Friday, November 25, 2005

Ralph on SBL

Ed Cook has a great post on the SBL:

Scattered Thoughts on AAR-SBL (Part II):
. . . . There's got to be a better method of absorbing new scholarship than listening to someone read a paper in a rapid monotone in a crowded, overheated room.
I quite agree.
I suggest, at the very least, these steps:
(1) Graduate students must submit to the session chairs a version of what they plan to present; if it's too long, it should be either rejected or returned to the applicant for revision. I say "grad students" because they were the principal offenders (although I hasten to add that I heard more than one excellent paper by grad students). The SBL should also provide training, either live or online, for those who wish to present at the annual meeting.
Great suggestions. In theory, all new presenters should submit their full papers at the proposal stage. But there is a problem with this. If you are looking at dozens of proposals, reading through dozens of full papers at submission is time-consuming. But I, for one, would be keen to see more quality control, and in the Synoptics section we have vetted full papers. An element of the problem, and this is something we have found repeatedly in hte Synoptics, is that we get a great looking proposal, with a good abstract, and it does not deliver on the day. But here, I think we could all learn from one another's mistakes and keep an eye out.

On the training, what a great idea!
(2) Each section or group should have its own website, where planning and organization can take place, including updates on the actual room location. Preliminary papers can also be posted there; or presenters can upload their handouts before the meeting.
Excellent suggestions. One of the things that has concerned me this year, and I have blogged on this, is the low profile for the sections and on-line papers (e.g. here). I don't know if I am being thick on this one, but I can't even find the general list of the sections and groups at the SBL.
(3) Insufficient use has been made up to now of recording or podcasting. It seems to me that there are plenty of low-tech options for recording and making presentations available after the meeting in MP3 or other formats. These could be made available on the section websites or through other means. This would help alleviate the problem of inattention (can one really listen to five papers in a row?), overcrowding (ever missed a paper because there was no room to sit down?), or scheduling (some of the sessions I was interested in took place at the same time as the CARG panel).
Another interesting suggestion. And so, finally, to the "biblioblogging" session:
— I enjoyed the Biblioblogging session, mainly because it was fun to see the actual human beings in meatspace who are responsible for the blogs I read daily. But here's a little two-part eyewitness test for you. (1) When the panel session began, what was the order of seating, starting from Mark Goodacre? My memory is that it was this: Mark Goodacre, Rick Brennan [sic], Stephen Carlson, Torrey Seland, Jim Davila, me (Ed Cook), Tim Bulkeley, AKMA, and Jim West. (2) When the question "How many here are bloggers?" was asked, what percentage (roughly) raised their hands? I feel that it was no more than 50%, but I believe Stephen Carlson has blogged that it was "almost everyone." Any other opinions?
On (1): yes, I think that's my memory. On (2), I would say 80%. I saw one or two indicating a half-way hover with their hands, i.e. they have a blog but don't update it regularly.


Mark Stephens said...

As a grad student, my own reflections on the SBL international meeting in June would be more nuanced. Many academics, IMHO, have zero idea how to communicate their ideas. They know how to research and to write papers, but as regards the all important rhetorical skill of delivery, that is sorely lacking. Grad students are simply following in their masters footsteps. The only reason I know how to communicate is because of my Christian context, where sermons are given, tight time schedules are adhered to, and clear and engaging speech is a must. Writing for a journal and writing for a speech are different skills, as is the art of using tone, emphasis, pace and the like. There is a reason many people fall asleep in lectures - they are boring. In fact, for many lectures, I just wish they would write the article and I would read it in my own time. These comments do not apply to everyone, and there are some absolute masters of presentation, but we need to give up on the idea that we are at present teaching people how to present in an oral context. If we are teaching it - it isn't working.

theswain said...

We have the same problem in medieval studies, but it certainly is not only a grad student problem. TO echo some of Mark's comments, the biggest problem is that most academics do not write the papers they present at conferences as papers meant for oral delivery and do not deem that practicing the paper, making sure it makes sense as HEARD rather than as READ, and other related differences are addressed. I once thought that the solution might be advisors teaching their grad students this, but regrettably most of the advisors engage in the same practices. And so it goes....