By Dianne Bragg
On the first weekend in February 2023, a small band of AJHA journalism teachers and their students will descend upon Panama City Beach, Florida, for the AJHA Southeast Symposium. It will be the first such gathering since 2020, as COVID prevented the group from meeting the last two years, and the excitement over being together and showcasing students’ work is palpable. I am fortunate to be a part of this group, a tradition that began for me with my first Symposium in 2007.
The Southeast Symposium began in 1992 with Dr. David Sloan from the University of Alabama and his idea to have a small weekend retreat for a small group of journalism historians from various institutions. Sloan recalled that they initially met in the mountains for a couple of years, but an intervening snowstorm put the skids on that. Afterward, the Symposium moved around to various locations, but eventually settled on Panama City, where the chance of snow was pretty remote. More importantly, it evolved to having faculty attendees choose up to six graduate students to participate and present their original historical research.
The Symposium was one of the first places I presented my historical research. I remember feeling instantly at ease, as people like Vanessa Murphree, Dave Davies, and Bernell Tripp, along with many others, seemed interested in my work and offered critiques and words of encouragement. I already enjoyed the research I was doing, but the Symposium and the faculty there sealed the deal for me and my decision to pursue journalism history as my focus.
We often hear the phrase “Pay it Forward” used in various situations, usually referring to monetary aid or acts of kindness. But it most certainly also applies to the teaching profession, both in and out of the classroom. The AJHA Southeast Symposium does just that. Several of us who first attended as students are now bringing our own fledgling historians to the Symposium. I remember meeting Willie Tubbs there when he was a graduate student under the tutelage of Dave Davies. He is now teaching at the University of West Florida with some of his own students attending.
I share this story in the hopes that maybe AJHA members in other regions of the country might consider starting their own annual regional gathering. Without question, the faculty at the Southeast Symposium have developed a special connection over our years of meeting together. Many of my students who have attended consider it to be a highlight of their graduate school experience.
Part of the Symposium’s success lies in the opportunity for the faculty members, now scattered across several states, to reconvene, reconnect, and revitalize our research and our teaching. We share ideas, see what’s happening in history courses in other classrooms, and come away feeling inspired by new ideas and treasured friends. Often when we “pay it forward,” we are not able to see the results of doing so. Since its small start forty years ago, the AJHA Southeast Symposium has become one place where we can.
If anyone is interested in starting their own similar event, please reach out to me, and we can share how ours is organized. Meanwhile, it looks as though we will need a warm coat for a walk on the beach this year!