Continuing transitions: The LHPC
The Lancaster Historical Postgraduate Conference (LHPC) is a successful annual early-career academic conference, hosted and organised by members of the postgrad history community at Lancaster University. With 2022 marking LHPC’s 26th year, we have brought together members of the present (Alex) and previous (Meredith) committees to answer some questions about the unique challenges and opportunities that running such an exciting event presents.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered running the LHPC?
Meredith: LHPC is a rebranded version of the HistFest Conference. We ran into a few problems when we realised that the British Library was running an event under the same name, so we took the opportunity to inject some new ideas into an iconic component of the postgraduate experience here at Lancaster. Our main objectives were to recognize and celebrate the objectives that were central to Histfest, while also creating space to differentiate ourselves from other departmental initiatives. So, we aimed to make the conference accessible and conducive to postgraduate research still in-progress, but also something very polished that made use of all sorts of digital media. We especially wanted to find ways to make the conference interactive given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we were one of the first conference to use the hybrid-model at the university.
Alex: Our goals are really very similar; we want to pick up from your example and get the conference fully back into the swing of things now we are entering a post-Covid landscape. We are developing the hybrid-format, in part because it has become so ingrained and useful, but also because it offers a fantastic way to reach an international audience. This universality fits with our other broader goal; to give early career researchers a safer space to share their work with like-minded people who are at the same stage of their academic journey. That isn’t to say that the conference is a platform immune from criticism, but rather that we don’t want anyone to feel pressured or nervous about presenting their ideas. Hopefully no one will be skewered by a world expert!
Meredith: I don’t think it’s uncommon for postgraduates and ECRs to, at times, struggle to integrate themselves in the most academically prestigious conferences given the expectations of presentations. While LHPC maintains academic rigour, the fact that most delegates are at the same stage of research makes networking far easier. Nearly everyone there is testing ideas and eager to get feedback. It’s very much a conference of comradery.
How did you select a conference theme?
Meredith: It’s not an especially ground-breaking technique, but we wanted a theme that most people could see in their research in some form or another. We chose ‘Representations and Identities’, because there are so many components of that topic that could be used to curate engaging panels that covered a lot of intellectual ground.
Alex: ‘Movements and Transitions’ came from an idea of exploring the history of migration, something which was very topical in light of current events and the ongoing work from universities to decolonise the curriculum. However, migration as the sole focus was too narrow. We decided ‘movements and transitions’ would allow us to accept submissions that bring stories that really need to be told to a wider audience. Plus, as someone who is, shock horror, not a historian but, rather, an archaeologist, I wanted to get some archaeology into the conference. Historical doesn’t mean it is all about history! If it has got a historical aspect, we are interested. Be it history, archaeology, geography, digital humanities, we are interested!
Meredith: I think you’ve touched on some of the real challenges in planning a conference. How do make it representative? How do you balance panels in a way that is intellectually honest and encourages constructive debate and feedback? And how organise all of this as a team?
What advice would you give the next LHPC team?
Alex: Trying to pin down all the elements that go into a conference is like trying to catch smoke! Because LHPC is hosted in the University we have to be aware of exam timetables, term dates, and room bookings. For future organisers, I’d say, get the rooms booked as early as possible. It means that everyone knows the dates and deadlines we are working towards. You can’t very well email potential attendees if you don’t know when the thing will be taking place yet!
Meredith: Securing a good speaker, securing a good speaker is so important. Because the conference is not chronologically or geographically focused, then finding someone who can speak to the conference theme across all possible areas of enquiry is critical. We had Dr Nick Barratt, who is not just a medievalist, but also someone who works with heritage, genealogy, family history, and public engagement. So, he was able to speak a great deal on ideas of identity and the role of historians in meeting the public in ways that are very personal to them.
Alex: It is also a case of keeping the conference broad but making sure that the panels and papers sit comfortably together. It really is quite a challenge. The theme has to be open enough to encourage participation, and to make sure that all aspects of historical academic thought can be presented.
What are conference organising committees likely to forget?
Meredith: Those details which are the things that can derail events because they can seem so minute but take forethought. The other consideration to remember is accessibility, especially in the context of a hybrid event. Do you have closed captioning for online delegates? Is the lecture theatre conducive to all abilities? Thankfully, we have an excellent conferences team here at the university that is on-hand to assist with those considerations, but you have to make sure all of those elements are in place ahead of time.
Alex: I hadn’t thought about that! I would say finding a place in Lancaster that is big enough to host the dinner! Everywhere is either too small, or expensive, or, if it is big enough, it’s inaccessible and miles away! We’ve got something sorted now though, so watch this space!
Lancaster Historical Postgraduate Conference 2022 will be held at Lancaster University on the 27th-28th of June, with a theme of ‘Movements and Transitions’. Submissions are especially welcome from early-career academics. More details, and Call for Papers can be seen at www.lhpconference.com, or please email adminLHPC@lancaster.ac.uk for more information. Find LHPC on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LHPConference.