Enough with the Talks

I’m speaking at a conference at 7 am tomorrow, and I didn’t even remember the topic of the talk (or whether it’s on Spain or Central America) until two minutes ago.

I don’t write “conference talks” and I don’t recommend people do it at all, especially if they don’t have a million publications. Write articles, submit them for publication, and then you’ll be able to cull any number of talks out of texts that will be already written and a lot less tentative and confusing than whatever you write purposefully as “a conference talk.”

The genre of “conference talk” in the Humanities should die a painful death as soon as possible. We end up with crowds of people who have dozens of these “talks” that never turned into actual research.

5 thoughts on “Enough with the Talks

  1. Although: if, for instance, you need to get to the MLA to interview, and the only way to get funded is to give a talk, and if giving a talk is also good so people interviewing you can also see you speak if they wish, then you’ve got to craft a talk JUST for the panel you’re applying to since it’s a competitive venue to get into. This doesn’t mean you can’t use the technique described here — just that it’s irritating when people aren’t speaking to panel, but are just reading aloud something pre-written for another purpose and only vaguely related here.

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    1. There are no more MLA interviews. That practice is long-gone. People do Zoom interviews and Zoom “campus visits.” This was true even before the pandemic. The last time my university sent a search committee to the MLA was in 2008.

      And it’s not just poor miserable places. I interviewed with a fancy school in 2018, and it was all Skype.

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      1. It’s been the case for many years. My point is: if you need to get to whatever conference for business reasons, this imperative can really twist what you decide to work up. The old advice of the conference paper as a step toward the article was never good.

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  2. REPLY TO: Enough with the Talks

    Another way that Humanities and mathematics are different, I guess. I have found over the years that conference talks in which I introduce new unsolved problems, providing research opportunities to young people has greatly enhanced my reputation, probably as much as my own publications. Looking back on it, I started doing this in part because similar talks gave me a large number of new problems to work on, which was a big help when I was an assistant professor..

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