SHEAR 2012

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic in Baltimore. For me, SHEAR hits the sweet spot for conference size: large enough that there is a compelling variety to the program and an abundance of good choices for each time slot, but small enough that you can meet important people in the field and also not feel completely lost.

My main task at the conference was to participate in a panel which I helped put together: "Living with Annihilated Time and Space: New Social Histories of the Transportation Revolution." Graciously chaired by Dan Feller (Tennessee), the panel featured three papers which are working to create a richer history of the transportation revolution than currently exists in the historiography. In What Hath God Wrought, Daniel Walker Howe put communications front and center in the history of the early republic, so the time seems right to shepherd the transportation revolution beyond the realm of economic and business history.

My own paper consisted of material which I've posted to this blog. In my current research, I've been exploring how children learned about railroads. Given the dearth of primary source material written by children, I've been doing that most recently through shorter didactic literature and longer works of fiction. Will Mackintosh (Mary Washington) presented a fascinating paper on the "aesthetic possibilities" of the transportation revolution, looking at how travelers reflected on the aesthetic experience of their travel. Spencer Snow (Illinois) could not attend the meeting, but his paper, read by Dan Feller, challenged the ways in which historians have traditionally looked at travel guidebooks and emphasized how lived experience could contrast with the easily plotted routes in the books. We all received great comments from Christopher Clark (Connecticut), whose work I have long admired, and the audience had a series of relevant questions as well. All the feedback gave me much to consider as I re-assess my work and move forward.

With my principal obligation finished, I was able to spend the remainder of the conference enjoying the panels. I was able to fill the weekend with a nice selection of material, and was particularly struck at the number of panels engaging international themes (even beyond the Atlantic World which was such a hot topic in graduate school). In all, an enjoyable conference and one I'll look forward to returning to again.