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From the Annual Meeting 2005 column of the March 2005 Perspectives

The 119th Annual Meeting: A Look Back

AHA Staff, March 2005

"Mindblowing!" is not an adjective that one often hears being applied to the AHA's annual meetings. For blasé, seasoned veterans of annual meetings, the 119th meeting at Seattle was perhaps nothing new, as redolent of the gravitas of scholarship and the job-seeker's angst as it always has been. But to Sophia Lelevich, a junior at Kelso High School in Washington State, who attended the meeting for the first time (along with two other classmates and a teacher) through an innovative program that the AHA launched at Seattle for teacher-student groups, it was a truly memorable experience. She went to many sessions, she told Perspectives, from the Plenary Session on Thursday to one at the very end on Sunday, and all were fascinating to her (read the students' reports).

There was indeed a wide variety of sessions that the more than 4,400 attendees (1,000 of whom registered on site) could choose from. Then there were the numerous workshops, breakfasts, lunches, and receptions to go to, and for earnest bibliophiles, an enormous range of books to sample in the book exhibit.

Meetings before the Meeting

Once again, the AHA launched the annual meeting with a couple of pre-meeting sessions. One was a workshop (held on Thursday afternoon) for directors of graduate studies and chairs of departments with graduate programs. The participants discussed various aspects of graduate education in history, ranging from curricular reform to mentoring and from collecting data to treating students as partners in education.

The other pre-meeting session (also held on Thursday afternoon) was designed to orient newcomers to the intricacies of the annual meeting. Panelists in this session provided an insiders view of what goes on at the annual meeting. The 2005 Program Committee chair Paul Freedman and co-chair Barbara Weinstein attempted to demystify the process of getting a panel accepted, encouraging everyone present, particularly those from fields that are underrepresented on the program, to submit proposals for 2006. They pointed out that the AHA meeting provides a rare chance to present research to scholars outside one's own field. Maureen Murphy Nutting, chair of the Local Arrangements Committee, gave tips on how to enjoy the resources of the meeting city even on a tight budget. Richard Bond, recent PhD and former AHA Job Register co-manager, offered advice on navigating the Job Register, while Convention Assistant Debbie Ann Doyle encouraged the audience to take advantage of the networking opportunities available at the meeting. Convention Director Sharon K. Tune provided an insider's view of how convention sites are selected and the meeting is organized. The session, offered for the first time in 2005, proved successful and may be offered again in 2006.

The Plenary Session

The annual meeting formally and ceremonially commenced with a special plenary session that began with the conferral of the AHA's Woodrow Wilson-Theodore Roosevelt Public Service Award upon Brian Lamb, the president and chief executive officer of C-SPAN. In his remarks, Lamb approvingly referred to a slogan—"Silence is un-American!"—that he had spotted in Seattle's new public library building, and said that he accepted the award because by doing so, he would have an opportunity to thank historians for what they do for the public. The academic part of the plenary session, which was chaired by AHA President Jonathan Spence, was devoted to an exploration of artifacts in China's past. Mimi Gates, the director of the Seattle Art Museum, discussed the collaborative efforts to preserve and protect the art of the Buddhist caves in the Gobi desert. Susan Naquin of Princeton University spoke about the material culture of China, and focused upon the embedded sense of touch as a less-discussed but still significant aspect of art and artifacts. Frederick Wakeman of the University of California at Berkeley (and a former president of the AHA) dwelt upon the pains and pleasures of conducting archival research in China.

Sessions and Open Forums

An extraordinary variety of academic sessions organized by scholars, sponsored by various divisions and committees of the AHA, and offered by the many affiliated societies that had also come to Seattle to hold their meetings in conjunction with the AHA's meeting, often made choosing a session to attend difficult.

"Interviewing in the Job Market in the Twenty-First Century," co-sponsored by the Professional Division, the Committee for Graduate Students, and the Coordinating Committee for Women in History, was one such session. Noting that only a fraction of history PhDs will find tenure-track employment in a research university, chair William Cronon, vice president of the Professional Division, encouraged attendees to talk to volunteers from a variety of institutional backgrounds. Kevin Reilly of the Raritan Valley Community College commented on the rewards of teaching a diverse student body at a teaching-heavy institution. Nupur Chaudhuri of Texas Southern University, a historically black college, observed that recent PhDs from research universities seem to have little experience communicating to students of color. Linda Shopes of the Pennsylvania State Museum Commission noted that while one third of PhDs will not find a tenure-track teaching position, there are a variety of rewarding careers open to professional historians, one benefit of which is that they don't have to grade papers.

At a well-attended open forum on Saturday, January 8, representatives of the Professional Division, the Research Division, the Teaching Division, and the Task Force on Public History, whose tenure expired as of the Saturday evening business meeting, discussed how the Association would sustain attention to public history and implement some of the recommendations in the task force report. Cronon noted that the new Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct had been revised to remove a bias in favor of academia in the original document, adding that the division had added continuing the momentum of the task force to its revised mission statement. The division's priorities include partnering with existing public history organizations to address issues of common interest. Patrick Manning, vice president of the Teaching Division, noted that the division would focus on several public history issues, including best practices for internship programs and encouraging collaborations between K–16 teachers and their colleagues in public history. Robert Townsend, representing the Research Division, observed that recent revisions to the format of the annual meeting reflected input from the Task Force on Public History, and requested proposals taking advantage of the new format from the audience.

Sessions on the Master's Degree

On Friday morning, the AHA's Teaching Division sponsored a well-attended panel on the master's degree for historians. Kenneth Curtis started by describing an experimental MA program for secondary history teachers recently launched by California State University at Long Beach, which combines a rigorous approach to historiography with a practical emphasis on the classroom experience; the goal, he stressed, is not just to train better history teachers but to develop new models of "advanced pedagogy" for historians. Richard Hoffman (San Francisco State Univ.) then discussed the challenges of providing attentive graduate training to a diverse constituency of students at a large, public university. The keys to his own department's successful MA program are a common introductory seminar and written comprehensive exams instead of the traditional master's thesis; this combination makes efficient use of both the students' time and the department's limited resources, he argued, while also encouraging systematic and synthetic historical analysis.

Philip M. Katz, until recently the AHA's research director for graduate education, offered an overview of the main issues in reforming graduate training at the master's level—starting with the need to define distinctive outcomes for the master's degree and the PhD. The fourth panelist, Patricia Mooney-Melvin (Loyola Univ. Chicago), focused on the training of public historians, which history departments ought to see as part of their outreach and service missions. Typically, public historians earn master's degrees, and the "absence of a PhD at the end of the road can unburden" a public history graduate program, even while accentuating the basic challenge of balancing professional skills and historical knowledge in the space of a relatively brief training regimen. The final panelist was Carlton Wilson, chair of the history department at North Carolina Central University. Wilson began by summarizing the recent work of the AHA's Committee on the Master's Degree, on which he and Mooney-Melvin both served. He then discussed the particular mission of his own department, which is committed to serving minority students with diverse academic interests (as part of an HBCU) while also training historians at the master's level in preparation for doctoral work at other universities. Sometimes, he noted, these missions may conflict, which is not unique to North Carolina Central; by its nature, the master's degree is called upon to serve many functions at once.

Many of the issues raised during the morning panel were revisited during an open forum hosted by the Committee on the Master's Degree later that afternoon. David Trask, the chair of the Committee, began by offering a challenge to the audience: How do we reconceptualize the master's degree outside of the "hierarchical and progressive paradigm" that culminates in a PhD? Katz gave a brief summary of the Committee's forthcoming report, Retrieving the Master's Degree from the Dustbin of History, and the floor was opened to comments and questions. The audience commented that the departments offering degrees should realize who is coming into the programs and for what reasons. These students should not be seen by the administrations only as revenue sources. It was suggested that there should be a document specifying the resources that departments should have to offer higher degrees—such as research funds, journal and library access, and the proper staff support.

The Business Meeting

At the AHA's 119th Business Meeting, held on Saturday, January 8, 2005, the reports of the executive director, the division vice presidents, the nominating committee, and the editor of the AHR were presented. One resolution—on the AHA's policies regarding the selection of annual meeting sites—was presented to the meeting and was adopted with an amendment moved from the floor (see the text of the resolution as accepted by the Council). Jonathan Spence, the outgoing president, who chaired the meeting (with Michael Les Benedict, AHA's Parliamentarian, helping as needed), concluded the meeting by symbolically handing over the AHA's historic gavel to the incoming president, James Sheehan.

Job Register

Once again, the AHA Job Register was there to make things go more smoothly for both candidates and search committees. While some institutions rented private suites (a few of whom failed to tell their candidates where they were located!), the bulk of the interviews in Seattle were conducted in AHA-provided facilities, which were 25 suites in the Renaissance Hotel and the 100 tables situated in the Ballroom 6E in the Washington State Convention Center. There was a nominal charge for the suites, while the tables were made available to interviewing institutions free-of-charge. Nearly 1,400 interviews were conducted over four days. The two busiest days were Friday, when more than 650 interviews were conducted, and Saturday, when nearly 600 were conducted. Approximately 150 institutions took advantage of Job Register facilities (both tables and suites) during the course of the annual meeting, and when combined with those schools interviewing in private facilities, there were 270 known active job searches in Seattle. Fifty-six of those searches were open and c.v.'s were collected on site for these open positions through the Job Register.

Book Exhibit

There were 93 different companies exhibiting in 144 booths. The exhibitors felt that the flow in the exhibit hall was good for a West-coast meeting. They particularly enjoyed the exhibitor's lounge, a secluded space that gave them a chance to grab some coffee and a pastry on a quick break from the show floor. Many said that they expect to return for next year's meeting in Philadelphia.

Clock Hours

At the Seattle Annual Meeting, the AHA offered (in collaboration with the Seattle School Board and the Puget Sound Educational District Services) continuing education credit hours for K–12 teachers for the first time. Twenty-eight teachers—from high school history teachers to primary school English teachers from Seattle and surrounding areas—took advantage of the meeting to gain as many as 22 additional credit hours, referred to as "clock hours."

—Based on reports from David Darlington, Debbie Ann Doyle, Kelly Elmore, Miriam E. Hauss, Philip M. Katz, and Pillarisetti Sudhir.