The Missouri Valley History Conference is coming to a close once again. The last two days have been wonderful and I am sure tomorrow will more than likely be bittersweet. This conference is such a gem for students, historians, and genealogists alike. I love it so much that I thought I would share my top reasons for why if you are a genealogist or historian, you should think about attending. Now, I’m approaching this from the viewpoint of someone who is both an academically trained historian and professional genealogist , which means some of these items may be more relevant to historians than genealogists and vice versa. I will also add the disclaimer that these opinions are my own!
In no particular order….
#1) Great location:
I know there are some who may be thinking how can Nebraska be a great location? If you’ve never been to Omaha you are missing out. The MVHC is held at the Embassy Suites in the Old Market district of Omaha. In addition to staying at a great hotel, you are surrounded by historic buildings with tons of restaurants, breweries, shops, and museums within walking distance.
#2) Incredible value:
Registration for this year’s conference was just $75. That’s a heck of a deal for a three day conference that is three conferences in one. Yep, that’s right- three conferences. This year the MVHC was held in conjunction with the regional Phi Alpha Theta and Society for Military History conferences.
#3) New research:
Before historians publish articles or books, they will often roll out their research in the form of presenting a paper at a conference. For this particular conference, these presentations go for about twenty minutes in length with three presenters in a session. Graduate students will also often present papers based upon their thesis. The publication process can take some time, attending a conference gives you a chance to hear new research long before you will be able to see it print.
#4) Trends in history:
Attending is a great way to keep up on trends within the field. I realize the idea of trends within the field of history may seem a bit foreign to some. Just like the idea that historians care about the everyday folk sounds strange or inaccurate to some. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. If you feel that way about history, look over the program, attend the conference then come to talk to me. I can guarantee that I will win that argument.
#5) Feedback on research:
The feedback presenters receive is invaluable. Allow me to take a step back and explain the process a bit. Each session has a chair and/or commentator. Prior the conference, each presenter sends their paper to their respective commentator. (Commentators are matched to the session based upon their expertise and have an advanced degree). The commentator then reviews the paper, including the bibliography. Typically there are three presenters at each session. Once everyone has had their turn, the commentator offers feedback on the sources utilized, overall strengths or weaknesses, and ideas on how to expand the topic. Then the audience is allowed to ask questions. The presenter can then apply that feedback to their work before going through process of attempting to publish. For me, this feedback came in the form of validation. I had to cut my thesis down from one hundred pages to ten pages in order to discuss it in under twenty minutes. I was so relieved when the commentator’s suggestions as to how to expand it, were things that I touched upon in some way in the longer version. When he spoke of the groundbreaking nature of my research and the publication value…it was all I could do not to tear up! Happy tears, of course. I now feel more confident and re-energized!
#6) New ideas:
“What are you currently working on?”- I lost count of how many times I was asked this question. Talk about a great opportunity to discuss current research ideas! I had a great deal of opportunities to bounce ideas off of other historians. I am particularly thankful for the opportunity to bounce ideas off of two of my former professors over lunch; they even came up with a title for my new project that is WAY better than the one I originally thought of. A title may seem trivial to some, but knowing I have their support… well that’s pretty awesome.
#7) Genealogical value of research presented:
Each session offers an opportunity to add more historical context to the lives of our ancestors. Historical context is key to understanding them. Furthermore, the sources utilized for these presentations hold value for historians and genealogists alike- some of these sources you may have never heard of! Plus, if you have a question about the sources a presenter used, you can ask! Remember, due to the in-depth nature of these papers, the presenters are typically either experts in these topics or well on their way to being an expert. The chance to speak to an expert = gold.
#8) Wide variety of topics presented:
There is truly something for everyone! Listed below are the names of just a few sessions:
“Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Midwest History”
“Race Relations in the New World and France”
“Religion, Medicine, and War in Ancient Greece and the Ancient Near East”
“Cold War Diplomacy and Foreign Relations”
“On the Nebraska Home-Front in World War II”
This one is ties into reason #6. You can’t help but talk to new people at an event like this. Along the way you build a great network of researchers and fellow historians from across the country. These connections are invaluable, after all you never know just where research may take you. For example, I randomly sat next to a gentleman in one session who met John Unruh (an Overland trail historian who has heavily influenced my work and tragically died far too young) and was very familiar with Unruh’s work. We exchanged information and I am looking forward to continuing our conversation.
As great as everything else is, the chance to socialize with other University of Nebraska at Kearney alum is one of my top reasons for attending the MVHC. UNK has a top notch online M.A. in history program. Subsequently, many of the students are spread out across the county. MVHC is an opportunity for us to get together in person. The faculty, current students, and alumni from UNK are a very tight knit group. Whenever someone from UNK is presenting, there are at least a couple other UNK peeps in the audience cheering them on. I could go on and on about them so onto…
#11) Age doesn’t matter
The last time I attended a genealogy conference, I was mistaken for one of the catering staff on more than one occasion. This was despite the fact that I was wearing a very nice skirt with very nice suede boots- nothing at all like what the catering staff was wearing. When I made the correction, I was told, “Oh you are so young, I just assumed you weren’t actually here for the conference.” That seems to be the norm rather than the exception when I attend one. Needless to say, it’s a tad annoying. At MVHC, age doesn’t matter: the ages in attendance span from the undergraduate students who look like they are barely out of their teens to emeritus professors.
#12) What should matter, does:
I know at some colleges, museums, and historical societies how you get to where you want to go, and if you get there, is based upon who you know more than what you know. This is also true for certain circles within the genealogy community. But at the MVHC, it’s about what you know. Conversations start by talking about research-what your topic is, what sources you are going to use, etc. If who you know comes up, it’s more social in nature such as comparing former professors, former classmates, and sharing memories about school. I’m not naïve enough to believe this is the rule for every aspect of the academic field throughout the country, but at least while at MVHC what should matter is what actually does matter.
UPDATE: Saturday, 03/07/2015. I have to add a #13 to this list- The infusion of family history, into academic history. Yesterday, a fellow UNK alum presented a paper based upon letters that her grandfather sent her grandmother during World War II. This morning, an undergraduate student used a collection of 200+ family letters and diaries to discuss westward expansion during the nineteenth century. I was thrilled to see presenters using their family history as case studies. I hope this is a trend that continues!
Next year’s Missouri Valley History Conference will be held March 3-5, drop me a line if you plan on attending! To learn more about the MVHC, visit: http://www.unomaha.edu/college-of-arts-and-sciences/history/mvhc/index.php