by Holly Stevens White
This past Saturday, the Virginia Consortium of Early Americanists convened for their fourth annual meeting at the University of Richmond. Founded in 2014 in order to provide a forum for the wealth of scholarship focused on early American history in Virginia, each year the program evolves and the number of attendees grows. To facilitate this process and continue to connect early Americanists in Virginia throughout the year, VCEA launched their official website.
VCEA started with an informal opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to think about career diversity with Emily Swafford, Manager of Academic Affairs at the American Historical Association and Liz Covart of the OI’s Ben Franklin’s World and Doing History podcast series. In addition to learning about the various opportunities in the history profession outside of the traditional tenure track job, students also heard about the awesome resources available through the AHA to help them navigate these non-academic job options.
The meeting officially began with a talk by Edward L. Ayers, University Professor and President Emeritus of the University of Richmond. Professor Ayers’ informative talk, “From Digital is Marginal to Digital is Central: Reflections on Digital History,” gave an overview of his career trajectory using digital resources in his own scholarship as well as a current state of the field including digital resources available to scholars such as the Digital Scholar Lab and the History Engine.
This year attendees had the opportunity to sit at themed lunch tables that included gender and sexuality in early America, markets and trade in early America, native and indigenous studies in early America, and slavery and freedom in early America among other topics. The lunch tables were a hit as they stimulated conversation among scholars across institutions, hopefully inspiring future collaboration.
VCEA’s program included a mix of presentation styles which included a lightning round panel session, two traditional panel sessions, and a pre-circulated paper intensive workshop. This year’s Lightning Round Panel was chaired by George Mason University’s Professor Cynthia Kierner and included “Elite Black Sheep in the Early Republic,” presented by Lindsay Keiter, an historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation as well as GMU Master student, Dan Howlett’s innovative work using Social Network analysis of the Salem Witch trials. William & Mary Ph.D. student, Caylin Carbonell also presented a lightning round talk on her dissertation, “Women and Household Authority in Early New England.” Caylin stated “I really enjoyed the lightning round as both a participant and audience member. Since we only had five minutes to speak, I thought it was particularly helpful in forcing me to distill my project into its most basic terms. I also enjoyed hearing about all of the exciting work my colleagues are doing and found that the lightning round format really facilitated conversation by giving us a taste of other projects, but leaving us with much more to discuss throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening!”
Those who attended the traditional panel session, “Innovative Methods in Early American History” heard from George Mason University Ph.D. student, Stephanie Seal Walters about her research: “A Nest of Tories: A Digital Analysis of Loyalist Communities in Virginia during the American Revolution.” At the second traditional panel session, “Case Studies in Early American History,” Marcus P. Nevius, Assistant Professor at the University of Rhode Island, shared his research on free black laborers at work in the Great Dismal Swamp, 1790-1860.
Finally, this year’s VCEA offered a unique workshop that offered panelists the opportunity to receive intensive feedback on pre-circulated writing drafts. Jason Sellers, an Assistant Professor of history at the University of Mary Washington who shared his work, “Hudson Valley Indians and the Ecological Self,” had this to say: “the workshop gave me a chance to have multiple thorough discussions of a major concept I was using to organize my work. That meant I received several different but complementary responses, rather than maybe one comment or a single thread that would have emerged in a panel format. That was very useful, since this is a new project and readers were seeing the premise for a larger argument. Fifteen minutes was about right, and I liked having two readers at a time to talk with—lots of dimensions to those discussions.”
Next year’s meeting is already on the books for Saturday, January 26th, 2019 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Details on how and when to submit paper proposals will be posted on the VCEA website later in 2018.