Annual Meeting Guidelines (updated 2017)

Approved by the AHA Council, June 5, 2004; last revised January 8, 2017.

1. Purpose and Goals of the AHA Annual Meeting

1.1) Since the first annual meeting in 1884, the gatherings of the American Historical Association (AHA) have provided an opportunity to detail new findings in the field, exchange information about the state of the profession, and enter the academic and professional job market. Through its annual meeting, the Association aspires to reflect the diversity of the historical profession and its means of communication.

1.2) The annual meeting should:

  • Advance historical research, teaching, and public historical practice by providing a forum for significant and innovative work by historians;

  • Discuss, protect, and develop the professional needs, rights, and responsibilities of the entire community of historians, academic and public, by addressing the larger concerns of the discipline;

  • Provide a vital opportunity to develop networks and foster communities in the discipline, both within and across fields.

The principal burden of the annual meeting falls on individual members of the Association, since they organize and propose most of the sessions. AHA members who believe their field is underrepresented on the programs of the annual meeting should take an active role in organizing sessions on their subject.

2. The Program Committee

2.1. In collaboration with officers, divisions, and committees of the Association, the AHA Program Committee is responsible for shaping and preparing an annual meeting in keeping with these goals. Members of the Program Committee will solicit sessions from the membership and affiliated societies, develop panels of their own, reject panels that fail to meet professional and scholarly standards of quality, and schedule sessions within the available time and space available.

2.2. The Program Committee is nominated by the AHA president-elect (who will deliver the presidential address at the meeting), in consultation with the AHA Council, as detailed in Section 5. The Program Committee is given final authority for all sessions that appear on the official meeting program, within the parameters established by these guidelines. The committee should be actively engaged in shaping a meeting that reflects the vitality and diversity of the historical profession.

2.3. The committee should:

  1. actively seek and encourage engaging and innovative sessions on a broad range of subjects—bearing in mind that some of the most significant innovations start with only a few adherents;

  2. uphold professional and scholarly standards of quality—with the understanding that presentations at the annual meeting tend to be at an earlier stage of development, and should be held to less exacting standards than an article submitted to the American Historical Review;

  3. consider significant historiographical issues of the moment, important anniversary observances, and the “state of the field” in various specializations (along a variety of axes—geographic, chronological, thematic, and methodological).

2.4. The AHA president-elect/president who organized the committee serves as Council’s representative to the Program Committee, advising on goals to be met by the annual meeting.

3. Allocation of Sessions

 3.1. The meeting program should represent a collaborative effort between the Program Committee and the officers, divisions, and committees of the Association. From year-to-year the total number of sessions will be determined by staff based on the number of rooms and time slots available. Once that number has been determined, sessions will be allocated as follows:

  1. The Program Committee may create up to 10 percent of the sessions (e.g., 25 sessions at a meeting with 250 sessions).

  2. The divisions and committees may create up to 10 percent of the sessions at the meeting, for subjects that advance their respective missions.

  3. One session in each time slot may be created by the AHA president serving at the time of the meeting.

  4. The Local Arrangements Committee may create up to five sessions at the meeting.

  5. The Executive Director may organize one or two sessions on timely issues as they arise.

  6. The remaining session slots will be allocated to submissions from the general membership and affiliated societies, as assessed and approved by the Program Committee.

3.2. AHA divisions and committees: To ensure the Program Committee can meet its responsibility of scheduling sessions on the program, the divisions and committees must submit their proposals by May 1. Individuals participating in division, committee, or presidential sessions are still subject to the participation limits in clause 4.2.B.

3.3. Affiliated societies: The Program Committee, at the earliest practicable date, will contact the affiliated societies to provide information about the forthcoming program and solicit program suggestions. The Program Committee will designate one of its members to act as a liaison to the affiliates, give the affiliates priority in notifications about the acceptance or rejection of proposals, and keep thorough records of acceptances to the program in order to prevent a pattern of privilege or neglect. While special consideration will be given to proposals for joint sessions sponsored by the AHA and affiliates, the Program Committee will apply the same criteria for acceptance applied to all other proposals.

3.4. Affiliated societies are also encouraged to hold their own sessions in conjunction with the annual meeting, although the Association encourages affiliates to offer an innovative and diverse range of sessions, as detailed in section 4.1 below. The Association will provide free space as available, but the society is responsible for the organizational and financial details of such ancillary sessions. For inclusion in the program, societies must submit such sessions to the convention director by May 15. The scheduling of affiliated society sessions to specific days and time slots is done by the AHA convention director and is subject to meeting space limitations.

4. Organizing Sessions

4.1. Session types: Proposals should be designated in one of the following session types. In order to encourage discussion and exchange at the meeting, the Program Committee discourages the practice of reading papers and will give priority to sessions that foster discussion. At least 30 minutes of each session should be reserved for discussion. To assure substantial time for interaction between speakers and audience, panels are normally limited to a maximum of four participants in addition to a chair.

  1. Discussions/Roundtables: The roundtable or the discussion format—which can be used for the presentation of original research, work-in-progress, or discussion of professional concerns—offers short presentations, a fluid organization (not limited to the chair/presenter/commentator structure), and ample time for discussion with the audience. Roundtables differ from discussions in that the former take place in a non-podium setting (with the audience gathered around the panel) to facilitate a more congenial exchange between audience and discussants.

  2. Experimental sessions: This format is intended to allow members to organize a panel using novel forms of presentation (in terms of organization or content), which are not covered by the other session types. Members who would like to organize such panels are welcome to do so, provided they clearly explain the form and content of their panels, their ability to engage and connect with an audience of their peers, and the potential costs involved. Experimental sessions may have more than four participants but must reserve at least 30 minutes for discussion.

  3. Formal sessions: The formal session is organized around a chair with two or three presenters speaking for 15 minutes, with the option of a commentator. While this has been the standard form, the Association encourages the informal presentation of research, instead of the rote reading of papers.

  4. Poster sessions: Poster sessions allow historians to present their data and discuss their research with colleagues in a less formal setting, using illustrative materials placed on a board. Poster sessions allow for the presentation of professional issues, original research, or work in progress through posted visual materials—such as pictures, photographs, and text—displayed on bulletin boards. Posters are the only exception to the bar on submission of solo presentations.

  5. Practicum session: A practicum is a session in which members can learn or develop practical skills. A practicum is ideal for demonstrating the use of new or innovative tools for the classroom or for research.

  6. Workshop: Workshops consist of multiple sessions on a common theme, possibly using a variety of the session types described above. Ideally, this should provide the opportunity for a more focused discussion in which participants bring a common level of knowledge or skill to bear on a subject, typically toward some practical end (e.g., developing a work-in-progress or new professional skills). The Program Committee will judge each of the sessions on its own merits, as well as the extent to which it advances the broader theme of the workshop.

4.2. Selection and participation: Participation at the annual meeting is subject to the following limitations:

  1. All participants, except for foreign scholars and those from other disciplines, must be current members of the Association.

  2. Participants may appear on no more than two sessions at the annual meeting. These two appearances must be in two different roles. Roles include, but are not limited to: presenting a paper in a formal session, participating in a roundtable, presenting at an experimental session, presenting a poster, and chairing and/or commenting on a session. Participation in a plenary session stands outside this limitation.

  3. We encourage the representation of the full diversity of our membership in the annual meeting program, taking into consideration the principles articulated in the “Statement on Diversity in AHA Nominations and Appointments,” which states that selections “should be consistent with the principle of diversity including such considerations as: Work context, including secondary schools, two-year colleges, four-year colleges, graduate institutions, public history, and independent research; as well as employment status, such as full-time, part-time, and temporary; sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation; race and ethnicity; age; rank, including junior as well as senior historians; regional distribution; and area of specialization, where pertinent to the position.”

  4. In keeping with the Statement on Diversity, issues of diversity and representation should be addressed insofar as possible within individual panels and in the context of the entire meeting.

  5. Due to the overwhelming number of complete session proposals that the Program Committee must sort through, we will not be able to accept single paper proposals and assemble them into complete sessions.

4.3. In special cases, the executive director will inform the Program Committee about restricted resources available from Association’s revenues or outside grants to assist foreign scholars invited to present papers.

4.4. Offsite sessions: The Program Committee will consider proposals for offsite sessions that take advantage of historical resources in the meeting city. Organizers of offsite sessions are responsible for making arrangements with the proposed host institution prior to the submission of a proposal. The AHA cannot pay rental or site use fees for offsite sessions.

Proposals for offsite sessions require pre-approval by the Program Committee. Organizers of intended offsite sessions should contact the chair and co-chair of the Program Committee by December 15, explaining how the location will enhance the intellectual content of the session and clearly describing the arrangements that have been made for meeting space, transportation (if necessary), etc. Organizers must provide the name, e-mail, phone number, and mailing address of a staff member at the host institution who is aware of plans for the session.

4.5. Equipment: The AHA will provide essential equipment (head table, podium, and microphone as needed) in the session rooms. Participants who need additional equipment have the following obligations:

  1. Panel organizers should note any audio-visual or other needs they might have when submitting their proposal. This is necessary for scheduling purposes, and will not be considered by the Program Committee in assessing the scholarly and professional merits of the proposal.

  2. Late requests for audio-visual materials (between February 15 and June 1) are subject to a fee determined by the convention director. The meeting staff cannot accept orders for additional equipment after June 1, though presenters may order equipment directly from the hotels at their own expense.

5. Obligations and Responsibilities of Participants

5.1. Session organizers, chairs, commentators, and panelists all play critical roles in sustaining the professional quality and integrity of the annual meeting, and assume the following responsibilities and obligations:

  1. Organizer: Organizers are responsible for logistically putting sessions together and serving as a liaison between participants. Organizers should review the present guidelines and develop panels that serve the goals enunciated above. Submissions to the Program Committee should be well planned, clearly stating the scholarly or professional purpose of the session, and describing any additional needs the panel might have. The organizer serves as the principle point of contact for questions about the session (including press inquiries).

  2. Chair: Chairs supervise actual sessions. They play a critical role in insuring that sessions benefit panelists, audience, and the profession alike. Chairs (particularly when different from the session organizer) should communicate with participants at least one month in advance, acquainting themselves with their backgrounds and their intended presentation, and informing them of the time limit for their talks. Chairs should introduce panelists in a way that highlights their professional standing and the topics they will address. Chairs also have an obligation to the audience, ensuring that panelists keep to their allotted time as well as allowing substantial time for questions and discussion from the floor. Chairs should also encourage participants to deliver talks in an engaging manner, discouraging them from the widespread practice of reading papers. In instances where the chair is serving as a speaker on the panel, another member of the panel should be designated to maintain time.

  3. Commentator: Commentators play a vital part in many annual meeting sessions, but are not required. Anyone serving in this capacity should allot sufficient time before the annual meeting to review the presentations fully. Commentators have three tasks: 1) highlight common points or themes in the presentations, 2) note omissions, errors, or opportunities for improvement, and 3) stimulate audience discussion by offering questions for further consideration. The choice of session commentators should be informed by the Association’s “Conflict of Interest” policy barring comments from individuals with a “relationship with a paper presenter or author [that] would prevent them from forming a fair and disinterested judgment.”

  4. Panelist: Regardless of the format, panelists have an obligation first and foremost to their audience. Presentations should be prepared well in advance of the meeting, to ensure that both the thesis and the details are fully articulated. Agreeing to serve on a panel entails an obligation to deliver the paper to chairs/commentators at least one month in advance, to allow time for them to perform their role. At the meeting, presentations should be delivered in an engaging and lively, but also in a timely manner. The role of the presentation, whether of new research or on a professional issue, is to stimulate discussion.

5.2. Late changes: In case of changes of any kind—but especially if a participant withdraws from a session—the organizer should notify the convention director as soon as possible. Changes received by October 15 will be included in the December issue of Perspectives on History.

6. Constitution of Program Committee

6.1. Shortly after his/her election to office, with advice and assistance from the Executive Director and the concurrence of the Council, the incoming President-elect will select the co-chairs of the Program Committee planning the meeting at which he or she will deliver the presidential address. Selection will take place on the following timeline:

  1. The incoming president-elect will work with the executive director to select potential candidates to chair the Program Committee. The chair should have a breadth of interest and vision, as well as the administrative skills, to shape a wide ranging and innovative program. (January Council after the election.)

  2. The chair will then select a co-chair with the assistance of the president-elect, subject to final approval by Council. The chair and co-chair should be selected from different institutions and clearly represent distinct fields. (Spring, two years out)

  3. The chair and co-chair will serve as members of the Program Committee for the preceding year, in order to develop experience and understanding of the process.

  4. In the January issue of Perspectives on History, two years in advance of the meeting, an invitation to members interested in serving on the Program Committee will be published.

  5. That spring the chair and co-chair will work with the president-elect and executive director to develop a committee comprised of up to twelve additional members who will represent a wide breadth of fields and fairly represent the demographic and institutional diversity of the profession. The most important selection criteria, however, should be the energy and creativity a member will bring to the preparation of the meeting. In order to qualify for candidacy, all nominees must be members of the Association at the time of their nomination, and continue as members during their term of service. Chair and co-chair will contact potential nominees about service on the committee. When approaching these potential nominees, chair and co-chair should make clear that the final selection of committee members is made with Council approval. Given the prior involvement of the president-elect and executive director in developing the list—it is anticipated Council will only disapprove names on this list in cases of grave concern. (Prior to June meeting of Council, one and one-half years out.)

  6. Upon approval by Council, AHA staff will prepare letters of appointment, signed by the president-elect, and send them out to Program Committee members. (Fall one and one-half years ahead)

  7. The Program Committee will consist of no more than sixteen members, including the chair, the co-chair, the chair-elect, the co-chair-elect, and up to twelve other members.

  8. Given the limited number of positions on the committee, not every category of AHA member can be represented on any particular committee. AHA staff will track membership on the committee to ensure that a wide range of constituencies are represented over a two- to three-year period.

7. Governance

7.1. The Program Committee shall operate within these guidelines and the “Organization, Jurisdiction, and Operation of Association Divisions and Committees” document adopted by the Council. 

7.2. The Council Subcommittee on the Annual Meeting is responsible for overseeing the policies and guidelines of the Program Committee and the annual meeting. The AHA Council is ultimately responsible for articulating the policy goals to be achieved by the annual meeting program, and thus has final policy approval.