Friday, November 25, 2005

Scattered Thoughts on AAR-SBL (Part II)

— I was tired and grumpy throughout most of the meeting this year, although I tried to hide it. It was the byproduct of a 10-hour commute from Cincinnati that turned into a 13-hour commute (we musta took a wrong turn at Albuquerque). The occasional floor sleeping didn't help. If I was unpleasant to anyone, forgive me. But seeing many friends, both old and new, made the trip worthwhile, even if I was not at my best.

— That may have affected my receptivity in the sessions; but I still came away with the feeling that most people don't know how to present papers, and I'm beginning to think that it's always going to be that way. 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 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.
(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.
(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).

— 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, 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?

— This meeting caught me in the middle of a career reinvention, as I begin to renounce the threefold academic vow (poverty, bibliography, and jargon) and transition from full-time independent scholar to full-time cubicle dweller with philology as a hobby. This will also affect "Ralph"; as the demands on my time increase, blogging will become harder to fit in. But I won't quit. Watch this space.


Unknown said...

Seating order sounds about right, and in terms of the "blogger" count, I was amazed by how *few* bloggers there were in attendance -- 50%, maybe, but looking around from the audience, I noted a fair number of non-bloggers.

Furthermore, even to the SBL-untrained eye, the number of bad presentations -- and, to a lesser extent, bad papers -- was notable. As a non-native speaker, I felt particularly bad for foreigners trying to keep up with the 150-words-per-minute pace of some of the presenters; I could tell that Americans were starting to zone out -- how much more those less adept with the English language!

As far as I'm concerned, you indeed hid grumpiness well, although I could definitely detect tiredness. Good to hear that you're sticking with Ralph, at least for the time being :)

Anonymous said...


Targuman said...

You did indeed hide any grumpiness well! A couple of comments to your comments.

2 & 3) Great ideas! I will indeed, with the committee's permission, make a website for the Aramaic studies session. SBL may well have rights to audio files (they used to tape them all and sell them, if memory serves), but if we are allowed, I can record and put them on the server as well.

I would have said over 50% of use raised our hands as bloggers. But I could be wrong...

Jim Davila said...


1. You did not seem grumpy at all.

2. I too am surprised at how often academics (not just postgrads) seem not to know how to give a good paper presentation. In particular, how hard is it to time it in advance so as not to go over the alloted time? But I will say I saw less of this sort of thing this year than in some previous years.

3. My memory of the seating arrangement is the same as yours, although I'm not absolutely certain about one or two spaces. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.

4. I would say a little less that 50% of the audience raised their hands.

5. Best wishes for the new career and we hope to hear from you on Ralph as often as you can find time for it.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I don't know about the SBL, but I heard this year that the American Academy of Religion will be providing web sites and, I think, listservs for program units.

Here on the steering committee of the new Pagan Studies consultation, we're already talking about what to do with ours.

Otherwise, your comments on long papers read in a monotone are right on.

Jan-Wim Wesselius said...

Two notes about your interesting post, Ed. Some of the deficiencies in presentations can be explained. Thus I know from my own experience that it is very difficult for a non-native speaker (unless one has been immersed in English for a considerable time) to refrain from actually *reading* one's paper, which is definitely not good for your presentation. If you have to do that in the middle of the audience because the mic broke down, as happened to me in the IOSCS session, you are glad if the audience at least understands what you are talking about.
What is really interesting, however, is that many speakers apparently do not *want* their presentation to be successful. At least, I cannot think of any other reason why speakers arrive in a session with a pack of paper which will take at least 40 minutes to read, so that they have to read very quickly and must finally shorten their paper on the fly, or attempt to cram an incredible amount of information in a paper when one or two representative examples would have been sufficient. It is a shame, of course -- but it is also very interesting, especially if you see the same people doing that year after year.
Secondly and more importantly, I think it is a terrible shame that throughout the years so many gifted and experienced Aramaic scholars had to abandon the field either partly or completely, though I can well understand it. I wish you all the best in a new direction, but would have preferred you to be able to continue writing your nice publications.
Jan-Wim Wesselius, Theological University of Kampen, The Netherlands

EMC said...

Thank you, Jan-Wim. I will continue to write as I have time, so I have not completely abandoned the field! It will have to be after hours, however.

Derek the Ænglican said...

As someone who does NT and Preaching I'm not at all surprised about the number of poor presentations. A fundamentally written genre--the scholarly paper--does not fare well in a fundamentally oral format--the presentation. That's why the web is so important. We can post the papers, then prepare effective summary presentations...

Welcome to the're not alone. ;-)

John W Leys said...

"The SBL should also provide training, either live or online, for those who wish to present at the annual meeting."

This is an excellent idea, Ed. I'm an SBL member, thought I wasn't able to make it to the meeting this year, and would love to see something like this implimented. I know I would benefit from it.

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