2015 was my first time attending the annual AASLH conference and I am unbelievably appreciative to C. Piatnochka AASLHAASLH for awarding me the Douglas Evelyn Diversity Fellowship. From beginning to end I was captivated by the conversations sparked by the panel sessions. The passion and commitment to the study and appreciation of history filled the air. To be surrounded by people who seek to advance the field was wonderful. Everyone was so willing to share ideas and offer suggestions, which made for fantastic discussions and meaningful conversations.

The session that left the greatest impact on me was the Reader’s Theater Workshop on Wednesday of the conference. Personally, I have a great interest in combining the arts and history. I think interdisciplinary programming allows for greater audience potential. By tapping into the arts audience, we introduce a whole new group to the wonderful world of history. When I saw the workshop listed in the program, I was eager to register. I wanted to see examples of how this work was being done successfully. I wasn’t quite sure exactly how a program like this would develop, but I was excited to learn. What was in store for me went far beyond my initial expectations!

In the workshop, we got hands on experience; we were given scripts and then we participated in a staged group reading. The excitement in speaking and hearing words from 150 years ago said aloud was unbelievably impactful. Allowing our visitors this experience would mean providing them an opportunity to engage with the past in deep and exciting ways.

Collaboration, innovation, and audience engagement were key areas of this year’s conference. The sessions spoke to these concepts in real ways. I walked away from the conference with wonderful success stories and a desire to implement new strategies in my own work. As a Grants Program Officer with the New Jersey Historical Commission, I am always looking for ways to better assist my constituents and this conference left me excited to share my new found knowledge with my colleagues and grantees.

Cristen Piatnochka is a Grants Program Officer with the New Jersey Historical Commission in Trenton, NJ.