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A Beginner’s Guide to the CHA Annual Meeting By Andrea Eidinger

Published on May 26, 2017

2017 CHA Annual Meeting

A Beginner's Guide

 Another year, another Canadian Historical Association (CHA) Annual Meeting! Can you believe it’s almost here? I’m still having to remind myself to write 2017, not 2016. While it’s always a ton of fun to attend the CHA, the conference can be really intimidating whether this is your first or 20th time. So in this short guide, I’m going to walk you through my top tips for making the most out of your CHA experience. Enjoy!

First Things First: What is the CHA?

The Canadian Historical Association, better known as the CHA, is the national professional association for historians in Canada. While it might seem like this organization only represents historians who study Canada, it’s actually for any historian who researches or is Canadian (although non-Canadian subjects tend to be underrepresented). Many people believe that the CHA is only for academic historians, but this is absolutely not the case! Anyone who does history in any shape or form is welcome to become a member and/or attend the conference.


The CHA and Congress

The CHA holds its annual meeting as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Basically, each year at the end of May and beginning of June, the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the umbrella organization for all of the different humanities and social science professional associations, organizes a congress, which is a collection of conferences that all happen at the same time. The location for the congress changes each year; this year, Congress will be meeting at Ryerson University, in Toronto. In total there will be approximately 70 different associations meeting with more than 8,000 attendees.


Expert Tip: There is a general pattern to the location of each Congress, though it’s not a hard and fast rule. It alternates between a central location (Ontario or Quebec), and the coasts. Last year (2016) it was in Calgary. Next year it will be at Regina, and the year after that it will meet in Vancouver. I don’t think Congress has ever been held in the northern territories, but don’t quote me on that. Also, the conferences in the western part of the country in particular tend to be smaller, while those in Ottawa and Toronto are the largest, mostly due to where most Canadian historians happen to live.


How do I attend the CHA Meeting?

There are two basic ways to attend. The first is to submit a proposal to give a conference presentation. The deadline for this is usually in October. The second way is to register as an attendee. You will need to do this over at the Congress website. To attend the CHA, you must register with Congress as well as sign up to attend the CHA annual meeting. You can register ahead of time online, which I highly recommend – the website is really straightforward and you won’t need to worry about anything once you’ve arrived. You can also register in person. Check here to find out details about how to register. If you choose to register online, I highly recommend doing so as early as possible – rates go up after March 31st. You will also need to make sure that your membership with the CHA is fully paid up. Again, it’s super easy, and all of the information you need to do this can be found here.


Expert Tip: I’d suggest registering even if you don’t plan to attend the conference, since you get a quarterly bulletin as well as one year of print copies of the Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, which publishes the best conference presentations in article form. I’d also recommend taking this opportunity to join any of the smaller affiliated committees of the CHA. For example, I’m a member of the Canadian Committee on Women’s History (CCWH). Each committee will hold its own event at the CHA and will often sponsor special panels. It’s definitely worth checking out. The CCWH, for example, has an annual wine and cheese-slash-book launch, and you can totally fangirl all over your favourite women and gender historians. 


I am the world’s worst traveller, so we’re just going to skip this. :P

(Although if you are flying or taking VIA rail, you can get a discount!) 

Finding a Place to Stay

Aside from booking your flight or making travel arrangements, you will also need to find somewhere to stay. While you might be lucky enough to have a friend you can stay with, chances are you will need to book a room. If you can, stay at the university where the conference is being held. The room rates are great, and the location can’t be beat. However, these rooms will fill up super fast and, since these are dorm rooms, you will likely need a roommate (though you can also be assigned one). Otherwise, the Congress books blocks of rooms at local hotels at a discounted rate for attendees. You can find more information about all of this on the Congress website. Again, book as early as possible, since the closest and/or cheapest hotels get booked really far in advance! While most academics tend to procrastinate on everything, this seems to be one exception. You should also figure out how to get from your hotel to the university and back. Again, the link above will have all of the necessary information.


Expert Tip: Are you a poor graduate student or recent graduate? Try applying to work at the Congress. It’s a great way to still attend, but have some of the cost defrayed. Applications are closed for this year, but it’s something to think about for the future. My husband did this a couple of years ago and he loved it. He also got to work the book expo, the lucky duck.


Planning Your Time at Congress

Most of us don’t realize this, but each year, Congress actually puts up helpful information for people who are not local. For instance, they have maps (they even have an official Google Map, though the most useful one will be the campus map); information about how to get around (such as information about public transit, taxis, bike/car share, and parking); the best places to grab some lunch or have dinner near Ryerson (though not necessarily the cheapest); suggestions for places to explore (not that you would ever skip a panel...); and information about the amenities on campus (like where to print your paper because you only finished writing it on the plane...)


Expert Tip: One of the perks of Congress is access to free Wi-fi! Here is the login information:

Network Name (SSID): Congress2017

Password (PSK): Welcome!



Essential Services

In more recent years, Congress has made an effort to make the conference as inclusive as possible. 


Accessibility: Congress has created an Accessibility Guide for anyone who has disabilities or accessibility needs. When you register for the conference, you can make arrangements to access particular services (such as assistance for wheeling long distance, specialized or priority seating, oral interpretation, assistive listening devices, real-time captioning, and alternative formats of written materials). On campus, they are also providing a mobility assistance shuttle, wheelchair assistance, adaptive workspaces, and quiet spaces. 


Child Care: Congress now offers child care services for children up to and including the age of twelve. These services are available from 8 am to 5 pm each day of the congress. However, you must register your children by May 12, since drop-off services will not be provided. The cost for this service is $60 a day, and includes lunch and two snacks.

What to Pack

There are lots of really great blog posts out there about how to pack for a conference. Some of my favourites include this guide from the Geeky Artist Librarian, this one from More than Just Desserts, this classic from The Professor Is In, and this one from My Laser Boyfriend (not just for fashionable lady scientists!) The only thing I would add is that comfort is the most important thing. While I wouldn’t personally wear jeans, you don’t need to look super professional unless you are presenting. Most historians just wear slacks and shirts, and sometimes dresses and skirts. And I cannot recommend a pair of comfortable shoes enough!

Expert Tip: If you’re super organized and you’re presenting, you should try to finish your paper before you leave for the conference. Hauling around a laptop is a pain, not to mention all of the panels you will have to miss!  

Arriving on the First Day

The first thing you need to do once you’re arrived for the first day of the conference is to pick up your registration package (or register if you haven’t done so already) at the Congress Hub (Mattamy Athletic Centre). You can ask one of the helpful Congress guides for information on where to go, or just look for the largest concentration of people wearing glasses and carrying papers or briefcases. ;) Resist the tempting call of the Book Expo until after you register. Or at the very least make a valiant effort.

About That…

The building that registration takes place in is the “hub” of Congress. There are lots of talks that are also given in the building, but the main attraction is the Book Expo. This year, as is usually the case, the Book Expo is held in the same building as registration, Congress Hub ((Mattamy Athletic Centre). Basically, all of the academic publishers in Canada and some from the US and the UK set up shop and show us their pretties. The books are often cheaper to buy here, and if you’re a historian, chances are you’re a bibliophile too. Just remember two things: you’ll have to lug those things around you all day and then you’ll have to lug them home on the plane. Shop wisely.

Get (with) The Program

The next stop you should make is to get your CHA program. If you would like a paper copy, you can get one from the CHA office. While the office is usually in one place, this year it will be moving around. Here’s the schedule:

Monday: POD-451

Tuesday: TRS 3-164

Wednesday: JOR 502

Regardless of location, the office will be open from 7:30 am to 4 pm.

Expert Tip: The CHA created a special map just for our own conference, which you can access here. Near the office, there are often pastries, tea, coffee, and juice. Stock up - they get raided really quickly.

The CHA App

If you’re tech savvy, you can also download the program their website here, though this is just the preliminary version. And if you’re super tech savvy, you can even use the CHA’s app, which includes directions, real-time updates to the schedule, and more. The app can be downloaded here, for both IOS and Android. 

The app is super simple to use! Here is what you will see once you open up the app on your phone (I’m using an IPhone, but I would imagine that this will basically be the same no matter which version you are using).




As you can see you are presented with a range of options here! Some of these are self-explanatory, so I won’t be going over them (like “Welcome,” “Participants,” “Advertisers,” “Framelt” (the camera), “Map”).

The two most important options, at least for casual use, are “CHA” and “Program.” When you click on the “CHA” button, here is what you will see: 


This section contains all of the administrative information that would normally appear in the printed program. Definitely check out the Native Territorial Acknowledgement.


When you click on the “Program” section, here is what you will see:



This section is a reproduction of the regular printed program, combined with a schedule. The advantage with the app, however, is that it provides real-time updates, in case a panel is rescheduled, the room is changed, or it is cancelled. 


You can search for the panels you want, or just browse through. But the best part, in my opinion, is that if you click on the star to the left of each panel, it will automatically add the panel information, including time and room number, to your phone’s calendar! And yes, you can schedule two at the same time (I checked!)




I don’t know about you, but this is going to be super helpful to me!


Necessary Events

Which panels you attend are totally up to you. But there are a couple of major events that happen at every CHA that you should attend.


Expert Tip: If you are a graduate student, don’t miss the Graduate Student Committee Social Event, which is happening May 28th, at 7:30pm, at the Fox and Fiddle (280 Bloor St. W). You can visit their website here.


The first one is the Keynote Address, which basically serves as the introduction to the conference and usually features a great speaker. This year it’s on Monday from 10:15 am to 11:45 am, in POD 250, and the speaker will be John English, who will be presenting “The Present is a Foreign Country: Lester Pearson and 1967.”

On Tuesday, you’ll want to stick around after the presentations. The Presidential Address will be given at 3:00 pm in TRS 2-166 by Joan Sangster, on “Confronting Colonial Pasts: Historicizing a Century of Canadian Political Alliances.” The address will be immediately followed by the Annual Meeting, and will last until 5:30 pm. I’ve never personally attended, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Just be aware this is a formal general meeting. 


Immediately following the Annual Meeting is the CHA Award Ceremony, at the Church of the Holy Trinity – 19 Trinity Square). This is where the CHA’s prizes are announced, including the prestigious Sir John A. Macdonald Prizeand many others. Unlike previous years, it does not appear that food will be served at this event.


Finally, immediately following the Award Ceremony is the epic the epic Cliopalooza. Cliopalooza will be held at The Duke of Richmond starting at 7:30 pm. This is a dance party that always features karaoke, awkward dancing, and inebriated historians. You have been warned...


Expert Tip: If you belong to an affiliated committee, you should try to attend their business meeting. The times and location vary, so check out your program.



The CHA and Twitter

There are a number of fantastic people, including myself, who will live-tweet every panel that they attend. This means that they will be posting summaries of papers as they occur on Twitter. To follow along, even if you aren’t at the CHA, all you need to do is use the hashtag #chashc2017. Additional hashtags to keep an eye on include:






If you are new to Twitter, you can learn how to keep up with all things Canadian history on Twitter here, where you can also find a helpful list of Canadian historians on Twitter! And don’t forget to follow the official Twitter account of the CHA, @CdnHistAssoc.


Expert Tip: You might want to set up a saved search, the instructions for which you can find here.


SUPER Expert Tip: Twitter doesn’t archive material, so unless you take steps to save tweets, they will disappear after a certain period of time. I always create an archive of tweets from each conference, using TAGS. It looks intimidating, but it’s definitely worth the trouble. I’m also planning to upload an archive to Unwritten Histories once the conference is finished.


The CHA and the Blogosphere


As many of you are already aware, the online Canadian history world is extraordinarily vibrant and prolific. Most of the larger Canadian history blogs have already posted previews, summaries, or recommendations for the CHA. I would highly recommend checking them out.



Work It

How you approach each conference is largely up to you. I’m not going to give you any specific advice, since there are already tons of great blog posts out there with advice on working conferences. The absolute best comes from Tenured Radical, and although it’s about the American Historical Association, nearly all of its advice applies to the CHA as well. Seriously, read that post. The other must-read comes from the Professor Is In. This isn’t history-specific, but the advice is golden. There are three parts (part 1part 2part 3), so make sure you check them all out.


Expert Tip: If you are female or shy, I’d also recommend checking out “I’m Sorry I Wasn’t More Clear”: Gendered Pitfalls in Presentations–A Guest Post,” though the feminist in me has to point out that women shouldn’t need to ape the oftentimes masculine culture of academic conferences. Which is definitely a blog post for another day.


Good Things to Know

  • Most of the presentations will be in a small group of rooms, usually in the same building. Otherwise, herding historians is like herding cats.
  • Panels that are held first thing in the morning and last in the evening tend to be sparsely attended. This is doubly true for the last panel slot of the conference, since many people leave early. Recently though, The CHA has been getting sneaky with this and putting really interesting panels at the end.
  • Each year there are certain special panels that will be the talk of the conference. You can usually tell which ones these are by looking for big names, topics du jour (often political), or large crowds of historians going into one room. But there are always a couple of surprises, so don’t be afraid to go to the panels you are interested in!
  • The CHA is much more relaxed than the AHA. While networking is always good, most of the people who attend do so for the scholarship and the chance to see friends who live far away (whereas many young scholars interview for jobs at the AHA). 
  • Try not to stalk your favourite historians or get star-struck. They don’t really like that, and most historians are super nice. Though admittedly, my former supervisor has been trying to cure me of my star-struckness for years, with limited success.


Annoying (and Funny) Things that Happen at Every CHA and Conference

  • Someone will ask a question at a panel and then use it to talk about their work until time is up.
  • Someone will ignore the time warnings and go over their allotted speaking time, thereby reducing the amount of time left over for questions.
  • People will enter the room late and leave early or bounce between panels.
  • People will only hang out with their friends and/or people from the university they came from.
  • Panels or papers will be completely unrelated to the theme of the conference or the title of the presentation.
  • Almost everything will be in English, even though this is a bilingual conference.
  • A few presenters will be woefully unprepared and spend the entire time talking about nothing.



Other than that, try to have fun! The CHA is always exciting, filled with some great scholarship, and amazing people. I’ll see you there!



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