Editor's Note: As you read this report of the MWWHA's 2012 conference, please consider becoming a member of the MWWHA, and please attend our 2013 Conference. For more information, please see HERE. The Middle Ground Journal and the MWWHA also encourage all to become members of The World History Association, of which we are affiliates. HML
Conference Report: A Culture of Congeniality and Collaboration, 3rd Annual MWWHA Conference, Grand Valley State University, 2012, by Nicole Magie
The most recent Midwest World History Association (MWWHA) conference was a clear reminder of why I joined the MWWHA from its start and why I originally joined the parent organization, the World History Association (WHA) , years ago. At the time, I was a brand new adjunct instructor of World History with a Masters Degree. While attending the AHA conference, I showed up at an evening social of the WHA after following the organization online for a couple of years. Although I arrived to the social as a non-member, by the end of the evening I had decided to become a lifelong member. After engaging in some of the most interesting and challenging conversations that I had experienced within academia, I was then warmly invited to join a group for dinner to continue the conversations. This contrasted with previous academic gatherings I had attended elsewhere that seemed rather self-celebratory and stuffy.
Since this refreshingly pleasant introduction to the world history crowd, I have noticed the same warmth of welcome at WHA events for those interested in world history, regardless of professional status, as well as the same tendency toward interesting conversations that encompass the globe. The WHA – and now its regional organization the MWWHA – is a congenial and collaborative culture, whether it’s an AP World History reading, a regional or national conference, or within the pages of their printed and online journals. Therefore, it was no surprise to me that the 3rd annual Midwest World History Association conference hosted by Grand Valley State University this past August was one of congeniality, collaboration, and academically stimulating conversations.
As the name of this journal indicates, the MWWHA serves as a “middle ground” for linking various groups interested in World History: particularly K-12 teachers together with community college and university professors, but also bringing students and the general public into these conversations. The conference itself reflected this goal accomplished. For example, the panel “Humans and the Rest of Nature” included the conference keynote speaker Lawrence G. Gundersen and the previous MWWHA president Paul Jentz together with Grand View University student Cay Leytham-Powell.
And collaboration went beyond the academy, as in the panel “Empires and Globalization: Social and Environmental Impacts,” which not only included Dennis O. Flynn, an economist whose works on the silver trade are well-known among world historians, but also David LePoire from Argonne National Laboratory.
The conference also demonstrated the collaborative nature of the MWWHA in the pairing of this 3rd annual conference, titled “The Reshaping of Planet Earth: Connections between Humans and the Environment in World History,” together with the Inaugural Conference of the International Big History Association. The concurrent panels allowed members of both organizations to attend a greater variety of panels and the shared nightly receptions, as well as shared meals and breaks, facilitated conversations between all those in attendance.
While congeniality and collaboration are nice, this alone would not be enough. It is the presentations, discussions and conversation that stimulate your mind throughout the weekend and change your practice once you return home. For example, the roundtable “Engaging Students in the World History Classroom: Some Reflections” that included presentations from professors and undergraduate students who work together – but with distinctive approaches – at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, caused me to rethink my own approach to teaching in fresh ways. Similarly, the panel “The Environment and Human Developments in World History: Three Teaching Ideas” gave me teaching ideas as well, but the presentations and group discussion also challenged me to reconsider the limitations in my use of the concept of “landscapes” and the divide I had accepted between agriculture and industry.
Together, the atmosphere of collaboration and the academically stimulating content made the 3rd annual MWWHA conference extremely valuable for those of us in attendance, while also laying the groundwork for future MWWHA conferences, such as the 4th annual MWWHA conference at Wittenberg University this upcoming September 2013. The theme of “Conflict and Peace in World History” is likely to generate fruitful discussions in both panels and keynotes, as well as over meals and in the hallways. In between conferences, this online journal serves to facilitate these valuable conversations openly and creatively, with ongoing updates throughout the year. For me, these global scope dialogues have been foundational to my own academic and teaching life over the years, previously as a high school teacher and adjunct instructor, and currently as I complete my doctoral program. As with many of us, these ongoing conversations will also be a central part of my future.