the Berks are assembling a list of women's history blogs, and I did a search on blogs that mentioned the Berkshire Conference to see if there are any Berks bloggers out there. If you would be interested in having your blog listed with the Berks, please contact me directly at my university e-mail address.

Ann M. Little
Associate Professor,
Colorado State University