The statewide headquarters of the Florida Historical Society is in Cocoa, but the organization hosts their Annual Meeting and Symposium in a different Florida city each year. In recent years the event has been held in St. Augustine, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Pensacola.
In 2013, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the naming of our state, the Florida Historical Society hosted their annual meeting aboard a cruise ship that sailed out of Port Canaveral. The return voyage from the Bahamas followed Ponce de León’s path of discovery, sailing up the east coast of Florida.
This year’s conference will be held at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in downtown Orlando, May 19-21. Hotel and event registration is online at myfloridahistory.org and the public is welcome to attend.
The theme for the 2016 conference is “Citrus to Tourism to Tech: Visions of Paradise?”
“It really encapsulates the diverse and ever changing history of the Central Florida region,” says Ben DiBiase, Director of Educational Resources for the Florida Historical Society. “This year we have over 60 presenters that will be giving talks and roundtable discussions, and topics are as varied as Florida history.”
From Thursday morning, May 19, through Saturday morning, May 21, multiple concurrent presentation sessions will be held at the Embassy Suites hotel. The session topics include Paleoindians in Florida, Colonial Florida, Florida’s Territorial Governors, Frontier Florida, Digital Methods for Interpreting Florida History, and many more.
“The major thrust of our annual meetings is the academic presentations, but outside of that, it’s a place for history enthusiasts, historians, students, and the general public to congregate, to talk, discuss, network, and really enjoy all things Florida history,” says DiBiase.
Each afternoon of the annual conference, attendees visit local historic sites and museums.
This year’s afternoon excursions include a “behind the scenes” tour of the Orange County Regional History Center, a Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Orlando including the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture, and a bus and boat tour of Winter Park including the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens and Hannibal Square Heritage Center. The conference will end with a picnic at Fort Christmas Historical Park in east Orange County.
“Despite the popular notion that historians just like to stay inside and read books, we actually like to get out when we visit different areas and allow our attendees to get a full historical view of what the areas we’re visiting are really like,” says DiBiase.
The conference begins with an Opening Plenary Session. The featured speaker will be author and journalist Joy Wallace Dickinson, discussing “Mysteries of Orlando’s Past, B.D. (Before Disney).” Wallace’s books include “Orlando: City of Dreams,” “Remembering Orlando,” and “Historic Photos of Orlando.”
Roderick Waldon, principal of Orlando’s historically black Jones High School, will accept a donation of the book “Crossing Division Street: An Oral History of the African American Community in Orlando” from the Florida Historical Society Press, with free copies to be given to each graduating senior.
The annual awards luncheon on Thursday recognizes outstanding books, articles, and other work in Florida history. Awards include the Charlton Tebeau Award for best general interest book on a Florida history topic, and the Patrick D. Smith Award for the best book of fiction based on Florida history.
Thursday evening, May 19, a reception will be held at the Orange County Regional History Center to recognize and celebrate the career of José Fernández, retiring dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Central Florida. Fernández served on the Florida Historical Society board of directors for twenty years and was a past president.
On Friday evening, May 20, the Jillian Prescott Memorial Lecturer at the annual banquet dinner will be author, historic preservation advocate, and broadcast journalist Bob Kealing, presenting “Uncovering Orlando’s Pre-Disney Visionaries.”
Kealing’s book “Tupperware Unsealed: Brownie Wise, Earl Tupper, and the Home Party Pioneers” is being made into a film starring Sandra Bullock. His other books include “Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends,” and “Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock.”
About 200 people attend the Florida Historical Society Annual Meeting and Symposium each year.