Program Committee 2001

The 2001 annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Boston was, by all accounts-substantive and formal, systematic and anecdotal-a great success. Over 5,200 persons attended the event, a 35-year high according to AHA records. Boston obliged with a wonderful venue and fairly acceptable weather. Economical hotel rates, a comparatively strong job market, good airplane ticket prices, all conspired to make the 115th annual meeting one to remember. Individual reports from session chairs, and "head counts" provided by assistants to AHA headquarters indicated strong, lively, and well-attended sessions throughout the four days of the conference itself. The success of the 2001 annual meeting had everything to do with the very hard and inspired work of our Program Committee colleagues, the superhuman efforts of a graduate student assistant (Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens of the University of California at San Diego), the sustained professionalism and efficiency of Sharon K. Tune and her colleagues at AHA headquarters in Washington (particularly but not exclusively Debbie Ann Doyle, Kate Masur, Andrew Schulkin, Flannery Shaughnessy, and Pillarisetti Sudhir), and (most of all!) the high quality of the session proposals we received from hundreds of colleagues across the nation and around the world.

The Conference Theme and Program Basics

The conference theme on "Practices of Historical Narrative" elicited a wide array of imaginative session proposals both from historians and colleagues drawn from allied disciplines. Out of 287 full-session proposals received, 162 were selected for inclusion in the annual meeting program; 15 of these acceptances included slots "promised" to the various AHA divisions and committees. Differentiated by subspecialty, the accepted proposals were distributed as follows:

    African history: 3; Ancient and early modern European history: 17; Asian history: 8; Colonial and early modern United States history: 9; Latin American history: 15; Middle Eastern history: 3; Modern European history: 17; Modern United States history: 39; World history: 22; Teaching and related topics: 14; Other (professional issues, public history, etc.): 11

It appears that panels that focused on particular authors and their approach to the construction of historical narratives were especially popular. Also of interest were sessions, such as one on sociobiology that cut across the dimensions of country and time-period more typical of history conferences in general.

Special Aspects of the Program

The plenary session was especially successful. It had been the goal of the Program Committee to fashion an inaugural event that would stimulate an interdisciplinary consideration of the meeting theme. To this end, three distinguished colleagues drawn from outside the history field were invited to participate in the plenary: Laurie Kahn-Leavitt (Blueberry Hill Productions), a distinguished director of documentary films; Deirdre McCloskey (Univ. of Illinois at Chicago), the well-known economist and historian of economic theory; and Richard Price (Coll. of William and Mary), the celebrated cultural anthropologist and ethnographer. In a very well-attended evening session, Kahn-Leavitt showed film clips, using them to explain the decision-making characteristic of any effort to produce documentaries that are historically accurate. With wit and irony, McCloskey addressed the need for investigators to move away from the traditional "free market" views of economic life in order to better inform the writing of historical narrative itself. Finally, Price, who has worked extensively with Caribbean evidence (both archival and contemporary), emphasized the problems inherent in any effort to interpret and evaluate the multiple voices one encounters in the construction of any narrative. President Eric Foner chaired the session, offering inspired extemporaneous comments and overseeing a stimulating discussion from the floor.

Several sessions were devoted to the exploration of pedagogical and professional issues facing the discipline and its practitioners. The impact of digital applications and practices for teaching methods and publication processes occupied two such gatherings. Post-tenure personnel review, the status of non-tenure track colleagues in the profession, and the opportunities for colleagues in the secondary and preparatory school environments were the themes of several others. By all accounts, these sessions were well attended and fruitful, indicating a growing awareness of and concern with professional issues that have become ever more apparent within our disciplinary community as a whole. Equally successful were two special "brown bag" luncheon sessions devoted to review practices at the American Historical Review and the processes and procedures followed by the annual meeting Program Committee itself. Indeed, some of the discussion at the Program Committee gathering generated quite useful suggestions that are the subject of some of the committee's recommendations to the Research Division regarding future revision and reform of the annual meeting session proposal process. Finally, thanks to the efforts of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a special session devoted to the history of Boston proved to be an enormous success-one that garnered impressive coverage in the Boston Globe during the weekend of the meeting itself. Needless to say, such welcome publicity for the Association and its annual meeting was especially gratifying.

Reception of the Program

By all accounts, the 2001 annual meeting was quite successful. Attendance figures, both aggregate and by session, give vivid testimony to that fact. Individual reports from session chairs almost uniformly confirm what the attendance data show: popular, lively, and productive sessions that left participants and audience members very pleased. It cannot be emphasized enough, in our view, that the broad-based nature of this year's meeting theme contributed mightily to the general sense of inclusiveness that appears to have animated the positive reception of the program. Only two specific complaints were received in these reports: (1) a lone criticism of the scheduling of sessions early on Sunday mornings, and (2) a more general set of complaints (from various quarters) regarding rooms inadequately provisioned with equipment or less than comfortable for participants' use. These latter criticisms resonated, of course, with the vast dissatisfaction all had with the physical venue provided for the Job Register. While these logistical difficulties do not seem to have jeopardized the overall reception of this Annual Meeting, they do give cause for concern that, in future, the Association find ways to protect itself from the sometimes ineffective, inefficient, or indeed thoughtless decision-making of hotel and conference center officials.

Suggestions for Future Program Practices

The 2001 Program Committee found that, in general, the practices and procedures deployed for its task worked very well. The committee certainly endorses the recent decision to eliminate the consideration of single-paper proposals, relying on colleagues to bring forward only full-session applications. We applaud the hard work of the Association's staff in facilitating the engagement of individual scholars (both those with institutional affiliations and independent investigators) in the formulation of session proposals by use of the Internet and of the Association web site. We urge the Research Division to continue such efforts and expand upon this early success. Indeed, in the luncheon "brown bag" discussion of Program Committee practice at the 2001 Annual Meeting, mentioned above, several independent scholars in attendance heartily endorsed this suggestion.

The Program Committee also suggests that the division consider some elaboration of language in future calls for papers regarding concern with gender and ethnic diversity in our meeting panels. We believe it is both useful and important to encourage colleagues actively in the pursuit of such participant diversity in the program for our annual meetings.

There is an additional concern with the relative lack of subspecialty diversity at our Annual Meetings. The Program Committee found that the overwhelming proportion of proposals came from specialists in European and U.S. history. It proved very difficult to increase the representation of other fields within our discipline in the annual meeting program. It is our sense that part of the difficulty in this regard has to do with the timing of our call for papers. At the very moment that the "call" is issued, many colleagues in, for example, Asian studies, African studies, ancient history, and other specialty areas (such as diplomatic, economic, and military history) are preparing papers or proposals for their own specialty-society annual meetings. We realize that there are powerful constraints on what the Association can do about this problem. But the issue is worth some analysis and discussion in the hopes that, with possible minor changes in timing and deadlines, the intellectual diversity of our discipline may be better represented at our Annual Meeting.

Generally speaking, the Program Committee's work with affiliated societies for the 2001 meeting went well. Misunderstandings were kept to a minimum and virtually all of the societies submitted thorough and well-documented proposals.

The Program Committee did have the opportunity to discuss some suggestions for future revision in practice. We wonder if the Association might experiment with the scheduling of some "working-paper" sessions in which texts are circulated in advance for more intensive discussion among participants at the Annual Meeting. Some committee members also suggested that there be some consideration of scheduling more than one plenary session during an annual meeting and of the use of "five-slot" days to accommodate both this suggestion and more session proposals as a whole. Finally, after some discussion of the issues, it is our conviction that a better institutional link between the Association Council and the committee be forged. One simple way to achieve this would be to have the Program Committee co-chairs serve as ex officio members of the AHA Council during their year in service to the Association. Alternatively, the Council could designate one of its members to serve in a similar capacity on each Program Committee. We favor the former idea; either way, more direct communication between the committee and the Council seems both warranted and appropriate, not to mention more efficient.


The 2001 annual meeting of the American Historical Association was successful in a wide variety of ways. Large and energetic attendance spoke to the effectiveness of a conference theme that engaged the interests and talents of a wide array of colleagues across the country and abroad. Lively sessions devoted to professional themes and concerns also spoke to the presence of an animated conference audience and to the vitality of our discipline as a whole. There can be no doubt that the Association has every reason to look forward to continued success of this sort in its most important annual event. The history discipline is alive and well-the annual meeting offers powerful testimony to that fact!

In closing, please allow us to note how stimulating and gratifying it has been to serve on behalf of the Association as its Program Committee co-chairs this past year. Whatever success we have enjoyed in that role has, of course, been due to the extraordinary capability of the Association's headquarters staff and of our graduate student assistant (as we noted in the opening of this report). It is also our very happy duty to acknowledge the remarkable contributions of our colleagues and friends on the Program Committee itself. We conclude this report by identifying them for the record-we do so with our deepest gratitude and admiration for their exemplary professionalism and fine work: John Brackett (Univ. of Cincinnati), Janet J. Ewald (Duke University), Charlotte Furth (Univ. of Southern California), Lisbeth Haas (Univ. of California, Santa Cruz), Philippa Levine (Univ. of Southern California), Daniel T. Orlovsky (Southern Methodist University), Donald Quataert (SUNY at Binghamton), Paul S. Ropp (Clark University), E. Anthony Rotundo (Phillips Academy), Patricia J. Tracy (Williams College), and Barbara Weinstein (Univ. of Maryland at College Park).

Michael A. Bernstein (University of California at San Diego) and Barbara Hanawalt (Ohio State University) were co-chairs of the 2001 Program Committee.