by Diya Gupta |
Organising an external speaker series at King’s College London descended on me rather serendipitously. I was setting up a reading group for postcolonial theory at the time (which, in the end, never quite took off), and mentioned that having academics talk occasionally at these sessions would create variety and stimulate discussion. Before I knew it, Elleke Boehmer from Oxford was going to be in London, and said that she would be delighted to speak to us on her new book Indian Arrivals: Networks of British Empire. I couldn’t have thought of a more appropriate book, or a more engaging first speaker! Creating a convivial environment, where one or two academics from King’s could be ‘in conversation with’ our guest speakers seemed to be the most appealing format – and so it began. ‘King’s in Conversation with’ was born.
It has been well over a year since that first talk, and I am now in the process of handing over the management of the series, so this feels like a timely opportunity to look back and reflect. Some of my favourite moments of the year have been spent chatting with audience members during the wine break. The talks were free and open to all, and attracted a diverse mix of people, including undergraduates. This, to me, was most impressive – when I was an undergraduate, I could barely figure out where relevant lectures were taking place, let alone going to another department or university’s research seminar! Advertising the talks widely and frequently, therefore, was key, as interest in attending them sometimes lurked in unexpected quarters.
So, how did I do this? Once the external speaker and internal interviewee were confirmed, I gave myself three weeks before fixing the date of the talk. This was essential – anything shorter than this time frame became rather stressful, a scramble for room bookings, and frantic email invitations. We were inevitably up against a myriad other interesting events taking place in London on the same evening, so getting our talk into audience members’ calendars early on was a wise move. Publicity worked well both in traditional formats as well as social media through a combination of posters, email circulars, a Facebook events page and Twitter. However, as many researchers are not on Facebook, word-of-mouth, email notifications and even a face-to-face chat by the printer (laced with mutual frustration at the errant machine) worked much better with them. And negotiating budgets is never fun, but just had to be done each time.
It also certainly helped that we were able to invite several reputed scholars in their field to King’s, and in this I was warmly supported by academics in my department, who also promoted the talks amongst their own networks. If you are considering running a series of talks, it is worth asking around as much as possible for advice and help. Publicising the talks almost became a mini-marketing campaign each time! I figured out whom to contact to promote the talks outside King’s; in my case, other London universities were an obvious choice. However, there were also Facebook groups to consider such as the Abstract, the King’s English Department’s online PhD community. It seems to me that publicity on social media is all about ‘drip-feeding’; adopting my best cheery persona, I shamelessly plugged my talks on Facebook groups, along with posts and tweets.
Yes, this became time-consuming, and ate quite a bit into PhD work, and no, I never figured out the perfect balance. It did reap rewards, though. It was enjoyable in getting to know an academic, whose work you have read and enjoyed, over a glass of wine at a post-talk dinner. And it also prepared me to speak about my own research (without umming and ahhing too much!) to scholars well established in their fields. Some talks went smoothly, others were spikier; hopefully, none were dull. We discussed, among others, Urdu poetry, transnational and imperfect democracies, Victorian primers of empire, Kashmir and modern-day colonialism, synergies between Yeats and Kipling, and Indian policies of caste reservations. There was always a buzz of excitement in bringing a community of researchers, students and interested laypersons together to listen, debate and discuss. I thoroughly recommend the experience!
Diya Gupta is a third-year PhD researcher at the Department of English at King’s College London. She organises the ‘King’s in Conversation with’ talks. These form one part of the ‘Kings Postcolonial Seminars and Conversations’ series, the other part being the Postcolonial Seminar Series run by Ruvani Ranasinha and Anna Bernard.
Find other blog posts on the ‘King’s in Conversation with’ series here.