The RSA Blues
|This RSA conference may go down in history (history, I tell you!) as the one that makes the members of RSA refuse to pay dues next year. I do not understand what they're spending all that money on. Conference programs? Misprinted -- the times along the margins of the pages don't always match the actual times of the panels on those pages (this is particularly disastrous for a conference that features 12 sessions of 40,000 panels each). Name tags? They don't even say 'RSA' on them. Just your name, your affiliation, and "Annual Meeting" all printed in black ink on white cardstock in what looks to be 14pt. Times New Roman. I could be anywhere! Which brings us to the next thing they're clearly not spending money on. The hotel. We're trapped in some strange section of town between the bay and the interstate which passes for a cultural district in Miami. From GEMCS I expect this kind of thing. I like it, even, in that context. GEMCS is the scrappy little conference that could. The adventure of walking through rubble to find a good bar in Tampa? That was fun. But couldn't an organization with what I'd guess is over 1,000 dues-paying members find a place that didn't have stains on all the carpets of its rooms? Or how about one that can actually house all the conference attendees? Half the people here are staying at some "spill-over" hotel by the airport, paying 25 bucks one way to get to where the 'action' is. And don't get me started on the book exhibit. I know RSA itself doesn't pay to get publishers in here, but there are like four presses with tables here, and they all specialize in facsimile editions of Italian grammars! Argh!|
If I sound a little gripey, it's because of the sheer expense of this conference. Not everyone works at Huge Pile of Money U, and there are only so many of things my department will spring for. I'm seriously considering crossing this one off the list. What do I really get out of RSA? A chance to see my non-dramatic peeps in action. That's good. A sense of connection with historians, art historians, and scholars working on continental renaissances. That's also good -- and possibly even intellectually important. But I also get completely overwhelmed by the panel options (there are approximately 324 this year), and I have very little faith in the program-selection committee. No real fault of their own: it's just impossible to choose 972 good paper proposals. I end up going to see the same people speak year after year, simply because I know their written work is good. I suppose this is true at most conferences, but still. There's something about the size of this one that actually squelches my desire to be adventurous.
If RSA is going to continue to be a monstrous, and therefore presumably profitable conference, it should be organized with style and purpose. There's a fantastic amount of raw material here, and there has to be some way to bring scholars with interrelated interests into conversation with one another, rather than atomizing them into a million tiny panels. Perhaps broad aesthetic or historical categories could serve as organizing rubrics for seminar-style sessions a la SAA? I could imagine historians, art historians, and literary scholars working together on Empire or Labor or Patronage or even something as broad as Style. Maybe there should be a greater number of large, purposefully cross-discipline paper sessions bringing together reputable scholars from different fields under a broader heading? Just a bit more guidance from an organizational center would, I think, make this a great conference. But as it stands right now, it feels a bit like torture, plus seeing some friends. And I think nearly everyone in Miami this year would agree with that.