Seminars at MSA:
Information and Recommended Procedures
Seminar information (seminar title, description, and names of seminar leaders and any invited participants) is typically made available on the conference website prior to the opening of registration. MSA members sign up for seminars during conference registration by selecting up to three seminars (ranked in order of preference); members are placed in a seminar according to their ranking and available space. Most seminars have a cap (usually 15, including the leader[s] and any invited participants) and unless otherwise indicated they are set to have no auditors by default. The seminar registration period typically closes about a month after registration opens.
In advance of the seminar meeting at MSA, participants produce short papers in response to the seminar topic description and share them with the entire group through whatever mechanism the seminar leaders devise. All participants are to read all of the participants’ papers—a process that aims to ensure careful and significant dialogue on the topic. Seminars take place at MSA in blocks of two hours and thirty minutes. Typically, the first two hours are devoted to specific discussion of the topic by seminar participants and the final thirty minutes typically allow room for questions, general discussion, and/or participation of auditors, if relevant.
ROLES: SEMINAR LEADERS and INVITED PARTICIPANTS
Seminars are typically led by anywhere between one and three leaders who have some experience or knowledge foundational to the seminar topic, and who can represent different professional stages or institutional statuses.
Some seminar leaders choose to invite a few people to join a seminar in some special role— usually scholars with special interest or expertise in the topic. It is entirely up to seminar leaders whether to exercise this option or not. All seminar leaders are welcome to invite up to two invited participants and can determine their precise role. Seminar organizers are, however, strongly urged to require invited participants to produce papers or prepare responses for the seminar in order to feed the dialogue of the seminar and to make the best use of everyone’s time.
Seminars function best when they foster considered, sustained intellectual dialogue anchored in the work that seminar participants circulate in advance and a lively conversation among peers during the seminar itself. Repeated experience suggests that seminars also function best when all participants, with the exception of the seminar leader(s), produce fresh, written work for the occasion.
The MSA encourages seminar leaders to discuss with invited participants the role they will play in the seminar in the earliest stages of the planning process.
Seminars are limited to a set number of participants. By default, auditors are NOT permitted; seminar leaders may, however, choose to allow auditors but must inform the conference organizers.
GUIDELINES ESTABLISHED BEFORE MSA
Seminar leaders should set firm guidelines for each seminar from their first or second contact with seminar participants. These should include, at a minimum:
- A deadline for submission of written work (preferably about six weeks before the conference). It is MSA’s policy that participants who do not submit written work will not be listed in the conference program for a seminar. It is perfectly appropriate to be tough: More than one seminar has suffered because participants did not have sufficient time to read all of the papers carefully.
- A recommended length for seminar papers (typically 5 to 7 pages).
- The procedure for sharing of written work.
Other guidelines are up to individual leaders and can lend seminars their unique styles. In the past, some leaders have provided a list of recommended readings and/or a list of questions the group should consider. Some have assigned participants to generate detailed critiques of each other’s work in pairs or small groups, in addition to all of the participants reading each other’s work. Leaders have also given specific paper guidelines guiding content (encouraging or discouraging textual, theoretical, or methodological analysis, e.g.).
The seminar leader acts as a facilitator, rather than an instructor, in conducting this discussion among peers. It is the seminar leader’s job to ensure that the dialogue is inclusive; a leader must not allow one or two participants to dominate and should exercise the chair’s prerogative to steer discussion in a way that includes everyone. No responsibility is more important than making sure that everyone gets to participate fully, and that everyone’s submission gets attention.
A version of this document outlining seminar leader strategies and past experiences is
typically distributed to seminar leaders in the late spring.
[formulated by Rebecca Walkowitz, lightly updated by Rebecca Walsh in 2019 and Elizabeth Evans in 2021