Read the last post here.
Unless you frequently make proposals for presentations at academic conferences, you might not be familiar with abstracts. Your summary might be easier: It's a short blurb to be published in the program book. The abstract, though, is where you get the chance to show that you're the best presenter for a given topic.
An abstract is the part of your proposal where you get a little more room to convince the vetting board that your presentation should be chosen. Most abstracts range from 100 to 300 words, though they can be longer, and are 1-3 paragraphs long. The abstract is the short version of your presentation and should be able to stand alone. A good abstract will include your thesis or approach, supporting details or arguments, and most importantly, your results, recommendations, or conclusion. The vetting board wants you to spoil the ending, rather than forcing them to wonder whether your conclusion will be "...and so Voldemort should have taken his vitamins."
It’s a good idea to reference scholars, research and resources, or past presentations that are important to your presentation, and if necessary, explain why you need a longer time slot, say why your presentation should be included if it has been presented in the exact same format elsewhere, outline and support audio-visual components, and explain why your topic is timely, relevant, and interesting or what the impact of your thoughts might be. Of course, you should also be sure to demonstrate that it's applicable in some way to Harry Potter!
Separately, there are some things that do not belong in your abstract. The vetting board does not care to consider whether or not you’ll present in a costume, for example. Again, make sure that your proposal is complete. The vetting board wants to know that you have a clear plan. No "maybe we'll do this, or maybe someone in the audience will suggest something, or if you want, I could do this or that." Submit a completed abstract, not your first draft. (You have until February 1! Take your time!) "See my other presentation for X" usually results in a declined presentation, because the board members may not have access to your other presentation for a variety of reasons--it could be on hold while collaborators check in, the board members may not be reviewing your other proposal, or they may simply decide that they are unwilling to do this work for you. Also, abstracts should be carefully reasoned; presentations are not soapboxes for "getting people to see it my way."
Finally, be sure to have a volunteer who is willing to provide you with honest feedback look over your proposal, both to proofread it and to offer suggestions for organization, focus, and purpose. Remember, the vetting board won't have the chance to experience your presentation in advance, and won't know if you're the most engaging presenter in a hundred years. They’ll decide whether to accept or decline your presentation based on your abstract.
Here are some summaries and abstracts for papers, panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions that were accepted for Phoenix Rising. All are included by permission of the presenters or moderators who made the programming proposals.
Abstracts for papers (or talks, or lectures) or for pre-empaneled papers are usually two to three paragraphs. An example from "Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock: Hot Topic, Wizard Rock and Harry Potter Punk" by Suzanne Scott:
Summary: Distinctions between subculture and popular culture have always been highly subjective and tenuous, as we strive to define the point at which subversive cultural practice becomes too common or populist to be meaningful. This project aims to interrogate the invisible fault lines that continue to provoke (sub)cultural debates around that most elusive, desirable commodity of all: authenticity. The two focal nodes of this investigation, Harry Potter merchandise sold at Hot Topic and the emergence and production of the musical subgenre of "Wizard Rock," embody the tensions between populism and subversion that engage cultural theorists and fandom scholars.
Abstract: Distinctions between subculture and popular culture have always been highly subjective and tenuous, fraught with debates around authenticity and critiques of consumption, arguments that strive to define the point at which subversive cultural practice becomes too common or populist to be meaningful. This project aims to interrogate these invisible fault lines that continue to provoke (sub)cultural debates around that most elusive, desirable commodity of all: authenticity, through an examination of the boundaries (both self and culturally imposed) that we seem increasingly invested in defining and maintaining in our postmodern, postglobalized world. The two focal nodes of this investigation, Harry Potter merchandise sold at the goth/punk chain-retailer Hot Topic and the emergence/production of the subgenre of "Wizard Rock" in the Harry Potter fan community, embody the tensions between populism and subversion that continue to engage cultural theorists and fandom scholars alike.
As this project openly eschews fixed definitions of "subculture," "authenticity," et. al., but rather endeavors to present how the common cultural definitions of these terms continue to provoke lively debate/anxiety when placed in overtly capitalistic contexts, I will refrain from "taking sides," but rather inhabit a critical median that poses the potential for subversion in these varied test cases while acknowledging their conflicted position. Through an analysis of Hot Topic's Harry Potter merchandise and the music/merchandise affiliated with emergent Wizard Rock, this project engages with key cultural studies texts (Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Meagan Morris' "Things To Do With Shopping Centers," and Henry Jenkins’ discussion of filking in Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, among others) in an effort to examine how DIY (do-it-yourself) and BIY (buy-it-yourself) trends are becoming increasingly conflated in fan communities and other subcultural bodies.
Some questions to be explored include: Can merchandise for a populist text ever claim to be subversive? Despite being a chain retailer, can Hot Topic be framed as an alternative shopping space in an otherwise homogenous mall environment? How does Hot Topic's Harry Potter merchandise encourage the "wearing" of identity, or the creation of alternate identities? How does the sale of Wizard Rock music/merchandise complicate the ongoing tensions in fan communities between fan producers and professionals? Do these binaries (DIY/BIY, authentic/commercial, etc.) still have cultural relevance or power?
An example from the panel titled "You Only Think It’s Magic: Operating a Fandom Website":
Abstract: The recent rise in fast, affordable internet connections has transformed the concept of fandom. Where once few people had the ability and the resources to produce fanzines, now many can provide websites. Where fans traditionally distributed their creations through the mail or at conventions, they now can reach millions with a website. Where discussions used to be limited to small groups, messages boards now attract hundreds of thousands of users. Fan sites now offer such diverse services as fiction and fanart archives, news blogs and discussion fora. The ease with which fans can now connect, however, is counterbalanced by the issues involved, from those that carry over from the days of paper fanzines to those that arise due to the immediacy and wide distributive mechanisms of the internet. Many issues can be prevented by prior consideration, but how many site creators think to do so? This presentation will cover many of these operational issues, as briefly outlined below. Significant time will be saved for audience questions, so as to make the panel as useful as possible, though for professional reasons, specific legal advice cannot be provided.
Technical: Many site owners have little technical knowledge. Almost limitless options exist for hosting a website. Similarly, the available software options, from out of the box to completely custom, are numerous and varied. Once those decisions are made, a plethora of options on how to set up the software remain. How can technology be used to make the site more user friendly for the users--and more importantly, easier to administer?
Public Relations: People will always disagree with site owners. Some complaints will be valid; many will not. Many will, in fact, result from users’ misunderstanding of a site’s purpose or obligations. Volunteers will take actions that may or may not be attributable to the site. Even the most careful sites will eventually be involved in a fandom uproar, complete with misinformation spreading at breakneck speed. How can a site owner avoid many of these issues and minimize others?
Workshop proposals often describe not only the hands-on elements of the presentation, but how the time will be used. Here’s an example from "The Art and Science of Harry Potter Fanfic Drabble Writing: A Well-Done Drabble is Like a Fine New Orleans Jambalaya," used with permission from Snapeophile.
Summary: Join us for an interactive presentation and writers' workshop as we explore the phenomenon of Harry Potter fandom drabbling. As a group, we’ll analyze the science of drabbling and critique some published pieces, developing a basic drabble "recipe" that will allow participants to improve, refine, and create their own 100-word fictions. The writers' workshop will use our discussion as groundwork for the art of drabbling. Members of the LiveJournal GrangerSnape100 community’s drabbling team will actively coach and support you.
Abstract: The phenomenon of the 100-word mini-story has its roots in a skit conceived by the famed Monty Python collaboration, was refined and gained credibility in early science fiction fan writing, and has been embraced and perpetuated by the Harry Potter fandom. Like a good jambalaya, a well done drabble is complex and distinctive, revealing layers of flavor upon each rereading, with a varied amount of "spice" supplied by each author.
Telling a story with such an economy of words is a challenge. The best drabbles include many elements of a longer fiction story within that framework, such as atmosphere, strong characters, rising action, climax, conflict, and resolution. Due to the 100-word limit, action is the focus, and there is much more showing than telling. Narration styles are the same as in longer works of fiction; omniscient and detached observers are most often used.
Drabble writers have a unique relationship with their readers. We depend on an informed, engaged readership to supply context (e.g. canon knowledge) when reading; thus, there is decreased need for an elongated, developed backstory. Also, authors of drabbles often use canon-specific vocabulary to allude to an event or idea, trusting the reader to grasp the concept.
All of these techniques can be elucidated and taught. With practice, anyone can write a quality drabble. The goals for this workshop are for participants to identify and internalize the attributes of exemplary drabbles and generalize this knowledge for their own writing. During the workshop, experienced drabble writers will be on hand to support, encourage, and critique as requested by the participants.
Our lecture/workshop format will be as follows:
I. Direct presentation component
(1) The definition and allure of 100-word fictions
(2) Whole-group analysis of published drabbles to establish the components/possibilities/limitations of drabbles
(3) Mini-lessons on discrete drabbling techniques such as atmosphere setting, editing for word limits, etc.
(4) Different prompt styles and HP drabble web sites
II. Interactive Drabble Writers’ Workshop
Members of the GrangerSnape100 Live Journal Community drabble team will support and assist the participants as they develop and refine their drabbling skills. It is our goal that participants develop at least one archivable drabble during the writers’ workshop.
Roundtable discussion abstracts can be descriptive, as above, or sets of proposed discussion questions, as below. "Wizarding War," a roundtable discussion led by Amy Wilson, is an example that uses proposed questions.
Summary: From the elephants of Hannibal to the guerrillas of the American Civil War to the propaganda of World War II, tactics of war have been varied, creative and brutal. Some campaigns assault the defensive force, some manipulate the mind, and others target civilians. This roundtable will examine the tactics of war used by wizards, discuss how they differ from traditional Muggle approaches, and analyze how effective each method has been.
1. Much like the ancient Greeks' use of a giant wooden horse to slip past the defenses of Troy and destroy the city, in Half-Blood Prince we see the Death Eaters bypass Hogwarts' formidable security wards through the use of a pair Vanishing Cabinets. Do you think J.K. Rowling had the Trojan horse in mind when she came up with the idea of linking the cabinets?
2. Voldemort has been compared to Hitler in the past- both used racial "purity" as a tool to draw supporters to their side, but neither one lived up to their own standards: Voldemort was in fact a half-blood, and Hitler was a far cry from the blue-eyed, blond "master race" he promoted. In what other ways were they similar?
3. In the Second Punic War, Hannibal used elephants in his campaign across the Alps and into Italy. How might his use or abuse of the elephants compare with Voldemort's use of giants and other dark creatures?
4. There are many examples of guerilla warfare throughout the Harry Potter series. Arthur Weasley explained the horror of a surprise Death Eater attack to the children after the mayhem at the Quidditch World Cup: "Just picture coming home and finding the Dark Mark hovering over your house, and knowing what you’re about to find inside..." (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, ch. 9, pg. 142, Scholastic). What are some other examples of guerilla warfare in the series?
5. In what ways can the actions of Severus Snape in Half-Blood Prince be compared to the betrayal of Benedict Arnold in the American Revolutionary War?
6. Do you think the use of the Cruciatus curse is more or less effective than Muggle methods of torture such as the rack or thumbscrews? Why or why not?
7. Even Muggles use poison against their enemies, though it is often considered a woman's weapon for reasons dating back to the deception in the Garden of Eden. Compare the use of poison in the Harry Potter series to historical examples.
8. Though a wizard really only needs his wand for battle, there are several examples of other weaponry throughout the Harry Potter novels. How do these compare to traditional Muggle weapons of warfare?
9. Use of propaganda and control of the media was a huge part of the war effort of both the Allies and the Nazis in World War II. How does this compare to the attitude of the Ministry of Magic in Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince?
10. Targeting civilians in warfare has been prevalent throughout history, including the use of the atomic bomb in WWII and in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Discuss instances where Voldemort and his supporters attack innocent bystanders to further their cause.
Questions? Concerns? Please e-mail general queries to firstname.lastname@example.org and questions about programming to email@example.com.
Coming soon: Avoiding Legal Issues