Moderator Blog Post by: Michael Del Vecchio
The second plenary panel consisted of a small, yet dedicated group. Two panelists, Glen Sandiford and Erin Neufeld), joined me for a discussion about the role of technology in disseminating research. We talked about the format of the conference in general, and, more specifically, the three short films that were submitted for the conference.
Both Glen Sandiford and Erin Neufeld each made a point which crystallized some of the objectives the NiCHE New Scholars Reading Group had when conceptualizing and planning the conference. First, Glen mentioned that he really appreciated how relaxed the atmosphere of the conference was. Although we were on Skype, only audio (no video) was used. You could join the conference in your pajamas if you wanted, as many, especially those from other time zones, did. The conference had none of the “small-talk” time of a normal in face-to-face meeting, an aspect that some may miss, but others may appreciate. In essence, Glen felt it was all about the paper and the research. Erin, who joined our conference all the way from New Zealand, was simply happy that she was able to present and discuss research with out leaving her home or spending any money. This same dilemma was the catalyst behind the formation of the NiCHE New Scholars Reading Group who responsible for organizing the conference. Graduate students from across Canada, often lacking other environmental history students in their home department, began to meet monthly using Skype to network and workshop papers. Several presentations, articles, and dissertations (included some of my own work) have been greatly aided by the ability to network for no cost in either cash or carbon. To be fair, some money was spent on running the conference. Approximately $1, 000 Canadian was spent to cover to cost of purchasing and mailing more than twenty headsets that were shipped to every continent except Asia and Antartica (we did have a participant who is currently living in Japan, but he received a headset from last year’s conference). Compared to how much money it would take to have flown everyone (from New Zealand, Mexico, Japan, Uganda, etc) to a central location, the costs seem minimal indeed.
In general, we three favoured Amanda Hooykaas’ video “Lost in Space: Found in Place” because Hooykaas’ video was the only one that included a distinct narrative (whether written in text or spoken). The three of us had trouble following the other two videos. We appreciated that they were an aesthetically stimulating series of images, but we wanted something more direct in the way the directors presented their stories. However, I wondered how both the medium and context was affecting the message. In a freakishly fateful moment, I noticed that Andrew Watson, who was moderating the other plenary session, has just tweeted “Does society need to be spoon-fed with a story (a narrator) in order ‘to get’ the message in films.” I realized that my objectives for the videos, that is, what I wanted and expected them to do, affected the way in which I interpreted them. I had spent half the morning discussing the role of narrative in environmental history and, at least for myself, concluded that it was central. My mindset at the time of discussing the films certainly effected my interpretation. I wondered that if I had viewed them at an art show, or after reading a piece of environmental history that stressed the role of visual imagery, would my perception and interpretation of the films been different. Would I have been more open to recognize the non-verbal or non-written narrative that existed within each film? These are questions that I will continue to ask as I experiment with the role of video while preparing my own videos for NiCHE’s EHTV (Environmental History Television – http://niche-canada.org/ehtv).
After about an hour of discussion, we discovered that Erin had also once worked as a guide while living in Alaska. At this point the conversation diverged as we laughed and shared stories of our experiences.