Conference Crunch Time

So as I have probably mentioned too many times, I am currently part of a small team organising a conference. We have been working on this for such a long time I can’t believe that the time has come: the conference starts today! In this post I want to talk a little about the process of putting on a conference, the lessons we’ve learned along the way, and what I am most excited about for the next few days! If you are thinking about organising a conference yourself, hopefully this will be of some use. It has been a primarily positive and exciting process, but we’ve certainly been surprised by a couple of the hurdles that have come our way.

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Some of the WTOS Team, including our secretary Birdie.

Our conference is called War Through Other Stuff (WTOS) and it focuses on non-military, non-traditional interpretations of conflict. Our programme contains 14 panels comprising 42 speakers, 1 keynote, a panel debate, poster presentations, a film screening and a ‘museum late’, all over three days. Our speakers are coming from across the UK and Ireland, Germany, Lapland and Finland. We are sponsored by SGSAH and the Chalke Valley History Trust, with support from Filmhouse, The University of Edinburgh and the Museum of Edinburgh. In short, we have given ourselves a lot to do.

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WTOS in the Filmhouse programme, and our conference lanyards! (aka swag)

I am really excited to be giving a paper myself at the conference. It took a while for us to make this decision; we weren’t sure if it was appropriate for us to give ourselves a paper slot when we had asked others to apply. But the reason the conference is happening is because the organising team were all excited about the links between our apparently disparate PhD projects, and it would feel like a wasted opportunity not to take part ourselves! My paper is titled: ‘War Jewels’: Emotive Objects & First World War Fashion. I’m taking the opportunity to cherry-pick some of my favourite examples of fascinating objects from within my research that don’t necessarily fit elsewhere. This is what my co-organiser Laura calls a potpourri paper. (Patent pending).

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Putting our panels together, aided by minstrels.

One of our speakers, Hanna Smyth, recently wrote a great blog post on organising a conference for Pubs & Pubs, which you can read here. She has a lot of the main points covered, but here are some of my other takeaways from planning a conference!

  • Social media is powerful and brilliant, and free. We utilised our Twitter account carefully, and ended up getting a lot of attention with no indent on the budget. We targeted relevant academic departments in Scotland more directly, but otherwise all interest came from social media. We were totally overwhelmed by the number of submissions we eventually received, and the tickets very nearly sold out!
  • Pick your team carefully. We have been so lucky that stress has been fairly low in the entire conference planning process, but I think this has a lot to do with the fact that we work well together as a team. We are all busy people, but we’ve picked up work from each other at times of particular stress, illness or panic. We rotate our meeting locations, play to our strengths, and always have good snacks
  • Grow a thicker skin. Like most people, I hate conflict, criticism or any kind of negative feedback. Contacting people under the guise of your conference, people sometimes forget that there is a human at the other end of the email. Reactions to a delayed reply, paper rejection or organisational mishap can feel personal, but they (usually) aren’t.
  • Leave time to write your own paper!! (I really cannot stress this point enough. Write it. Write it now.)

Apologies for the slightly short post today, and see you on the other side!

You can follow the goings-on at the War Through Other Stuff conference by following us on Twitter @stuffofwar and the #WTOS17 hashtag. Find out about other SGSAH funded opportunities here! I’m particularly excited about the Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland work-in-progress workshop which sounds brilliant. 

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