Behind the Scenes

Living, Breathing History

Our travels to Ireland and Panama have given us a fresh perspective on meetings.

I live in a historic community in northern New Jersey. George Washington actually did sleep here, and I often walk past his temporary headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

A stone’s throw from there is Tappan, New York’s Old ’76 House — the oldest continuously operating tavern in the United States — where George tipped back a few, and where the British spy Major John Andre was detained before being hanged in 1780. All of which might explain the irreverent marker on a neighboring pub’s façade: “On this site in 1897 nothing happened.”

Walking past that sign back in October made me feel strangely wistful. I had just returned from a 10-day trip to Ireland, packed with site visits, and my head was swimming with details. As I was writing up my experience visiting all the stops on my seven-destination itinerary, I found myself wishing I had been to one place — just one — like that pub in my neighborhood where nothing happened. Then I would have had less of a struggle, because there was only so much fascinating and colorful history I could include in my write-up.
It’s when you spend time in a place like Ireland, where history is recorded in millennia, that you’re reminded just how young the United States is. And how experiencing a destination with such deep and fascinating historic roots is bound to have a profound effect on conference attendees.

That was certainly the case at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2014 Global Engineering Conference, which Executive Editor Christopher Durso writes about in this issue. This was one meeting — held in Panama City in October, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal — where a sense of place and a sense of history figured prominently, shaping the tone and content of the program. As the civil-engineer attendees visited the canal, one of the largest and most difficult engineering feats in the world, Chris joined their ranks to experience through their eyes the inner workings of its massive expansion project now underway.

This month’s story caps off Chris’ five-article series, Engineering ASCE 2014. In the way that many new ideas come together, the idea for this series gelled at a meeting. During PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2013 in Orlando, ASCE’s director of conference and meeting services, Amanda Rushing, had mentioned to me that she was planning a conference in Panama, an emerging meetings destination. As she discussed her challenges, Chris and I thought this would make a fascinating case study for Convene to follow each step of the way.

Amanda didn’t balk at the idea. She’s allowed us to peer over her shoulder during the last year as she planned every detail of this audacious event, and then took Chris under her wing to see it all come together in person. Thank you, Amanda! We’re grateful to you and all the meeting professionals who generously share their trials and tribulations with us — and the rest of this remarkable community, where there’s always a lot happening.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.