Tips for Writing Successful AAIHS Conference Proposals

Plenary talk on Abolitionism and Black Intellectual History. Photo: Brandon Byrd/Twitter.
Plenary talk on Abolitionism and Black Intellectual History at AAIHS 2017. Photo: Brandon Byrd/Twitter.

In this post, I provide some strategies for writing a successful proposal for our third annual conference scheduled to take place at Brandeis University from March 30-31, 2018. These ideas are not exclusive to the AAIHS conference but are written primarily with it in mind. We look forward to reviewing your proposals, which must be submitted by November 15, 2017.

We Want Black Intellectual History

Make sure your paper is actually intellectual history. As we note in the CFP, we take an expansive view of intellectual history and welcome submissions from scholars in all fields on topics including (but not limited to) religion, political thought, gender, racial ideologies, philosophy, sexuality, queer theory, popular culture, internationalism, pan-Africanism, slavery, secularism, literature, and Black Nationalism. This expansive view, however, doesn’t mean that all black history is black intellectual history. Ask yourself whether or not your paper is about things people did or things people thought. If you are addressing both, then your project works well. If you are only discussing the former, you will need to make some revisions to ensure that your paper speaks to intellectual history in a clear way. Or perhaps the paper may not work for this particular venue. If that is the case, we highly recommend that you submit your work to our friends at ASALH and NCBS.

Short and Sweet is the Order of the Day

Since AAIHS requests abstracts of 250 words, it is essential that you get to your point very quickly. Three elements you should include are as follows: a) a hook into the topic, or a brief anecdote that sheds light on major themes; b) a compelling argument; and c) the project’s significance as it relates to the theme of the conference. This latter part is especially important. For the AAIHS conference, you’ll want to make sure the implications of your argument for black intellectual history are very clear. The conference committee has to read hundreds of proposals in a few days so please try to make your paper’s significance as clear as possible.

Follow Instructions Carefully

Please make sure your proposal does not exceed the word limit. Again, the committee is reading a great deal of applications and will be likely to ignore a 700-word proposal–no matter how well the paper might fit into the conference. You should also follow this advice for your CV. If the CFP asks for a 1-2 page CV, please do not submit a lengthy one. Submitting a lengthy abstract or CV shows that you either did not pay attention to the instructions in the CFP, or you do not care. Either way, it is likely to result in your paper being rejected.

Full Panels are Preferred

The most successful conference proposals are usually proposals for full panels. For last year’s AAIHS conference, we rejected a few panels but rejected many more individual papers. With full panels already assembled, the committee does not have to do the additional work of figuring out how the papers will fit together. Some of the papers we rejected were strong proposals but did not fit well with other submissions we received. If you are having trouble finding panelists on similar topics, post your idea on our panel forum or send out a Tweet asking for prospective panelists. If you use the conference hashtag #AAIHS2018 in your Tweet (or Tweet directly to us), we’ll re-tweet it to our 16k followers to try to help you find panelists.

Diversity Matters to Us

If you submit a full panel, please make sure it is a diverse one. For example, male-only panels will be rejected. Panels should be diverse especially along the lines of gender, race, and academic rank. Your paper topics should also reflect a diverse perspective. If you are submitting a panel on black abolitionist thought, for example, you should avoid having 4 papers on male abolitionists (even if the presenters are a mix of men and women of diverse races and academic ranks).

We Can’t Say Yes to Everyone

Please understand that we cannot accept every proposal. Many panels will be rejected. This does not mean that we do not see the value of your work. However, we are selecting what we believe are the strongest proposals submitted and those that represent various aspects of black thought and culture. If your session does not make the cut, please make plans to resubmit next year. We also strongly encourage you to submit a guest blog post for consideration. This is an excellent way to receive critical feedback on your work–especially because all guest posts undergo a peer review process.

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Chris Cameron

Chris Cameron is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His research and teaching interests are in African American and early American history, especially abolitionist thought, liberal religion, and secularism. He is the author of 'To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement' (Kent State University Press, 2014) and 'Black Freethinkers: A History of African American Secularism' (Northwestern University Press, 2019). Follow him on Twitter @ccamrun2.