Presenting research in progress and sharing ideas on panels at the AJHA convention are great ways to sharpen your focus, expand your thinking, and cultivate connections with other scholars. But how do you write a successful panel or RIP proposal?

Advice about that is typically passed down informally from adviser to grad student or from senior scholar to junior scholar. Like so many aspects of academic culture, it tends to be shared orally. And those who lack such coaching may not even consider submitting a proposal for panels or research in progress because they don’t know where to start.

In the interest of encouraging those unfamiliar with the process, we considered the following question: “What does someone preparing a panel proposal for the first time need to do to compete with established scholars?” What follows is a starting point to answer that question. We welcome any pointers more established AJHA members would like to share. Look here for the AJHA Call for Papers, Panels, and Research in Progress for the 2017 annual convention in Little Rock, Arkansas.

How do I write a successful panel proposal?

  • Familiarize yourself with the AJHA panel sessions held in recent years, which can be found in programs from those conferences. This will help you avoid repetition and give you a sense of the type of panels that get accepted to the conference.
  • Make your proposal appealing to media historians working outside your particular field of research. Rather than focus on a narrow slice of media history, think about ways to broaden the scope. This might mean addressing some aspect of theory, method, teaching, or publication that applies to historians working in all areas.
  • Aim for diversity among your panelists, and get a commitment from them before you submit the proposal. The most persuasive proposals include panelists from diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and institutions who are well trained in the subject and open to discussion.
  • About commitments from panelists: Sometimes panel lineups shift after acceptance. That’s understandable if a medical or family emergency comes up just before the convention. However, the Research Committee expects all panel organizers to obtain firm commitments from members before they submit the proposal.
  • Panels that put participants and the audience in conversation with each other are among the most successful ones at the convention.
  • Most important, demonstrate your knowledge by briefly summarizing previous writing or commentary on the topic before suggesting a new avenue for discussion. A panel proposal should be written like a research proposal, with the same attention given to clarity, thoroughness, proper writing, and citations. Rather than propose questions to be answered through primary research, a panel puts forth ideas to be explored through compelling discussion. As with any proposal, your goal is to demonstrate two things: 1) that your idea is worth executing, and 2) that you are capable of executing it.

How do I write a successful research in progress proposal?

  • The research-in-progress submission should represent more than an idea, but far less than an almost completed paper. The proposal should include initial research questions, primary sources, and a justification for why your project is significant. Ideas for relevant theory and methods should be included, if known. In sum, the proposal should include a well-defined topic and demonstrate that the researcher has a compelling, significant, and executable research project.
  • That said, the research should be at a stage where suggestions for additional research questions, theory, sources (primary and secondary) and research methods would be useful and meaningful.
  • Explain what kind of primary sources you are looking for in the archives. Show that the proposal has gone beyond the initial phase by listing the primary sources you’re using or plan to use and how they are significant to the project.
  • Clearly state the purpose of your project. Though you don’t have to hit people over the head with it, there is no clearer way to begin your statement of purpose than to write, “The purpose of this project is to …”
  • Make a clear and compelling argument supporting the significance of your project. What have previous scholars done? How will your project advance the field?
  • Remember that Research in Progress is for scholars who have not completed a project and who are looking for feedback on how to take their projects to the next level.

MICHAEL FUHLHAGE, Wayne State University, is AJHA Research Chair, Coordinator of the Research Papers Competition and Administrator of the Joseph McKerns Research Grant.

MELITA GARZA, Texas Christian University, is AJHA Research in Progress Competition Coordinator.

TRACY LUCHT, Iowa State University, is AJHA Panels Competition Coordinator.

 

The Louisiana floods have had me worried about friends in Louisiana since the story broke over the weekend, and like others I have been frustrated at the dearth of coverage. Skye Cooley’s article at Huffington Post makes some interesting and valid points. But I have a more structural explanation for why the news media aren’t showing us more of this flooding.

It goes back to 2012-2015, when Advance gutted most of the veteran reporters and photojournalists from the reporting staffs of the then-dominant news outlets closest to where the Louisiana flooding disaster continues to unfold today: the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Press-Register in Mobile, and distant though it may be, the Birmingham News.

These newspapers were the heart of a 24/7/365 information-gathering-and-disseminating ecosystem that fed news through the national food chain.

I remember the video that one of the Times-Picayune photojournalists shot of Hurricane Katrina survivors stranded with little food and water and deteriorating shelter downtown. “Help us, please!” the woman in the photo on the front page shouted, leading a chant of “help us, please!” That became the lead headline, in what must have been 180-point type, on the front page.

A dominant regional news outlet shouts like that, and the message carries far enough for the other regional media to pick it up (like the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News and Atlanta Journal Constitution back in the day), and Montgomery and Birmingham and Huntsville, all of which have senators and congresspeople who pay attention to the news back home every day and talk with each other about what they can do to help their neighboring states.

The pleas for help don’t carry very far very fast now because regional news media, like the birds in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” went quiet. Regardless of whether the story “fits the narrative,” there are fewer voices to lift up the cry for help.

And in a news media universe that is increasingly consolidated and profit-driven, crews must travel longer distances to cover disasters unless they occur in the major media centers of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Atlanta, where news crews are standing by.

In the old model, cable TV news would have ripped and read from the newspapers at the epicenter of the disaster until they could get their own operations in place. Now the chain of information that leads them to decide to send crews is disrupted.

I don’t mean to say what I’ve written here and the HuffPost article are the only explanations for the lack of coverage. Nor am I saying all news outlets fell down on the job. The Advocate in Baton Rouge is performing admirably and has done so since the story broke. What other explanations can you think of, and who else is doing good work covering the flooding and the start of recovery?

Posted without comment from the Daily Missouri Democrat (St. Louis), Saturday, December 22, 1860:

San Francisco Takes the Hat – The latest mention of the fertile Golden State is a plan to make white dogs useful. Your San Franciscan seizes up is white cur, and, with stencilplate and black ink, inscribes his business card on each side of the wretched pup, and sends him forth, a quadrupedal locomotive advertisement – a doggerotype of the fast people of a fast country in a fast age. It is reckoned that a lively dog will be worth at least five dollars a day, or equal to a quarter of a column in a newspaper.”

While doing research on journalism during the secession winter of 1860 to 1861, it occurred to me that in maintaining a continually updated list of South Carolina legislators’ stances on taking down the Confederate flag, the Post & Courier of Charleston is doing the same thing the Charleston Mercury did on the question of seceding.
Witness the following account, published as an exchange item in the Boston Journal on December 12, 1860:

“THE CHARLESTON ELECTION: There was evidently a screw loose in the election of the Charleston delegates to the State Convention of South Carolina. It was intended by the Rhett faction to be a completely one-sided affair, sending up a united delegation pledged to immediate secession. Accordingly, the Mercury had kept standing lists in its columns of the candidates known to be sound, from their explicit declarations, those who had not pledged themselves to instant secession, and those who had made no reply to interrogatories addressed to them.”

The piece went on to explain that a couple of uncommitted delegates were elected despite pressure from the Mercury. This should be a reminder that the press is powerful, but it is not all-powerful. The ultimate pressure comes from the people. Just as the battle then was not won by the Mercury, so the battle today is not won by the Post & Courier. Make your opinion known. Here’s mine: That flag has got to come down. That banner may be a symbol of heritage, but the deeper I get into the newspapers of the secession crisis, the more evidence piles up that the Civil War was about maintaining a system in which wealthy planters preserved their means of getting richer (cheap labor combined with a voracious appetite to expand the footprint of slavery) by co-opting poor Southern whites’ opinions via appeals to racial superiority. We are all equal regardless of color, creed, religion, ethnicity, national heritage, gender or sexual orientation.
So it’s nice to enjoy the irony of the press of today employing, for the purpose of removing an emblem of pride in racism, the same system that the press of yesteryear employed to put it up.

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