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The Real World: South Carolina

Not our staff...but it feels that way.

"This is the story of eight colleagues, picked to present at a conference, and have their panels blogged about. This is what happens when people stop being polite...and start talking about public history."

Greetings from the Public History of Science and Technology Conference in Columbia, South Carolina! A crew of CHF staff members is here watching the last day of panels. And after spending four days together sharing meals and hotel rooms, it's starting to feel like a bit like The Real World.

The Real World, that is, with a bit richer content. We attended the conference to speak to colleagues about various projects and initiatives happening at CHF, as well as learn about what other people are working on in their own institutions. On Monday, CHF's Elizabeth McDonnell and Christy Schneider sat on a panel called "Museums, Media, and the History of Science" to talk about our forthcoming climate change-related art exhibit. On Tuesday, fellow PT bloggers Gigi Naglak, Christy Schneider, and yours truly presented on some of our favorite subjects: First Fridays at CHF, Hidden in Plan Sight, It's Elemental, and Distillations. Meanwhile, down the hall, another panel of CHF staff – Sarah Hunter and David Caruso from the oral history group – presented on the online exhibit Rubber Matters and other oral history-related projects and best practices. Later that day, Rosie Cook provided a history of the founding of our museum. And this morning, the last of the conference, the Center's Jody Roberts shared information about the Toxic Substances Control Act oral history project at the History of Science Policies panel.

As the day winds down and we prepare to head back to Philadelphia, a few initial impressions about our experience seem to be universal. First, excitement about our projects isn't merely an internal thing, and we're certainly not the only people finding creative ways to explore the history of science in the public sphere. I personally received tremendously positive feedback about the breadth of public programming and outreach efforts happening in my department, as well as invitations to build partnerships with fellow attendees. And I've been scribbling down notes about elements of their projects to emulate or further explore. This, of course, is what you hope to happen at any conference you attend.

But I was also pleasantly surprised to be reminded of what interesting work is happening at CHF. It's easy to lock yourself in the office and ignore other people's projects, but this conference has provided an opportunity to refresh my appreciation of my coworkers' initiatives and experiments. As most of us belong to different departments within the building, it's rare that such a motley crew finds themselves sitting together talking about collaborative ideas and common goals. (Even rarer? Doing this over a steaming cheesy pile of grits.) I hope we can keep this energy going once we all return home.

I suppose this is my moment in the Real World confessional room—undoubtedly the least scandalous share in the history of the show.

Jennifer Dionisio is the program associate for CHF’s Roy Eddleman Institute.

Posted In: Education

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