For the first time in its 24-year history, the Brian Bertoti Innovative Perspectives in History Graduate Research Conference will be virtual.

The event, to be held this year via Zoom on March 19-20, is an annual opportunity for graduates and advanced undergraduates in the VIrginia Tech Department of History to share research projects in a supportive, professional environment and to network with future colleagues.

The conference values interdisciplinary approaches to the past, and its organizers have invited proposals from historians and students in related disciplines whose work represents “innovative perspectives in history.” Presentations can be on any aspect of history, time period, or world region.

The full schedule of events can be found here. To attend the conference, email Iris Swaney at or Jessica Brabble at

Conference speakers include, from left, Megan Kate Nelson, Lydia Kelow-Bennett, and Matt D. Childs.
Conference speakers include, from left, Megan Kate Nelson, Lydia Kelow-Bennett, and Matt D. Childs.

The conference will feature several outside speakers.

Megan Kate Nelson will deliver the keynote address on Friday, March 19. Her address, titled “History as Imagination: Dispatches from the Writing Life,” will discuss how to craft narrative histories and how to navigate historical work outside the academy.

Nelson, a writer and historian living in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is the author of The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner, 2020); Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012); and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, 2005).

Lydia Kelow-Bennett, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, will deliver the luncheon address on Friday, March 19. Her areas of teaching and research interest include U.S. Black feminist thought, U.S. Black popular culture, and Black cultural studies. She is currently working on a book manuscript that critically examines Black feminist engagements with Black popular culture in the 21st century.

Kelow-Bennett has served on the Governing Council of the National Women’s Studies Association as co-chair of the Women of Color Caucus, and is currently on the Advisory Board of the Women of Color Leadership Project through NWSA. She is also trained as a doula, and cares deeply about reproductive justice and Black parental and infant health outcomes.

Matt D. Childs, an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina, will deliver the luncheon address on Saturday, March 20. His address is titled  “An African City in the Americas: Reframing Colonial Havana as a West African Port City, (1762–1867).” In it he will explore how the culture, history, and identity that Africans brought with them to Cuba influenced their experiences under enslavement from the 1760s to 1860s.

Childs is the author of The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery, which was a finalist for  the 2007 Frederick Douglass Book Prize and translated and published in Cuba in 2012. He has coedited with Toyin Falola The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World and The Changing Worlds of Atlantic Africa: Essays in Honor or Robin Law.

Since 1998, the History Graduate Student Association has organized a conference annually for graduates students in history from Virginia Tech and from other master’s degree and PhD programs. The conference is named for a former student who sparked interest among his peers to create a venue for public presentation of student research. Brian Bertoti died before planning for the first conference was completed. The conference name acknowledges his interest in studying the past and his commitment to sharing that study with others.