School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

McGill-Queen's History Conference

By Christine Elie

February 2013

On March 1 and 2, 2013, Queen’s University will play host to the 10th Annual McGill-Queen’s Graduate Conference in History. As an inter-university conference, McGill and Queen’s alternate as hosts in this student-run conference. Bringing together scholars from an array of disciplines under the conference theme of Interstices: Interrogating the Past and its Relevance to the Present, one of the goals of this conference, according to co-chair Kendall Garton, is to emphasize that “you don’t have to be a historian to ‘do history’.”

“I had no idea how much work it would be!” exclaims Kendall,” the little things really start to add up!” With the conference fast approaching, co-chairs Angela Duffett and Kendall Garton definitely have their plates full. “It has been exciting but also a major learning experience,” says Angela, “we were lucky to have the help of our conference committee and the people who organized this event the last time it was held at Queen’s, in 2011.”

What motivated these two Ph.D candidates to take on months of work organizing the conference as co-chairs? “I’ve attended and presented at the McGill-Queen’s conference for the past 3 years, so I thought it would be fun to experience the conference from the other side of things this time!” says Kendall. Both her and Angela agree that conference organizing of this calibre contributes to professional development and offers a balance to the researching and writing of their dissertations. “Graduate conferences, I think, are especially important spaces for us to share our work with people who are all at the same starting-out level in our research,” says Angela.

The two-day conference will feature 59 conference presentations organized into 19 panels that span temporal and geographic boundaries covering everything from Contact and Communication in Colonial North America to Material and Memory in Modern Germany.  The breath of topics is undeniably alluring – offering something for everyone. (For a complete list of presentations, please visit the link below.)

What makes this conference so appealing is the decision by the conference co-chairs to encourage interdisciplinary participation. “I think the networking and social elements of an interdisciplinary conference are very appealing,” says Angela, “sometimes in grad school you feel as if you only interact with other people in the same program as you – it’s interesting to hear about what’s going on in the other departments and how someone in another discipline might be tackling a very similar topic but asking different questions of it.”

“We made sure we sent out our call for papers to a wide range of graduate departments across North America and encouraged interdisciplinary scholars who work with history to apply,” states Kendall, “we have presenters from history, art history, politics, sociology and even medicine.” Their organization technique relied in part on social media. While it contributed to communication between the co-chairs and the committee, it also helped get the word out on the conference itself: “we created a wordpress site, and shared the link via facebook and twitter.” Angela also mentioned that she follows a few students, academics and archivists on twitter:  “I’ve never met [them] person so it was really cool to see them retweet the link and see how far the word spread!”

Having received over 75 applications this year, the conference committee members placed all accepted applicants into 3 or 4 person panels, which will be chaired by professors and upper-year doctoral candidates.  This is one of the many benefits to participating in a graduate conference, according to Kendall, they “provide emerging scholars with an opportunity to present their work to both their peers and professors in a less intimidating, more laid back atmosphere before trying out some of the professional conferences.”

In addition to the conference presentations, the conference will also include a keynote speech by University of Waterloo medical historian Dr. Heather MacDougall (4 pm, March 1 in Wallace Hall, JDUC) as well as a reception at the Museum of Health Care. The conference will also include a lunchtime workshop led by recent Queen’s History Ph.D. grad Dr. Pamela Peacock. She will present her talk entitled “Ivory Tower Suburbia: Starting a Career that doesn’t involve Tenure, but does apply your History degree.”  Aware of the common fear amongst grad students, Kendall believes “the question of what to do with our degrees is constantly discussed among grad students, so the hope is that this workshop will be a productive and reflective way to talk about our futures.”

With the conference only a day away and the final pieces of the planning puzzle falling into place, it seems clear that this will be an informative and stimulating conference. “I think the networking component can’t be underestimated, states Angela, “Many of these people, whether we wind up in academic careers, public service, private industry, will be our future colleagues and collaborators.”

For more information on the 10th Annual McGill-Queen’s Graduate Conference in History and the conference schedule, please visit: