I just returned from the OAH meeting in Seattle. Overall, it was excellent. I went to some phenomenal sessions and bought way too many books at the end of conference exhibit sale (all going into the dissertation). The one major disappointment was with the networking. I had big plans for connecting with folks who were doing public history in the region and in talking to other historians in my research fields. I am mostly uncomfortable in new social situations (but try to suck it up and make the best of it) and OAH isn't as focused on being graduate student friendly as NCPH is. So, the result was that I was not as successful as I had hoped and ended up coming away frustrated. By and large, the feeling I got was that I really needed to publish more before I would be willingly included in discussions. There's a different spirit at OAH than at NCPH.
Go figure that public historians are easier going and better at creating environments for social interchange.
One of the many things that NCPH has going for it is that their graduate student social event is in the evening, rather than at 7:30am. The evening event provides a great kick-off to connecting with other graduate students and getting that bonding/plugging-in going into full gear. If you're a graduate student and not signed up for this, find out if there is still a chance to get one of those free tickets to this event!
The snack breaks in between sessions are also a great time for continuing discussions from sessions and stopping to talk to people whose names you've only seen on the covers of your books. And the way that NCPH handles student poster sessions offers an excellent time for interaction among diverse professional audiences. I suspect that the speed networking event will provide much of this as well.
But what I like most about NCPH is the culture of the meeting. At NCPH people tend to be interested in talking to up-and-coming professionals, introducing them to other professionals with similar work or research interests, and exploring what others are doing regardless of academic or publication pedigree. There is generally less of a feel of power heirarchies or pretension that you might find at other academic conferences. All in all, NCPH manages to provide a setting for individuals to discuss (in both structured and unstructured ways) public history regardless of how much they have published or how far along they are in their career or education.
Perhaps its graduate friendly environment is why it has so many graduate student members and growing graduate student participation. Regardless, I think that it speaks well for training and professionalism in the public history field. I also think that it will have an impact on long term professional development.
We'll see what stories come out of networking at this year's conference.