Before the Conference: Recruiting A Panel
Senior colleagues may hardly need guidance here – except about the CCC’s peculiarities. Younger colleagues, on the other hand, may read on with amusement.
In our experience a very effective model in general is the panel with two organisers, a younger one (whose original idea the panel may well be) and a senior one. Each will contribute to recruiting the balance of youth and experience that a panel usually needs in its speakers. Youth and experience…: there is a risk in stereotyping, but sometimes unless one recognizes the power of stereotypes one may fall victim to them. Relevant stereotypes here are: first, that young scholars especially are expected – indeed are paid – to produce valid novelties, and commonly succeed; and that publishers, in contrast, are averse to collective projects involving no well-known names. Even the most experienced scholars and organisers do well, at the earliest stages of recruitment, to seek advice from trusted (and especially overseas) colleagues in their field, about who - in the world - should be invited. The international landscape - especially of young talent – changes almost by the month. Anglophone organisers are especially urged to remember the reservoir of scholarship which exists in the CCC’s permanent partner, France. (On papers in French, please see below.)
The title of a panel should perhaps err on the side of precision. Potential speakers may be put off by the appearance of over-generality in the subject matter, as the specialisms in our profession become deeper and more separate. There is, on the other hand, an art in identifying precise themes – and especially methods – which are shared by apparently disparate fields. We reflect on the success of the book The Invention of Tradition (eds. Hobsbawm and Ranger). Just about every classicist can see immediately the relevance of that theme to our subject, and yet not a single chapter of the book in question is about the ancient world.
The wording of initial invitations to speakers is a delicate matter, and not only when a scholar of some eminence is being addressed. Here the input, and influence, of a senior colleague may be especially valuable. Where a particularly promising colleague – at a distance – accepts, organisers may wish immediately to offer them a special input, as in recommending an additional speaker or in chairing a session.
Where organisers are thinking of eventually making a collective volume based on their panel, the number and length of the initial, oral contributions is especially important. To take an extreme (but real) case: a panel of 25 excellent colleagues poses a problem. Papers will tend, at least initially, to be too short to be properly developed or assessed. And publishers commonly refuse huge multi-author volumes. Appraising and addressing the characteristics of 25 different authors is a burden for any editor, and huge books are usually uneconomic – or inaccessible because of their price. From experience, the CCC increasingly recommends papers of 35-40 minutes, which means a maximum of some 15 speakers per panel. On the other hand, panels designed more as workshops than as a step towards a collective volume may have fewer problems with multiple short papers.
Once invitations to potential speakers have gone out, we have found that reactions form a strikingly regular pattern. Almost everyone who does eventually come to speak says 'Yes' firmly and within a few days of receiving their invitation. Conversely, equivocation rarely turns out well, and long silence is the worst of omens. Invitees who pose special conditions, such as 'I would only be able to speak on the Thursday', very often generate other difficulties later and quite often end by cancelling entirely.
In the months between a speaker’s acceptance and the event, organisers should send to each a (fairly) circular message or two, not just to give news but also to reassure and check that all is well.
Calls for Papers
These will almost always prove informative about the activity of – especially young – scholars. If you issue a CFP, we’d suggest you do it fairly late in the recruitment process, by which time already-existing acceptances allow organisers to see which topics are well and less-well covered.