From the AHA Activities column of the October 2010 issue of Perspectives on History

The Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association

Barbara Molony, October 2010

Some of us are old enough to remember differential pricing by region. Before the 1970s, ads in national magazines often listed two prices for clothing or appliances—one a general price and the other for purchases made “West of the Rockies.” Those mountains formed a remarkable barrier to commerce, and historians found crossing them daunting as well.

At the dawn of the last century, when most of America’s universities were located east of the Mississippi and transcontinental travel was slow, a West Coast historian would need two to three weeks to attend an annual meeting of the still-young AHA. Western AHA conferences like this past winter’s meeting in beautiful San Diego were unheard of. In fact, before World War II, the AHA met only three times in cities touched by the Mississippi—New Orleans in 1903, St. Louis in 1921, and Minneapolis in 1931—although Midwestern venues like Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, and Madison often attracted the AHA. From the earliest years of the Association, members bravely traveled to meetings throughout the northeastern quadrant of the United States in the dead of winter.

Recognizing that the association was one of American historians, not simply of United States historians, the AHA expanded its scope, meeting in Toronto in 1932. Clearly, East Coast bias was not the reason why no meetings were scheduled outside the region. Travel inconvenience for the majority of members—Easterners and Midwesterners—was more likely at play.

The West Coast hosted its first annual meeting only after air travel became common and affordable. San Francisco lured the AHA in 1965 and six more times since then. Soon, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Diego welcomed the AHA. The AHA has changed in many ways during the past century—how strange the opening salutation of George Bancroft’s 1886 presidential address to his “Brothers of the American Historical Association” would sound today—and geographic diversity is among those changes. In all, almost 25 percent of AHA annual meetings since 1965 have been in West Coast cities, and historians from around the country and the world have been able to travel to AHA meetings throughout North America.

The Pacific Coast Branch of the AHA owes its birth in 1903 to the AHA leadership’s decision to launch an auxiliary for West Coast historians who could not easily attend annual AHA meetings. But even after air travel made attending the AHA meetings easy, the PCB has continued to thrive as an organization. As the second oldest (after the AHA, of course!) ongoing historical association in the United States that encompasses every historical era and world region, we continue to redefine ourselves for the 21st century. We have significant ties to the AHA, but also an independent executive office (Executive Director Peter Blodgett) and an excellent scholarly journal, Pacific Historical Review. The PCB awards two book prizes, two article prizes (the Koontz and the Turrentine Jackson), and a dissertation prize each year. This year, we initiated a new award, the PCB-AHA Presidents’ Graduate Student Travel Award, to assist graduate students who are presenting papers at the conference.

AHA members in the 22 states west of the Mississippi and four westernmost Canadian provinces are members of the PCB—as are subscribers to Pacific Historical Review who reside outside the region. Welcome to all of you who may not have known of your membership in the PCB! We hope you’ll join us next August in Seattle, and invite your friends and colleagues from outside the region to PCB-AHA meetings. The conference will take place August 11-13, 2011, and its theme is Horizons of Change: The Unexpected, Unknown, and Unforgettable. Please see the PCB website at http://pcb.cgu.edu for the Call for Papers.

The PCB has continued to expand its scope in recent years, and this year’s annual meeting, hosted by Santa Clara University from August 12 through August 14, had 56 panels and roundtables on US, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African history. Environmental, feminist, diplomatic, cultural, religious, immigration, labor, borderlands, and economic historians presented papers, and two Presidential Panels were dedicated to the work of leading historians Asunción Lavrín (Latin America) and Rachel Fuchs (France). Although PCB conferences have tended to focus more on the history of the modern era, this year’s conference boasted a remarkable five panels on medieval history.

Scholars from throughout the United States and Canada as well as Europe, South America, and New Zealand are contributing to this year’s program. And, as always, we welcome the Western Association of Women Historians, who hold a luncheon and lecture in conjunction with the PCB AHA meeting.

As I hand over the presidency to Janet Fireman (editor-in-chief, California History), I look forward to ever more fruitful ties with the AHA and to expanding our base of active members in the western region of the United States and Canada.

Barbara Molony (Santa Clara Univ.) is president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the AHA for 2010.