A few weeks back when I was in the land of hoagies and Wawas (as Governor Romney called them when he was on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania), I stopped by the annual meeting of the Society for the Historians of the Early American Republic, which was meeting in Philadelphia.
Little aside here -- my God, Philadelphia looks fabulous. When I was growing up there in the 1970s (and in college there in the 1980s) it sure looked a lot different. I remember thinking when I saw Rocky way back in, what was that 1976, that it made Philadelphia look better than it was. That's saying something, I know. In fact, it's saying a lot. One of the things I did while in Philly was visit Dan Filler over at Drexel and he told me about all the development going on there -- including up on Fortieth and Lancaster. My first reaction was, I remember when that was to be avoided even at high noon. And west Philly past Fortieth Street -- that looks terrific, too. It's been a long time since the Move tragedy -- we're coming up on thirty years next summer. The world changes, often quickly.
While I'm thinking of Rocky I need to add that the area around the Art Museum looks great, too. A few years back I visitied it with my favorite librarian and mentioned to her before we arrived that she'd see kids running up the steps in the front and doing their Rocky imitation. Then when we arrived there, she said, "you're right! They are doing their Rocky imitation." I sort of smiled -- because though perhaps she found my prediction sort of impressive this didn't require a lot of, or really any, insight on my part. I said, "well, every day of every year from morning to night since 1976 you'd see people doing that."
So much for reminiscing about old times. SHEAR had a really fun panel where four presenters had twenty slides that they showed for twenty seconds each, it's called pechakucha. I'd never heard of this presentation style before -- but now I realize everyone else knows about it. Anyway, it was a ton of fun. Sort of like Ted Talks meet twitter or speed dating meets the academy or some such. The moderator had a great sense of humor and she said something like, "six minutes and forty seconds each ... I'm sure we can all survive that." It worked fabulously well. In fact, it was one of the best panels I've seen in years. I think there were two reasons for this. First it forced presenters to be super organized and know what they were going to say for each slide. The compressed time forced presenters to be clear about their thesis, too. Second, there's the added benefit that we hear a clear statement, some evidence, and move on to a new paper. I told the moderator -- only half-jokingly afterward -- every paper should be delivered like that. The more I think about this, the more I agree with that statement. Papers that get right to the point -- and also use some pictures -- can really be good. Plus, I have to confess, I often find papers don't have enough intellectual content to justify the full twenty or twenty-five minutes we give them.
Right now, though I'm preparing for a talk on the eugenics movement in North Carolina that I'm giving on Friday to public school teachers over in Raleigh, as part of a really exciting program that brings in a bunch of historians from colleges around the state and has them talk for an hour on their work. Not quite sure that eugenics is the topic I know best these days, but it's certainly a topic of a lot of interest in this state. So as I'm pulling my talk together I'm thinking I'd like to try a modified pecha kucha, where the slides change automatically, even if I'm not quite on the 20 second time frame. I have a whole fifty minutes to fill up, so the slides couldn't shift that quickly -- but I am very intrigued by the idea of setting the slides to change automatically -- that'd keep me moving.
Still, I'll probably just settle for a bunch of slides that I manually advance; this ought to be fun, nevertheless, lots to talk about here from the early twentieth century ideal of science to the regulatory state and economic analysis in the early twentieth century and the pre-printed forms designed to make the life of government bureaucrats easier, to the shifting attitudes towards eugenics around World War II, to its decline.
The illustration is one of the images I'm using in my talk. It's from Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race.
Update: here is a podcast of my talk on Eugenics.