Thanks to financial support from the Douglas Evelyn Scholarship for Diversity fund, I was able to attend the 2017 AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. As a new member and first-time attendee, I came in as a curious outsider: I’m currently an archivist by training and trade. As such, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d find — in terms of the conference culture as well as the content of the sessions — but I was eager to draw interdisciplinary connections and gain new insights.
Part of what drew me to Austin was the opportunity to present with a couple of colleagues (one a librarian and the other a museum professional) on our joint experience as participants in the 2016 grant-funded LAM (Libraries, Archives, Museums) Collective Wisdom Conference Exchange. Our session was entitled Collective Wisdom: A LAM Approach to Professional Development and the notes from our interactive discussion portion are available here.
More broadly, I came to #AASLH17 as an extension of my 2016 conference exchange experience, with a particular interest in seeking transferable best practices and trends in outreach and exhibit design. As such, I did quite a bit of session-hopping, trying to make the most of my limited time there; with so many great topics, back-to-back, and often concurrent, it was often hard to choose. I was especially heartened to see so many sessions tackling difficult conversations head on (such as ongoing public debates about the role of statues and monuments and the role of nostalgia).
For instance, in Beyond the Likes: Social Media, Meaning, History, and Heritage, panelists and participants grappled with tough questions, such as what to do when the historical evidence tells a different narrative than the one some (vocal) people are attached to? How does one manage that conversation, particularly in a virtual context like social media? Some takeaways: we can now see conversations and viewpoints that were previously held offline, but this also means these conversations are more visible and provide an opportunity for engaging honestly, creatively, and with a collaborative spirit.
Overall, I had a very positive #AASLH17 experience. The panels I attended were consistently high quality, the closing keynote was particularly provocative, and I appreciate the care taken in the first-timers reception to connect new attendees with others in their region. I was even able to fit in a tour of various iconic sites in Austin’s music scene, including Austin City Limits. From an accessibility standpoint, I was also really impressed with the Online Conference streaming programming available to remote attendees as well. I left the Annual Meeting re-energized and inspired and I hope to be back soon!