Attending conferences outside of one’s discipline

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the University of Regina, attending the Canadian Historical Association annual meeting, which was held in conjunction with the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences.  It was a personal “first” on several levels: my first time attending Congress, my first time attending the CHA (even though I was, once upon a time, a history student), and my first time presenting a scholarly paper to an audience outside of my discipline and field of practice.

Having done this now, I would definitely recommend to others in the information field to attend at least one conference outside of our discipline.  My experience at CHA tells me that many of the challenges and struggles that characterize the study of information today are much of the same challenges and struggles experienced in other disciplines.  The challenges of digitization, digital scholarship, pedagogy in a digital age, and fighting misinformation (and disinformation, and mal-information) are not ours alone: if we look beyond our usual collaborators, we might actually find that some of the questions we’ve identified are already answered, or are in process of being answered.

Some of the impressions I walked away from Congress with:

Academics have a responsibility to make their discipline more hospitable for those who have been traditionally underrepresented within the walls of the academy.  I felt quite buoyed simply hearing about all the public history projects that actively sought out women, people of colour, indigenous people, and LGBTQ+ to tell the parts of Canada’s history that have previously been ignored, omitted, or suppressed.  I especially admired the scholars who pushed back against the myth-making machine of Canada 150.

The use of art as a vehicle for disseminating public history remains very much alive. However, instead of raising monuments to politicians and monarchs, historians are collaborating with writers and artists to develop posters, graphic novels, sculptures, photography exhibitions, and film that shed light on people who were not part of the political establishment but who did extraordinary things.  I’d love to see art applied to information studies in this way.

Academics have a responsibility to advocate for fair compensation and pay equity for intellectual work.  We may be in academia out of love, but, as one scholar put it bluntly in an early session I attended, academia continues to be “horribly exploitative.”  We have to undo a system that thrives on the basis of intellectual work being completed for nothing (or next to nothing), and that expects projects to stay afloat on the basis of passion and volunteerism.