HM - Dec. 2015 - Fanelli
How I Get My History Nerd On
Why You Should Attend the Next NCHE Conference in Niagara Falls
By Jenny Fanelli
I am already in a state of excited anticipation for the upcoming NCHE Conference in April. I am registered, booked, confirmed and approved! If you haven’t attended a conference yet, or haven’t attended in a while, this year’s conference in Niagara Falls is going to be a good one!
NCHE is unlike other conferences I have attended over the years. In my experience it is a unique blend of presenters and participants who, as it states on the NCHE Conference web page, “come together to share their passion for teaching and learning” history. Every time I have attended I came away inspired and encouraged to learn more about historical thinking and how to pass that enthusiasm on to my students and my colleagues. Every year the NCHE Conference is a touchstone event for me where I learn, recharge, and reconnect with people who are proud to be history nerds!
I am a relative newcomer to the ranks of the NCHE and the annual conference. The first one I attended was in Kansas City in 2012. I had taken over as Project Director of a TAH grant in upstate New York, and the conference was part of my job responsibilities. I started out as an “only” – I was the only one attending from my organization, but I wasn’t alone for long! Within a few minutes at the first reception, I met Lynn, a teacher from Virginia, a lovely group of folks from Colorado, and reconnected with Bill from Colonial Williamsburg, who I had worked with many, many (many) years ago. It was a wonderful first-time networking and learning experience, and I have been attending ever since.
A standout for me at every NCHE Conference is the selection of excursions that take participants to local sites of historical interest. I have learned about the steamboat Arabia in Kansas City, toured the historical sites of Richmond, Virginia (including the meeting house where Patrick Henry held forth on liberty or death), taken the tram to the top of Sandia Mountain in Albuquerque, and toured historic St. Augustine by trolley. The excursions in Niagara Falls will provide something for everyone, such as the Falls, the Erie Canal, Fort Niagara, and the Buffalo History Museum. If you’ve never toured the falls (Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds), do it and then cross it off your bucket list!! As an upstate New Yorker, I have been to the Falls, and while it may seem clichéd, it is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and definitely worth seeing at least once in your lifetime! We have to talk about the weather, of course! We Upstaters like to brag/complain about how bad our weather is, but like most people we also like to exaggerate. April is usually pretty pleasant, relatively speaking, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. And it could be wet, dry, rainy, snowy, sunny, chilly, mild, or windy – maybe all in one day! Jokes aside, you’ll need a jacket, but snow around here is (mostly) a memory by the end of April. History nerds are hardy folk, so don’t let it deter you from all of the historical possibilities that are in store!
The keynote speakers have been uniformly fantastic at NCHE. Not being a historian (or even a social studies teacher!), I am not always familiar with the keynote speakers ahead of time, but have always walked out with a new appreciation for the scholarship and point of view that each brings to the conference. I have heard Eric Foner, Annette Gordon-Reed, Adam Goodheart, Matt Matsuda, Patty Limerick, Joanne Freeman, and Cokie Roberts. The biggest danger of the keynote speakers is to my bank account, because I invariably buy their books after hearing them speak (if I didn’t buy them ahead of time in anticipation!)
The breakout sessions themselves are also diverse – the hardest part for me is trying to narrow down the ones I want to attend. Coin flips have definitely been involved! If you attend with colleagues, dividing and conquering is the way to go. The breakout sessions focus on the teaching and learning of both U.S. and world history and are presented by classroom teachers, museum staff, historians, and authors. I have always learned something from every session I have attended at NCHE. Sometimes they are big ideas or maybe just a small nugget of knowledge, but there is always something that enriches my thinking and can be applied to my work.
If you are fans of free stuff, the exhibit hall is the place to go! Publishers offer a variety of small tokens (I always get the best pens from George Washington’s Mount Vernon!) and you can sign up for newsletters, raffle prizes, and other giveaways. This past year I won a poster set from the Newseum in Washington – 16 posters of significant front page news in American History. Cool!
When I think about the part of the NCHE Conference that I look forward to the most each year, though, it is always the people. The NCHE Conference is big enough to attract a very diverse group and still be small enough so that you actually meet and get to know new people. Just last year in St. Augustine, I had lunch with the Assistant Director for Education Programs for NEH (that’s Washington, D.C., folks!), had a great conversation with an archivist and teacher for the U.S. Army (I didn’t even know they had their own archives!), shook the hand of one of the original 1958 Civil Rights protestors from Oklahoma City, and had a nice chat with historian and author Carol Berkin as she signed my copies of her books (there goes the bank account again!). Over the years I have visited historical sites and spoken with the extremely knowledgeable and helpful staff members of the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, and the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. The opportunities to meet and talk with prominent historians, the staff of historical sites and museums, authors, publishers, and most importantly, other classroom teachers is the heart of the NCHE Conference. The best part of the conference every year is the chance to reconnect with friends and the expectation that I will make new friends from across the country, all who share my passion for history and who would proudly proclaim themselves to be history nerds! (I am thinking of making buttons!)
Come to Niagara Falls on April 21 to 23 and look for me. I’ll be the one proudly wearing my history nerd button and looking to meet new friends!