Behold, Urbanists: “The UHA 2020 Detroit Spreadsheet”

Editor’s note: Michael Brickey’s post below is, of course, a reminder to check out the CFP for #UHA2020 in Detroit. If you’re reading this, consider submitting! You can check out the CFP here.

By Michael Brickey

Last week, Kate Carpenter posted this to Twitter:

Immediately upon seeing it, I shared it with a note of admiration:

Then after seeing my post, Amanda Seligman posted a call to action:

I thought it would be pretty simple to create a similar spreadsheet for the upcoming 2020 UHA conference and, so, I reached out to Kate to confirm that it would be okay for me to borrow her format.

My hope is that this spreadsheet will help to alleviate some of the anxiety that many attendees experience as they navigate the conference. It’s all too familiar. Your first panel just concluded and now you’re scrambling between sessions to track down that person whose work you find fascinating and relevant to yours but whose panel was in coincidence with yours. You’re unsuccessful in your search, so you make a plan to find them during the scheduled coffee break (more caffeine, please). You manage to locate them, but they’re already engaged in what looks like a rich conversation and you don’t want to interrupt. So, now you plan to arrive early to tomorrow’s breakfast session (more protein, please) and visually track everyone who enters. You begin to feel defeated, but as you are leaving to make it to that one panel of the whole weekend that you are most drawn to, your target lumbers in bleary-eyed. This doesn’t seem like a good time, you think, but you work up the courage to approach and introduce yourself and arrange to chat at lunch. Whew. That was a lot of work.

The UHA is already such a welcoming community of scholars, but any conference can be taxing even for the most seasoned veterans of the academic conference circuit. It can be especially overwhelming–as the short anecdote above indicates–if this is your first conference, or your first time at this particular one, and you’re trying to find and meet people with related interests, keep track of the scholars whose current projects strike you as particularly relevant to your own, and have at least a little bit of fun. It’s supposed to be fun, right? By allowing potential presenters to make public what they’re working on before it’s published in the conference program, I think the spreadsheet might help remove some of the mental noise that can make what should be a fun experience into a stressful one.

I hope that anyone that makes use of this takes the opportunity to connect with others. Doing so might facilitate richer face-to-face interactions at the conference. More pragmatically, the spreadsheet is designed to help facilitate the actual construction of conference sessions. On that note, it may be of great use to the program committee as they work to develop session themes from the submissions. Please share widely.

UHA 2020 Spreadsheet

Michael Brickey is an American Studies PhD student at St. Louis University studying urban and environmental history, cultural studies, and critical geography.

Featured image (at top): Training school, Lincoln Motor Co., Detroit, Mich., between 1914 and 1918, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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