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So, I’m back from #AAHM14 this past weekend, and it was a fabulous conference.  I should confess that I often struggle with conferences for reasons such as the expense, the time away from family, and the ways in which even the desirable coherence of papers that transforms into a grey sameness (my own work certainly included).  But I absolutely adore the AAHM conference, and have had a fantastic time each and every one of the six consecutive years which I have been fortunate to attend.  Kudos to the AAHM in general and especially the hard work of the Program and Local Arrangements Committees.

My own paper, on railway spine and the rise of mechanical objectivity, seemed to go reasonably well — no one threw any fruit, rotten or fresh.  (Rotten fruit has the advantage of being softer and less likely to leave bruises than hurled fresh fruit, but has a larger splatter and odor quotient).  The panel was terrific, and I am still happily amazed that I got to sit on a panel with scholars whose work I have read and admired for some years.

I also live-tweeted my way through most of the conference, and wanted to post some quick thoughts on that experience.  First, the live-tweeting would not have been possible without the considerable legwork of Heidi Knoblauch (@heidiknoblauch) and the other members of the AAHM Digital Media Ad Hoc Committee in the creation of the #AAHM14 Best Practices Guidelines.  So due thanks are owed to Heidi, Jean, Stephen, Bridget, Kelly, and Jacob for their leadership on this matter.

Second, if one wants to live-tweet a long day of panel sessions, papers, and talks, it’s important to get the technical set-up right.  The battery on my laptop isn’t great, and live-tweeting is a serial process that is not easily capture even on a smartphone with a large screen like the one I had.  As I thought about my style of live-tweeting in advance, three tools jumped out as absolutely necessary:

  1. a reliable WiFi or Internet connection;
  2. a computer/tablet/smartphone with a long battery life; and
  3. a device that has or can accommodate a keyboard.

Right at the outset, it’s interesting to note that planning to live-tweet an academic conference does seem to benefit from advance planning, both from the organization itself and on the part of the live-tweeter.  Even with the assistance provided by the Ad Hoc Committee, if I had just shown up without having given thought to the logistics of live-tweeting, I could not have done so to the extent that I managed.

In any event, as noted above, my smartphone was not a good choice for live-tweeting, and the battery on my laptop is dying, with a max of about 3 hrs of unplugged use.  One cannot count on having electrical outlets readily available in the variety of locations needed to accommodate panel-switching, room-jumping, etc.  So, I decided to borrow an iPad from my university library, and paired it with a full-size but nevertheless thin and compact bluetooth keyboard.  And the decision worked out much better than one ever dares hope with tech . . . even after a full day of consistent usage, the iPad never dropped below 50% battery life, the 10-in screen made viewing relatively comfortable, and the full-size keyboard made typing relaxed and comfortable.

(Note: this is not meant to shill for Apple products.  I am platform agnostic, using and being quite comfortable with Apple, Windows/PC, and Android/Chrome environments and products, but it cannot be denied that Apple’s battery life technology is spectacular).

Some people had some trouble accessing the hotel conference WiFi.  At first, I thought this was a capacity problem of the hotel’s, but Nathaniel Comfort (@nccomfort) investigated and discovered that the hotel charged $25/token for conference WiFi access, and such a significant cost essentially precluded the AAHM from being able to provide WiFi access to all attendees who wished to make use of it.  (I was fortunate to arrive relatively early to the conference and thus was able to obtain access).

Third, it was humbling and gratifying to receive messages from a number of tweeps showing interest and/or expressing gratitude for my efforts to live-tweet:

(from tweeting the scholarly program of The Sigerist Circle)

At one point, something called Eurovision was going on during #AAHM14, so there were some amusing exchanges with European colleagues, including historian of nursing Anja Peters:

Or this one, from Sarah Rose Crook:

It is gratifying to know my efforts at live-tweeting do provide some kind of service to those, like law professor and medical historian Kara Swanson, who could not attend:


But, I was thinking about the fact that live-tweeting really helps me as well.  Live-tweeting is a form of note-taking.  I appreciate the opportunity afforded by the speakers and panelists (who have worked so hard) to share the results of that work with a wider #histmed and even public audience via social media.  It is important to me to listen carefully and do the best I can to fairly interpret and represent the claims being made, sources being used, and conclusions being advanced.  So live-tweeting honestly does compel me to sit up a bit more, listen just a bit more carefully, and think about what the speakers are saying and arguing, in order to formulate my tweets.

The live-tweeter at an academic conference has a real responsibility to do whatever is possible to avoid misrepresentations or distortions.  At the same time, in providing a record of my reading of a speaker’s claims, live-tweeting does enable a speaker to go back and evaluate my own interpretations, and to provide corrections where needed.

The last item I wanted to note is, of course, what isn’t and probably shouldn’t be captured by live-tweeting: the contents of the rich and easy conversations had with colleagues over coffee breaks, lunches, or just simply passing in the halls.  There’s more on heaven and earth than what can be shared via live-tweeting.

But still, live-tweeting was fun, useful for me, and I look forward to doing so again for #AAHM15 in New Haven, CT!


(x-posted at AAHM Blog)