Program Committee 1997

By Margaret Strobel and Michael James Galgano

The 1997 annual meeting attracted record crowds (4,500) to the New York City site. The large attendance contributed to 18 of the 154 numbered sessions reporting standing room only. The Program Committee received reports from approximately one-third of the sessions; these remarked overall on the high quality of individual presentations and coherence of the various panels, in addition to stuffed rooms and the occasional too-large room assignment. More than one person commented on the notable diversity of presenters, balanced between junior and senior members of the profession, and between men and women, as well as the variety of subfields and comparative sessions represented.

The theme of the meeting, human rights, was covered in many of the panels as well in the plenary. Chaired by outgoing AHA president John Coatsworth, the plenary examined the particular relationship of history and historians to human rights issues: debates over universality (Ann Elizabeth Mayer, University of Pennsylvania); the ways in which history is interpreted and manipulated to justify genocide (Alison Des Forges, speaking about Rwanda); struggles between scholars interested in human archaeological remains and cultural objects as historical data, and American Indian communities that demand repatriation of such objects (Roger Echo-Hawk, Denver Art Museum and Colorado Historical Society).

The 1997 Program Committee introduced various innovations, which we believe contributed to the strength of the proposals submitted. In an attempt to make clearer the criteria typically applied by the Program Committee in making their selections, we published in Perspectives an article written by Patrick Manning (Northeastern University), himself a veteran of several program committees. As a result, we received proposals for panels and individual presentations that were satisfyingly complete and fully argued and documented. This enhanced quality made the selection process more difficult, because fewer proposals could be rejected on the basis of inadequate presentation of relevant information. The competition for space on the program was high compared to recent years. Our 266 full panel proposals compared with 210 for 1995 and 185 for 1996. The proposals have to be accommodated in sessions whose number cannot change from year to year, and that must accommodate as well the official sessions organized by the Teaching, Research, and Professional Divisions, and the Committee on Women Historians and on Minority Historians. Also active in the 1997 program were the new Task Force on the Role of Graduate Students in the AHA (five sessions) and a cosponsored session from the Globalizing Regional Histories Project of the AHA.

A second innovation was the inclusion of poster sessions. This format for presenting individual research is borrowed from the sciences and has been adopted by other social science professional meetings in recent years. The eight poster presentations, all of which were adopted by the Teaching Division because of their relevance for teaching, were featured in the popular Saturday 9:30 A.M. slot. They attracted an estimated 200 visitors.

Other adaptations in process helped the Program Committee do its work efficiently. The committee meets in the fall, when it makes provisional evaluations of the proposals it has received (typically about one-third of the final number). These provisional judgments are then compared with judgments made on the two-thirds of the proposals that arrive at the spring deadline. The cochairs developed guidelines for committee members to facilitate the application of comparable criteria, so that committee members would look for the same kinds of information (a discussion of methodology, sources, and historiography, for example, and the potential interest to an AHA audience, as opposed to specialists who might not be at the AHA) and spread their “grades”—must have; strong; maybe; no—in over the full range of possible ranks.

We also introduced more bureaucracy—a cover sheet to accompany proposals—that had the benefit of assuring that session organizers knew what information they needed to provide. The cover sheet also reiterated the rule that persons who appeared in any capacity in a numbered session in the previous AHA meeting, apart from being on officially organized sessions, could not appear in a second, consecutive meeting or in two panels at the same meeting. This rule is intended to open the AHA conference to a greater number of presenters. (The rule does not penalize people who appear on an official session organized by an AHA committee.)

The hard work of the AHA staff complemented that of the Program Committee members. As in the past years, Sandria Freitag provided able leadership for the organization as a whole, and Sharon Tune and the AHA staff made both the work of the Program Committee and the annual meeting itself a pleasure. The Program Committee worked smoothly and with good humor over four long days of deliberation together. In addition, they spent hours evaluating proposals and helping strengthen some or encourage other underrepresented fields. Our thanks go to members Marjorie Wall Bingham (Emerita, St. Louis Park Public Schools, Minnesota), Colin Gordon Calloway (Dartmouth College), Julia A. Clancy-Smith (University of Arizona), Susan Deans-Smith (University of Texas, Austin), Paul H. Freedman (Yale University), Oliver W Holmes (Wesleyan University), Albert L. Hurtado (Arizona State University), and Sara M. Evans and Ann Waltner, both of the University Minnesota, and chair and cochair, respectively, of the 1998 Program Committee.

Margaret Strobel (University of Illinois at Chicago) is Chair, and Michael James Galgano (James Madison University) is Co-chair of the 1997 Program Committee.