Moderator Blog Post by: Bradley Skopyk
P&P’s Spanish language panel happened in the afternoon on October 7. The panel was excellent, the panelists brilliant. Still, it must be said that our group was sparsely populated. We were 3! Two panelists and me. This morning the body count was at five, but for various reasons our two guests (non-presenters) failed to appear.
One of the troubles of organizing a Spanish panel in an all-English workshop is that the language barrier keeps out other conference participants from joining our panel. This meant that any additional commentators had to brought in from the outside, effectively joining P&P for only this conversation. More difficulties arose from the fact that communication with grad students in Latin America (the area of the Spanish-speaking world that I know best) seems not to happen through listserves (my mainstay). I had more success writing personal emails to profs (essentially giving up on the grad student focus), but I figured this out too late.
The panelists commented on either other’s papers, and I threw in a few comments, and our small group produced an interesting and lively discussion. Pablo’s work–for this panel–was on open access research and dissemination—essentially launching a well-justified attack on the exclusivity of academia and its associated institutions, especially in Spain, which he backed up with an excellent history of academic labour and a discussion of the Franco effect. Not surprisingly he was very excited about the idea of making conferences accessible. He’s working with wiki and other websites to open up archival research. Julian’s paper, too, related to inequality and marginality and thus fit nice with the digitization of history them. His paper also brought together environment (a river basin of Bogotá) and urban marginalization to work within the “the ecology of the poor” model, to borrow his borrowed words.
At the end, Julian declared his interest in organizing a pre-SOLCHA (the Latin American version of ASEH) event with Skype discussions on pre-defined themes. In turn, I suggested that we video-cast some of the panels at SOLCHA (in June, 2012; Colombia) and invite Skype questions after. I’ve seen the videocast and SKYPE Q&A done at a documentary on the effects of Climate Change in Nunavut culture. Locals from Nunavut watched and then commented. Pablo was very supportive of both ideas, noting that cost and emissions would both be reduced.
The problems: How to discuss images and maps in a Skype call? Julian’s appendix of photos (pre-circulated as a PDF) was very interesting and helped to explain his project, but it was sometimes difficult to know what, exactly, he was trying to point out in the photo, or even, which image was being discussed. That wasn’t his fault. Still it poses an interesting challenge, especially for environmental historians, who rely so heavily on maps and images. It would be nice to have some kind of video board that he could interact with and we could see online. But really, I have no idea what this would be, if it exists or even if it’s possible. One wonders if there isn’t a better medium than Skype. Say some specially designed web seminar program in which a single page integrated images, videos, text and voice (or video)connections.
The usual stuff offered some mild annoyances. We lost connection a couple of times. Julian’s headset or audio system periodically interfered with Pablo’s voice. But these small technical problems did not inhibit our discussion and caused very little annoyance. In the end, the main problem was not technical, but human: our non-existent audience. I tried, everyone tried, to round up folks. Even having two other people would have made a difference.
Still, we talked for 2.5 hours, starting a half-hour late because we waited for our guests. No one was knocking on the door to kick us out. We could have talked all night. Actually, Pablo almost did! His conversation ended at midnight Parisian time.