Is it time to abolish general sessions?

Once again, Shane has proved himself as more than capable of stirring up trouble!  Here are some of my thoughts provoked by his earlier post

At the last TAG I had the opportunity to have lunch with a couple distinguished members of the discipline who were talking about the structure of the annual SAA conference.  One had recently sat on a board meeting in which everyone lamented two things – 1) the quality of conference papers has sunk to a new low, and 2) there were way too many papers.  They were racking their brains trying to come up with a way to solve these two problems – which is probably one of the reasons that SAA abstracts are now 200 rather than 100 words long.  I think that this is a problem across the board from regional meetings like SEAC, to the national SAAs and AAAs.  SEAC reducing co-authorship, as Shane points out, will do almost nothing to either reduce the number of papers OR increase their quality.  Instead, it will put a chill on shared work and dramatically reduce the chance your input into a larger project will be acknowledged.  Likewise, doubling the size of an abstract might give conference organizers a chance to weed out a couple of junk papers – but more likely it will just mean twice as much bullshit for them to read.

So here is my suggestion – abolish general sessions.  I know this makes many people uncomfortable.  They will cry – will this make it more difficult for grad and undergrad students to present?  Will this improperly award those few who are well-connected and cut out the many which are off the broader disciplinary radar?  Will this make it even harder for people who work outside of the area of study (particularly at regional conferences) to offer their work?

As someone who is a grad student, residing and studying outside of my research area, and only marginally more well-known then the average PhD, I can answer yes to all of the above questions – and still say it is worth it.

Abolishing general sessions will do three very positive things – 1) the number of papers will decline dramatically, and most likely, their quality will increase, 2) it will force more of us to organize symposiums, and 3) it will actually increase broader discussions across the discipline.

Shane made many great points in his post (or should I say Manifesto!), but one that I disagree with is his belief that presentations are still viewed as useful padding for CVs.  The hard fact is presentations, particularly within general sessions, might be a line on the resume, but once you have a couple under your belt – THEY REALLY DON’T MATTER.  And why don’t they matter?  Because ANYONE can do them – there is no quality control, there are no ramifications for giving a bad paper, and if you are in a general session, most likely the only people who saw it are your friends, the poor bastard forced to be the chair, and the person presenting after you.  

We need to reinstate a level of importance to presentations – which is not going to be achieved through longer abstracts or reduced co-authorships.  The best option I see is making us all step up to the plate, offer a symposium idea, and regulate each other.  That is our job as serious members of the field.


24 comments on “Is it time to abolish general sessions?

  1. Ginessa says:

    HERE HERE! I think this is a great suggestion. It could be augmented by perhaps having a few general sessions for undergraduates or pre-grad work students, which may keep up or help promote their attendance and contributions.

  2. Alice says:

    And you thought Shane could stir up trouble — Matt, I should have known you’d up the ante! Though I lack the perspective to say if the quality of recent conference papers have declined (I wonder if this is something every generation says…”Back in my day…”), I admit that the SAAs are freakin’ unwieldy. I barely know where to begin when I get the program, and the meetings themselves are so vast that papers I meant to see get lost in the shuffle. It’s the nature of the beast, surely — and heck, if giant conference is a sign of a vibrant field, then cheers.

    I’m not sure I can go all in on abolishing general sessions, but I know I’ve always gotten more out of papers in an organized session, as both presenter and audience member. A unifying theme keeps everyone on point and encourages big picture thinking — nice. As far as limiting opportunities for students/less networked folks, I think that should be taken seriously. That said, when I first started attending conferences, I think I would have gotten way more out of co-presenting with other, more networked people in an organized session (who, in turn, could help plug me into said network) than I would have by single-authoring a general session paper. Just as it is our job to chair symposia, it is our job to help our peers and students build networks in this crazy thing called academia. (Aside — typing that out made me think that a blanket elimination of general sessions might hamper cross-fertilization between academic and CRM research at regional conferences like SEAC…another thing to consider).

    As I understand it and you point out, a long list of conference papers really doesn’t matter on a CV. They can matter, though, if they are a springboard for polishing research, converting it for publication, and pursuing new directions. To fulfill that role, you need feedback, and to get feedback, you need an audience. What about general poster sessions? I wonder if they could serve as an entry and mixing point for presenters, and provide a venue for conversation and critique — so long as they are located front and center, not tucked away on the n-th floor, away from papers. Make me walk by and feel guilty if I don’t engage with poster presenters! Do it!

  3. Shane says:

    On one hand, I feel ya. On the other, I think this would differentially hurt undergrads and younger grad students. As you start getting pubs under your belt, no one really cares how many conference papers you have. However, if you are applying to grad schools or first year fellowships, those papers show that you’re on your way to developing a consistent body of work.

    I think I would be a little reticent to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  4. Ken Sassaman says:

    I do not recommend ever dropping general sessions. This is how elitism gets a foothold in organizations such as ours. Take away the only open-access venue for those not as well connected as others and you immediately create a two-tiered system. I agree with Shane and Alice that the most affected would be students, but add to them all those archaeologists in the interstitial spaces of our networks, as well as CRM colleagues who do not have the time to organize sessions but are doing their best to share information. If it’s quality that really concerns us (and it really is the only issue here — SEAC is not bloated and organizing the meetings is not all that difficult; the constraints of co-authored are not real, only imagined), then vet abstracts, including ones in plenary sessions. But bear in mind the last stand of Jay Custer. At an SAA in NO long ago he had to cut papers because the schedule overfilled. He cut anything looking feminist, postmodernist, and anything else that did not fit his narrow definition of processual archaeology. It was the last SAA he attended and the organization vowed thereafter to never limit access to the meeting. It was the right thing to do.

  5. MC Sanger says:

    I love that Shane has kicked the hornet’s nest and we are all actually talking about remarkably important aspects of our field and how we might go about bettering it! I knew there would be some push-back to my own suggestions – and I very much worry about having a two-tier system, an elitism, or otherwise dividing between the powerful and connected who often reside at the top of our academic worlds, and the rest of us – the grad students, the people working in CRM, and those that are otherwise not one of the elites. But here is a more haunting concern – that division ALREADY EXISTS within our current system. I am thinking more about the SAAs here than SEACs, but when was the last time a book came out of a general session? When was the last time you got great feedback from a paper given in a general session? How many contacts have you made through general sessions? How many thematic journal issues came from general sessions? The general session is already our second-tier. The division between elite and common is not reduced by having general sessions – it is strengthened and formalized.

    I am being a bit over-dramatic here and certainly a bit polemic – but I hope you can see my point – that the general session is not the great equalizer that we all wish it to be.

    I also worry about how the general session has become the place where our CRM brothers and sisters are relegated to share their data. Ken suggests that people working within CRM are too busy to organize sessions. I am unsure whether I agree that a Field Director, who is certainly juggling multiple projects, employees, and budgets, is actually busier than a grad student juggling dissertation reviews, job applications, and journal manuscripts. Either way, I am hesitant to accept the general session ghetto for CRM-papers, and would rather like to see both academics and private-world scholars be forced to create symposiums that would hopefully cross traditional boundaries between the two.

    This brings me to the place of the institutions, committees, and interest groups running the conferences. And here again, I am mostly thinking about SAAs – but if we are hesitant to abolish general session because it would cause greater strife to grads, undergrads, and CRM-folk, then what if we had formalized sessions that highlighted this research? We already have a mechanism for this in the SAAs – the interest groups who often sponsor sessions. While the Public Archaeology interest group overlaps a little with CRM, what about getting together interest groups that represent those groups we worry will be left out in the cold without General Sessions? I understand that if grad students and CRM professionals don’t have the time to put together symposia then they almost certainly don’t have time to put together and chair an interest group. But perhaps they could find time if A) they were forced to because of a lack of general sessions, and B) if being the chair of an interest group was a beneficial thing to have on one’s resume (which I certainly think it is). I would be very interested to attend a sponsored symposia, built by leaders within the CRM world, that would highlight the great research going on outside of academia; certainly more interested than attending a vague general session on Ceramic Analysis! The danger of course is in simply re-creating the divide between elite and common by shuffling grads, undergrads, and CRM-folks into their own sessions. This is a significant worry that is best addressed by 1) doing kick-ass papers, and 2) collaborative work among interest groups. I think that the members of the symposium offered by Shane and myself certainly proved that a grad school session could be interesting and of broad appeal, and there is no reason to think that a similar CRM session could not do the same. And then what about fun cross-overs between interest groups? Island and Coastal interest group could co-sponsor with an Undergrad group to highlight cutting edge jr. research in these areas…..

    Those are my thoughts – all a bit of a pipe-dream at this point I am sure as there is a vested financial interest in keeping attendance high at conferences, even if it means watering down the quality of the presentations.

  6. victoriagd says:

    Great discussion everyone and way to stir up the pot, Matt and Shane.

    I’m going to join the side here that abolishing general sessions (or even limiting them to a specialized ‘student’, ‘CRM’ etc.) situation would be a bad move. I hear what Matt is saying that the quality of many papers could be better. I mean, my first paper at SEAC was in a general session and I’m certainly now embarrassed of its quality. But it was an opportunity to present and I’m glad that I had that chance, especially since I was out of school and had taken vacation days off my Phase III job to head to the conference. Having a purpose to present at SEAC made me feel connected to the entire Southeastern archaeological community, not just those I was currently digging with in West Virginia.

    But I’m going to offer an even broader point than that of just excluding some individuals:

    Abolishing or limiting the free-form, general session format would structure the content of presentations too much. Symposia are organized around themes. There are particular aspects of the archaeological record or theoretical literature that are highlighted in these venues. It is a great thing (I agree with Alice that sometimes I get more out of symposia), but the opposite situation where there is complete freedom to make any type of argument is also a great thing. A wonderful thing, actually.

    As we all know, new ideas and new arguments develop when we allow ourselves to think of things from fresh angles. They develop in the writing process. Sometimes these are inspired by themes of symposia or edited sessions (Shane, Matt and Alice – you are guilty of helping me develop new ideas in this way – thank you!). But sometimes we come up with new perspectives and ideas that may not be thought of yet or may not have a large audience or appropriate collaborators. That is the time that the general session can shine! When it permits scholars to say what they will how they will. It is not vetted by the organizers or editors.

    Some of the best and most thought-provoking papers I’ve witnessed at SEAC have been in general sessions. One day I saw a student delve into semiotics in archaeology from a purely theoretical lens. He presented ideas about what we could do with semiotics and he asked people to give him feedback. It was the beginning of a conversation and isn’t that what we want to do anyways? And now, many years later, we are presented with a Southeastern paper about semiotics as the lead article in American Antiquity.

    And finally, back to the equality issue: there are exclusionary practices in our organization when it comes to symposia invitations. Just ask any woman who studies the Mississippian period. Oh wait… there aren’t that many because over the years many of them chose other research projects where they were invited to participate. It is a problem. And I’m not sure the symposium is the great equalizer, but at least it’s a venue to speak.

  7. Meg says:

    Viki brought up something in her reply that I was about to get at. I think that very different papers are presented in general sessions, and sometimes I really like them. More importantly, the papers that I have personally presented in general sessions are there for a reason… they didn’t fit anywhere else. It’s not that I didn’t know about other sessions, or wasn’t invited to participate in anything, it’s more that the most important aspects of my work were going in a direction that other people were NOT going. I’d be sad to give up those opportunities. They may not end up in books right away, but I usually do get feedback, and that feedback may show me the most appropriate places to pursue connections and publication opportunities outside of my already extant social network.

    But this brings us back to the issue from the previous post… what the ideal situation would be for me is to present some of my newer, more experimental ideas in a general session for wide consumption and broad feedback, and to present my more polished, specific works in an invited session organized around a common theme or topic. From that maybe I would get a publication or at least some very specific comments on how to improve my ideas. To do this, however, you need to be able to have more than one paper out there….

  8. Excuse my ignorance but a quick question- could you simply just not go to a general session?

    Your interesting post got me thinking about all the conferences I have been to (at least large enough to have more than one session) and I can’t think of a single time I went to a general session. This is mainly cause I almost always have the problem of two session (sometimes three) I really want to go to are scheduled at the same time so I don’t have free time to make it to the general session.

    Does the general session need to be abolished or just skipped?

  9. Derek says:

    I can definitely appreciate both sides of the argument re: abolishing general sessions. I’ve been to some, in large ballrooms, where there were 10 people sitting in a space set up for 250 and the presentations were something I’d expect from a high school public speaking class. But I’ve also been to some invited sessions where I swear, I’ve heard the same person give the same talk five times already at other conferences. I don’t think it’s fair to say that one type of session is inherently better or worse than the other; that being said, a lot of random topics do end up being thrown together into the general sessions, and they are often presentations by students, and unless they go on to publish on their own, a lot of them end up fading away into obscurity. I still use general sessions as a venue for throwing some semi-crazy ideas out there, just to see what sticks, and I have had some really good feedback from the few people who were there to hear those papers (and dragged people like Shane down the rabbit hole with me).

    I think that trying to redirect papers into invited or “open” thematic sessions, like the sessions sponsored by interest groups is a good idea, and would put less pressure on students or CRM folks who may not have extensive academic or professional networks. But in order to make this work, at least for students, it means getting their advisors more involved, either to spread the word about the work that they are doing, or to include them as coauthors on papers (which opens a whole other can of worms, as has also been pointed out).

    I also think that having an option, before registering, to see which organized/invited sessions still have space available would help to reduce the amount of papers lumped into general sessions, and would give people an opportunity to network. Some sessions could be “closed” or invitation only, like those in honor of retiring archaeologists (where it wouldn’t make sense to have other papers included), but others that still had a few open slots and covered a broader theme could be available for “independent” or “free agent” presenters to join. Some of my general session papers could have easily fit into thematic sessions, had I known about them ahead of time, and would have helped me to meet people with similar interests early on in my career. This option would require a little more work on the part of the conference organizer(s), but if session organizers are required to submit their information ahead of time, it would just be a matter of filling them up.

  10. […] that, generally and only-slightly-hyperbolically, is beloved by its membership. While Matt sparked some debate about ways to improve the quality of papers submitted to the conference, it seems to me that the […]

  11. snomnharch says:

    Hi there, it’s Elsbeth. Fascinating conversation. I’m still mulling over the debate regarding general sessions and the inclusion of undergrads and beginning grad students, but one point I’d like to bring up is the financial aspect of conference presentation. At my university almost no funding is available for conference attendance unless the student is presenting – I think the same holds true for many of us, including those working in museums and CRM. I strongly think that undergrads who might be interested in pursuing a career in archaeology should attend conferences, but often they do not have the time or intellectual development to come up with a really interesting paper topic. I’ve been trying to steer my students toward posters as an entree to the world of conference presentations. So, here’s a plug for keeping poster sessions at any rate open to all, to promote attendance and help make it financially feasible.

  12. Maureen Meyers says:

    I think this is an interesting idea, but I also think we need data to better determine how necessary general sessions are. It would be good to go through say the last 10 years of SEAC or SAA (larger project for sure) and see what it says. How many are CRM vs. academia papers? How many are undergrad or grad school (possibly hard to determine)? How many women are in general sessions–as Viki points out, there has been exclusion of women from symposia–vs. the amount of women in organized sessions?. How many general sessions do result in publications?

    My experience with general sessions is like a lot of those above–a great place to more easily give a first paper, even though it wasn’t great. As I matured as a scholar, I found them still good places to give papers on new ideas I wasn’t sure I knew where they belonged.

    As a PI in CRM, I was often not lauded but criticized for going to conferences and giving papers there, so to take on organizing a session in some CRM environments (note: I did this repeatedly) would have been heavily frowned upon as taking away from ‘real’ work. Although it shouldn’t be that way, it is because of time and the bottom line.

    I think a key to a good general session is conference organizers that put them together around a common theme. Many times I’ve chaired general sessions and found them to be quite tight. I’ve also contributed and/or chaired general sessions which have resulted in publications and scholarly contacts and collaborations. I’ve also been in organized sessions which were not what they promised to be.

    I dislike the idea of doing away with general sessions because of the elite issues Ken raises above, but again, I’d argue for more data before taking the idea before the board or membership of an organization.

  13. Tanya Peres says:

    I agree with Maureen on this — actual data are a good starting point (although I am not exactly sure what type of data we want…survey? interviews? statistics on # of general session papers going to publication?).

    I’ve organized a number of sessions, have participated in organized sessions, done posters, and have happily been in general sessions over the past 19 years of attendance at SEAC (only missing the 2011 meeting in Jax). I’ve presented as a student, a CRM practitioner, as an academic, as part of other people’s projects, as the mentor of an undergraduate presenting on joint research, etc. I’ve been to some horrific papers given by people in all of the above groups. I’ve been to some great student papers. I love poster sessions where you get to talk to people about the actual research. Have my conference papers always turned into publications? No. As others have pointed out, conferences are a great way to present a work in progress, get feedback, mull it all over, and keep plugging along until you reach a point where the work is publishable. Can you imagine the moaning and groaning that would occur if everyone sent their SEAC paper to “Southeastern Archaeology” on November 15th? Who wants to peer review all the crap that apparently passes as a conference paper?

    One group not mentioned in this idea of further marginalizing the already marginalized (students, women, CRM folks) — the specialists (i.e., pbot, zooarch)! Many specialists work in multiple regions, across multiple temporal and cultural periods, and with multiple groups (academic, CRM, students, etc.). Often we are not running our own large multi-year project (though some of us do), but are contributing important data and insights to many projects (and heck sometimes all of the above). If specialists are forced to organize and/or only contribute to thematic sessions organized around their speciality topic, guess what happens? They get scheduled for Saturday morning (often at the same time — yep it happens all the time) and the only people that attend are people in the same speciality area. Clearly there are other issues attributing to the latter point, which I won’t go into here, but this is the reality.

    How to whittle down the overflowing numbers of papers that are submitted for presentation? I do not have the magical answer. Limiting the opportunities for all archaeologists to share their ideas and on-going research is not the answer.

    *Note these views are my own and do not reflect on my role as a member of the Exec Board of SEAC.*

  14. Bryan Tucker says:

    Several others here have already covered my primary concerns with abolishing general session papers but I will make a few additional points. It would limit students’ ability to present their research. My first paper, like Victoria’s and many others, was in a general session and at the time I had no faculty advisor and no institutional support. I would never have been invited to a symposium or invited session.
    This leads to my second point which Matt alluded to in his original post—not all schools and programs are created equal. Many of the active participants in this blog come from relatively privileged archeological backgrounds and enjoy direct access to prominent and influential archaeologists. This is not the case for many students (the majority perhaps?) at smaller state universities. For every student who is plugged in to the networks of power and influence that wind through our profession they are many who are not. Do these students need additional barriers in presenting their work?
    Finally, I’ll second the financial concerns presented by Elsbeth, in this world of declining budgets many government entities, like many CRM firms, won’t fund conference travel unless a paper is being presented. Removing general session papers would remove many government, CRM, and other professional archaeologists’ access to funding that allows them to attend the SAA’s. Many of us are already prohibited from traveling to the more exotic locations Honolulu, HI or the upcoming Vancouver, BC Canada meeting in 2017. This proposal made for some interesting discussions that have raised several other interesting points in the reply’s but I think Ken hit the nail on the head with his comments about elitism. Eliminating the general sessions will result in fewer viewpoints from outside of academia and will narrow, not broaden, discussions across the discipline.

  15. David G. Anderson says:

    Keep the general sessions… they provide opportunity, encourage diversity in thought and practice, and maintain an egalitarian ethos to the organization! My first paper at SEAC was in a general session. Of course, that was because there was only one session at a time, and everyone got to hear what everyone else had to say, for better or for worse. It made giving papers for someone starting out a more memorable occurrence than they perhaps are today, because everyone interested in southeastern archaeology was usually in the room listening, with the really heavy hitters usually sitting in the first few rows. There were symposia even then, usually a group of 3-5 related papers, but the majority of the papers were by people talking about their research, with topics varying from speaker to speaker. Knowing who would be watching, the papers were usually pretty good. SEAC went to multiple sessions permanently (save for the occasional plenary session) in the mid-1970s, with symposia typically placed opposite general session papers, perhaps creating two classes of presentation, but the smart or interested people have always known when to duck out and go to the good papers, if the venue permits the possibility.

    My only suggestion besides a plea for keeping open or general sessions, is that SEAC needs to get with the 21st century, and adopt technologies that are now common and inexpensive. I did see to the scanning of the back Newsletters and Bulletins a few years ago currently on the SEAC web site, and there is much more that we can do to make our discipline accessible. In addition to modernizing meeting organization and programming, the SEAC membership might want to try video recording sessions, and make them available on streaming media. Ideally all sessions, but we have to start somewhere, so if not the plenary sessions, perhaps a random sample of sessions, or those where the participants take the initiative. I suspect the SEAC board would need to have a role in that. I have several SEAC sessions and papers on DVD that I filmed, and about 10-12 of the last 22 business meetings. So I know it is possible, although I’ve never uploaded them. But if server space permitted and the board was willing I’d gladly upload them… many were filmed for historical reasons, and now include many of personages now departed, and provide a good perspective on who these folks were. SEAC’s archives will get them all someday anyway.

    By having SEAC sessions available for later viewing, we won’t feel bad about ducking out on one colleague to go hear another, and those who want to (like me) could listen to all the papers being presented, instead of the few we currently can make it to. Most of you reading this blog will be around for a long time, and see technology continue to make things like this more and more feasible so I hope you are able to make it so! The future belongs to those who make it!

  16. Turck says:

    I guess this topic has run its course.

    For a more interesting subject… go see the Late Archaic General Session at the upcoming SEAC (Thursday afternoon)! It just may revolutionize how you think about the Late Archaic in the southeast.

    BTW- Due to the author limits of this SEAC, it looks like I am the sole author on my paper. But there actually is a second author. His name might not be in the program, but it will be on the first slide. Which is more official? Nobody really knows.

  17. Lee Hutchinson says:

    Although I am not a student but as one of the meeting orgainzers, I could not let this go un-defended. Much of the post is incorrect, as follows:
    1.Iit is NOT a “new” “co-authorship limit” but an old rule that the organizers are enforcing; the organizers did not make the rule; why should they take grief for it?
    2. Many do not realize why this rule is important: it costs SEAC money to have multiple-multiple authors, and it costs the meeting organizers WAY more time, effort, and grief to get everything organized without conflicting schedules, bulletin entries, etc.
    3. It doesn’t matter even who thought up the rule; if you want to participate in any professional thing, you must go by their guidelines, whatever they might be. The requirements for presentations, including this rule, are CLEARLY LISTED ON THE ANNUAL MEETING WEBSITE since early May 2013
    4. HE possibly didn’t realize he was on too many things, but the organizers did, and contacted him. Why did he not read the guidelines on the information page and keep track of what he was doing? why did his advisor not tell him to avoid overextending himself?
    5. Not every university pushes students to be ubiquitous and join every project; some emphasize quality over quantity and students still get their work published.
    6. Other generations of archaeologists have a lot of ideas, communicate them widely among themselves, often on electronic media that are not the exclusive domain of his generation, and all get along; he may not be part of that universe and is clearly insulting anyone not of his generation/cohort/student clique
    7. Yes, we do believe he is clearly “a frustrated, uppity CV padder” and arrogant and unprofessional as well, since it is rude to offend those who are volunteering multiple 100-hour weeks to put on the conference, especially when he has no idea what it entails.
    8. Most ironic about this post is that, at the same time he expected meeting organizers to accommodate his multiple submissions in defiance of the existing rule, according to the treasurer’s list of paid membership he was NOT EVEN A PAID MEMBER of SEAC (another requirement for presenting at the annual meeting, as it ALSO CLEARLY SAYS on the website guidelines; this was true for a few others who ignored the rule, as well).

    Meanwhile, it is crucial that everyone knows the problem stems from the fact that THERE IS NO NEW PROCESS OR SYSTEM FOR PLANNING SEAC. We are stuck with the same website that accommodated a much smaller meeting and does not automatically limit submissions to paid members, to 100 words for abstracts, to 2-roles or however many are desired, to symposia with all the data listed. We have to compile all information COMPLETELY BY HAND, and have spent dozens of weeks of 18-hour days to do it, and to seek out missing information for at least one-third of the submissions. Then people keep sending stuff far after the deadlines, new stuff and changes, gripes and bitching (rather ungracious). Plus, those helping to do it are ALSO grad students, witnessing (and learning from) the wide range of professional behavior involved!

    • Shane says:

      Hello Lee, I believe you meant to respond to my entry instead of Matt’s.

      If you would like guest post an entry explaining why the system is the way it is (and the effort it takes to organize a conference), we’d happily post it.

      Feel free to email me:

      • Lee Hutchinson says:

        HI Shane

        You are correct I did post in the wrong place; I can resubmit if you like or feel free to re-post.

      • Shane says:

        WordPress won’t let me move it. So, if you want to re-post it over there, I’ll delete these messages.

        And again, the offer still stands on the invited blog post. If you and your fellow organizers would like to post your thoughts on the trials and tribulations of organizing a SEAC, I know a bunch of us would like to hear what you have to say. That way your thoughts would be front and center and not buried in the comments of another blog entry.

  18. Ken Sassaman says:

    I’m pretty sure the “old” rule has been misinterpreted for the past two years, I did not enforce it three years ago (Jacksonville) because I never understood it to be the rule, Sure, it takes more time to deal with multiple, multiple authors, but it does not impose any additional conflict of time in the schedule unless one is trying to avoid any conflict for which a person is involved in one than two papers as co-author, and that is totally not necessary. I agree that the extant system is cumbersome and ineffective but there are workarounds, like simple Excel or Access files. Can’t be that hard to organize a SEAC if a degenerate like me can do it. Can we just admit that the rule was misinterpreted and avoid it next time?

  19. Sarah Price says:

    Late to the party, but better late than never I guess.

    Having helped organized SEAC in Mobile, and as co-program chair I have to say that the limit rule was not enforced and the only time it should come into play is for primaries, mainly because it is an unnecessary burden for the organizers to make sure that sessions don’t conflict. Otherwise, who cares how many times you are a secondary, etc. contributor. We are not assembling the programs on typewriters, or typesetting them on a printing press, and in this day and age there are a plethora of programs to help automate the process.

    I also have to weigh in on the general sessions/symposia topic, and overall quality/size of archaeological conferences. I agree that there are a ton of “bad” papers, whether it be because of the content or the actual presentation, or both. SAA is too big, in every way. I often can’t make it up an elevator or from one end of the conference location to the other to catch papers. I DO NOT think that abolishing general sessions is a good idea, for all of the previously stated reasons. I have done both contributed papers and organized/presented in symposia and both serve a purpose. I’d much rather pop in and out of a variety of general session papers than sit in an organized session on the archaeology of . I’d be willing to bet if someone went back and tallied up papers from the last five years of SEAC/SAA/SHA, etc. there would be a conspicuously repetitive pattern of the same papers being presented year after year with little to no modifications, by the same people in the same symposia. I don’t mean that as a criticism but it would cut out some of the bulk if conference papers were limited like journal articles to some degree. One of the best papers I’ve seen at a SEAC in recent years was by an avocational archaeologist who presented his work on atlatl technology, it was fantastic, and it was in a general session for what should be obvious reasons.

    Having organized a program, I think one simple improvement would be to change the way general sessions are organized (I was informed in 2009 that ‘no one would like it’, ‘you can’t change tradition’,and ‘people interested in Mississippian pottery wouldn’t sit in on papers about _______’). Rather than the typical “Contributed Papers” on Historical Archaeology, Subsistence, Remote Sensing, Mississippian I and II (my least favorite), program chairs could be creating a forum for learning and discussion. Because a program chair sees all of the abstracts at once there is a unique opportunity to look for threads that link people/research together who may be unaware of one another. I think going to a conference is not just about seeing papers on topics I am interested in, but exposure to research outside my personal geography or topics of interest. I challenge future SEAC organizers/program chairs to buck the culture history/methodological framework of past conference paper groupings and present us with a new “conference paradigm.”

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