Guest Post by Ralph Locke – Post-AMS Ponderings: Structure of the Official Daytime Paper Sessions

November 18, 2011 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

Ryan made interesting comments in his recent pre-AMS post.

I wonder if his concerns are still the same now that he has attended this conference. What I saw/experienced was lots of papers–official ones during the daytime, and unofficial ones at night, organized by Study Groups and such. Many, many papers by grad students, I thought. But this is from the perspective of a senior scholar. (I’m 62 years old, so probably now qualify for that seemingly distinguished title by simple matter of chronological age….)

The question of how to run the Annual Meeting is always being debated. If anybody reading this blog (or writing for it) has concrete proposals, by all means make them to the Board or the Council (through your Council Representative).

The Board itself ponders these matters anew almost every year. There is a questionnaire (online) that all attendees of last week’s meeting received, asking us some questions in this regard, e.g., whether papers should be shortened to 20 minutes, thereby creating 2-hour sessions and hence more sessions.

I hate this. I find that a 20-minute time frame–which I’ve had to abide by at some conferences–does not allow us to let enough music–or basic contextual info–be heard, and so our findings just don’t make much impact on a listening audience that isn’t already closely attuned to the repertoire and “where it’s coming from.” I say this also as an audience member listening, not just as a presenter speaking. I need to be eased into a topic, and have some concrete music to react to. I didn’t know the particular Telemann overtures-suites that Stephen Zohn spoke on last week. I needed to hear enough to give me a sense, or else I would have had to take almost everything he said on faith.

But that’s just me. You may feel differently, in which case I hope you’ll continue to speak up!

As for anonymity, I thought that the Board made a very wise decision a few years ago in keeping the original 120 “blind” papers and then allowing the Program Committee to add another 24 once the names of the abstract-writers have been revealed. This allows for the possibility that one or another abstract may sound much more interesting and substantive once one knows that the person who wrote the abstract is the world-renowned author of book X on the subject (a basic fact that s/he is not permitted to make clear in the abstract itself).

Speaking of which, what does an abstract writer do in order to indicate that s/he is taking his/her own work further? Some of the abstracts published in the conference program refer to “my previous article in journal X”—but clearly this wording was not in the original submitted abstract. Some of us have taken to referring to ourselves in the third person. But this can create an unintentionally misleading effect, if musicologist Y creates an abstract lamenting the weaknesses in the 2008 article by Y, in order to establish the crucial importance of getting his or her paper on next year’s AMS meeting (in New Orleans).

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Amusicology goes to AMS 2011 Our far flung correspondents: Delaware reporting in post-AMS

1 Comment

  • 1. academic ronin  |  November 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I’d like to respectfully disagree with some of the points raised here. The 30 minute paper is very long; like many JAMS articles, it seems to be the novella of the academic world: neither a true article nor a book chapter. Since the change to longer papers, overall paper quality has dropped a bit, at least to me. Either people are trying to stuff book chapters into the format, or stretching to fill it. The 20 minute paper asked presenters to be succinct and get to the point; there was no rationalizing by the scholar as to why s/he did what s/he did: just findings, contextualized and crisp. I’d be in favor or 2-3 keynotes in the longer length, but overall, I want to hear a precis and solid argument. I can go listen to more examples or look up more detail myself.

    I’m also in favor of dropping the non-blind acceptances. I rarely see good papers that build on previous work by the same author that can’t stand on their own as an abstract. If they can’t, maybe they aren’t appropriate for a paper, requiring previous knowledge that the audience won’t necessarily have. It bothers me that poor submissions might be accepted over stronger ones simply because the author is well-known or continuing work that got in the previous time s/he was eligible. Not every author creates a gem every time s/he writes an abstract. Take the good stuff, whoever wrote it!

    I’d also like to see the time period between acceptance eligibilities extended. Of the presenters who spoke in 2011, 44 had also presented papers in 2009–that’s a lot of people who are presenting every time they are eligible! Clearly they’re writing abstracts that the committee likes, but often it is similar research to their prior presentations, not something new. I want to hear really new things when I go to AMS.

    I would be fine if the AMS had 2-3 invited keynotes–known speakers, talking about their newest projects–scheduled when there are no other sessions going on. This would also help alleviate the problem–which we see at every meeting–of a small room packed to the gills to hear a famous scholar, while in the enormous ballrooms a grad student presents to 10.


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