From the 1998 Annual Meeting column in the March 1998 Perspectives
1998 Annual Meeting Highlights
AHA Staff, February 1998
The 112th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held January 8--11, 1998, in Seattle, continued a string of successful meetings with over 3,600 in attendance. Moreover, with 158 "official" sessions and over 100 affiliated society sessions, it was the Association's largest program ever. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the 1998 Program Committee cochairs Sara Evans and Ann Waltner (Univ. of Minnesota), Local Arrangements Com mittee cochairs Jere Bacharach (Univ. of Washington at Seattle) and Suzanne Wilson Barnett (Univ. of Puget Sound), and Convention Director Sharon K. Tune, the meeting was a great success.
As usual, the program offered a rich array of sessions on a wide variety of topics. The meeting was officially started with two well-attended plenary sessions on "Changing Definitions and Notions of National Museums of History," and "Cross cultural Comparisons and Contacts." Throughout the meeting there were standing-room-only audiences for a wide variety subjects ranging from "Setting a Context for Humanity's Common Past" to a session on "Disasters of the 18th Century."
The state of the profession today--particularly questions about teaching, technology, and tenure--was a significant point of conversation at the meeting. On the opening night, the History Channel taped a panel on "Popular History/Professional History" for later rebroadcast. And a substantial crowd attended and discussed "The Future of Tenure in Research Universities" at a session on Saturday, with further discussion on the topic at a subsequent luncheon for department chairs.
Renewed attention to pedagogy was an important part of 16 sessions at the meeting. A session on "Teaching Diversity" on the first full day of the meeting, drew a packed audience, with additional panels on topics ranging from teaching portfolios to world history.
In addition, panelists grappled with the challenges posed by the new and emerging technologies in a wide variety of sessions. With the AHA affiliate H-Net leading the way, there were almost a dozen sessions that addressed the effects of new technologies in the classroom and the new ways of disseminating historical information on the World Wide Web.
There was some attention to the peril attendant in the new technologies as well. Almost a dozen history journal editors and publishers met Friday afternoon to follow up on the Conference on History Journals and the Electronic Future. In addition, at their Sunday meeting, the AHA Council formally endorsed the conference-initiated "Statement on Intellectual Diversity." (For more information on the conference and the statement, see Martin V. Minner, "Conference on History Journals and the Electronic Future" Perspectives, February 1998, p. 35.)
Perhaps the most important business of the meeting was transacted at the AHA general meeting Friday night. Despite a faulty microphone, President-elect Joseph C. Miller (Univ. of Virginia) announced the Association's 1998 awards and prizes with great dignity and significant lung power. As the award citations, reprinted beginning on page 13, reflect, the award recipients and honorees represented the full richness and diversity of the profession.
Then, with the microphone restored to proper working order, Joyce Appleby (UCLA) delivered a captivating presidential address that wove together an assessment of recent trends in historiography with an assessment of how the profession might speak to the concerns of a larger public.
The Association undertook a great deal of institutional and governance work in the course of the meeting, at the Council's day and a half of meetings, the annual business meeting, and the biannual meeting with the Association's affiliated societies.
On Saturday, AHA officers presented reports at the Association's business meeting. In his valedictory report, AHA Vice President for Teaching Peter Stearns (Carnegie Mellon Univ.) noted his concern that historians at all levels are failing to pay attention to the development of history teaching standards. He also expressed concern about the lack of collaboration between history teachers at the primary levels and those teaching at colleges and universities.
Upon receiving the gavel as president, Miller declared that "the Association works as a composite of very energetic and imaginative people; the issue is how we can all work together toward standards of excellence."
In discussions at a meeting of the affiliated societies the previous day, Miller stated that strengthening the relationship between the Association and its affiliates was one of his top priorities. The incoming AHA President-elect, Robert Darnton (Princeton Univ.), seconded Miller's commitment, and suggested making the meetings with affiliates an annual arrangement.
The largest concern expressed by the affiliates was the improved integration of their panels in the general AHA meeting program. Miller said he would pursue the topic with the convention staff in the coming months.
The annual Job Register is usually a good barometer of the state of the history job market. This year both the number of openings and the number of applicants was down for the first time in five years. There were 181 positions advertised or for which on-site interviews were conducted (down from 220 at the 1997 meeting) while the number of job applicants fell from 777 to 662. However, these declines may have had more to do with the relatively remote location and the foul weather in other parts of the country. The fall job listings in Perspectives employment information section remained stable between this year and the last.
Planning is already under way for the Association's next annual meeting, which will be held in Washington, D.C., January 7--10, 1999. We look forward to seeing you here in the Association's headquarters city.