From the 1999 Annual Meeting column in the March 1999 Perspectives
1999 Annual Meeting Highlights
Robert B. Townsend, March 1999
The 113th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held January 7–10, 1999, in Washington, D.C., continued a string of successful meetings, with more than 4,500 in attendance, despite severe winter weather in much of the nation.
As in past years, there was a rich array of sessions presenting new historical scholarship, particularly around the meeting's general theme, "Diasporas and Migrations in History." The plenary session addressed the theme in a panel titled "Perspectives and Critiques." The panel was chaired by AHA president Joseph C. Miller (Univ. of Virginia) and included Julia Clancy-Smith (Univ. of Arizona), Wang Gungwu (National Univ., Singapore), Richard Hovanissian (UCLA), and Colin Palmer (Graduate Sch., CUNY). The panelists and audience explored problems in the definition and application of the concept of diaspora by considering patterns in Europe, China, Africa, and the Americas.
The theme was expanded in 13 subsequent sessions ranging from "Diaspora and Persecution in Medieval and Early Modern Sephardi History" to "Strangers in their Own Land: American Indian Diaspora."
A session on "World History and the Construction of Grand Narratives," with papers presented by Jerry Bentley (Univ. of Hawaii), Michael P. Adas (Rutgers Univ.), Ida Blom (Univ. of Bergen), and Maghan Keita (Villanova Univ.), and chaired by Philip D. Curtin (Johns Hopkins Univ.), drew the largest audience of the meeting (almost 200 people).
Among the other sessions drawing large audiences, quite a few addressed professional concerns, particularly those of graduate students and new history PhDs. The difficulties in the job market for recent history PhDs generated a great deal of attention as the AHA Professional Division sponsored "The Job Market and the Production of PhDs in History: A Roundtable Discussion," while the Task Force on Graduate Education sponsored a session, "Alternative Careers for Historians." Interestingly, the more practical focus of the "Alternative Careers" panel drew an audience almost three times the size of the other panel. Both panels fed into discussion at a luncheon meeting of department chairs that followed.
On the Town
Taking advantage of the many resources of Washington, D.C., the 1999 meeting was the first to offer off-site sessions as an official part of the program and included sessions at the Library of Congress, the Holocaust Museum, and the National Archives and Records Administration.
A number of local luminaries made appearances at the meeting. National Endowment for the Humanities chair William Ferris met with the AHA's Council over lunch and discussed future directions and funding for his agency. Similarly, the Archivist of the United States, John Carlin, was the presenter at an AHA session, "The National Archives and Records Administration: Issues and Prospects."
Several noted historians also ventured out to give presentations at local area bookstores, as the AHA worked with the NEH and the Library of Congress to increase historians' exposure to the public. Eric Foner (The Story of American Freedom); Walter LaFeber (The Clash: U.S.-Japan Relations throughout History); Ann Gordon (Collected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony); Andre Gunder Frank, (ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age); Olivia Cadaval (Creating a Latino Identity in the Nation's Capital: The Latino Festival); and Howard Jones (Mutiny on the Amistad) all spoke to general audiences at bookstores or the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
First George C. Marshall Lecture
The annual meeting was also the site of the first George C. Marshall Lecture on Military History cohosted by the Society for Military History and the George C. Marshall Foundation. Russell F. Weigley (Temple Univ.) spoke on "The Soldier, the Statesman, and the Military Historian," describing the deep (and growing) mistrust between statesmen and soldiers in the United States and urging military historians to explore the causes of this distrust more thoroughly to help foster appropriate civil-military relations in the future.
The lecture will be given annually on a rotating basis at the annual meetings of the AHA, the Organization of American Historians, the Society for Military History, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
As a result of severe winter weather nationwide, the Job Register experienced the first decline in the number of job applicants in more than five years. Only 690 applicants submitted c.v.'s this year—a significant drop from the 777 who did so the previous year. On the positive side, the number of searches reached the highest point in 10 years, with search committees for 243 positions conducting interviews through the Job Register.
Given these trends, it is no surprise that most applicants reported that they had received multiple interviews this year (including a large number of interviews conducted outside of the Job Register facilities).
However, the proportion of search committees collecting c.v.'s at the meeting continues to fall—nearly 60 percent of the positions listed at the Job Register were confined to prearranged interviews.
Perhaps the most important business of the meeting was transacted at the AHA General Meeting on Friday night. In the first such AHA meeting to be recorded for a television audience (by C-SPAN), Robert Darnton (Princeton Univ.) announced the Association's 1999 awards and prizes. As the award citations (which begin on on page 13) reflect, the award recipients and honorees represented the full richness and diversity of the profession.
Following the presentations, Joseph C. Miller (Univ. of Virginia) delivered a finely argued presidential address, which reflected on what distinguishes the way historians work from the epistemologies of other disciplines by describing some of the stages through which scholars concerned with Africa's past have moved.
The meeting was a great success despite the winter weather and the distractions across town in the Capitol, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the 1999 Program Committee cochairs John Voll (Georgetown Univ.) and Gary Kulik (Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library), Local Arrangements Committee cochairs Howard Gillette Jr. (George Washington Univ.) and Rosemarie Zagarri (George Mason Univ.), and Convention Director Sharon K. Tune.
Planning is already under way for the Association's next annual meeting, which will be held in Chicago, January 6–9, 2000. We look forward to seeing you at the first meeting of the new millennium.