Publication Date

September 1, 1989

Perspectives Section

AHA Annual Meeting

Do you find the AHA’s December meeting dates convenient? Or would you prefer changing to early January? That’s what you are asked to decide as part of this year’s voting for AHA offices. When you cast your ballot, in addition to noting your preferences for office, you should indicate which meeting dates better suit your needs—December 27–30 or the first Thursday through Sunday in January after New Year’s Day. Since that vote will inform the Council’s decisions about future meeting plans, we hope for a high level of participation and a clear demonstration of where the Association’s members stand on this issue.

This poll is actually a run-off between the two leading contenders in last fall’s canvass regarding annual meeting dates. The results of that survey were inconclusive, indicating a plurality (44 percent) for retaining the December 27–30 dates but a majority preferring one of the three alternates. With only two possibilities to choose from, the run-off should yield a more decisive outcome and make it possible to resolve this long-standing debate.

There are strong arguments for keeping the traditional dates as well as for changing them. On the one hand, the December 27–30 dates have worked well for us for over a century, so why change? There’s never any doubt or confusion over the meeting dates, virtually no conflicts with meetings other than the Modern Language Association, and no conflicts with college and university calendars. The meeting as currently scheduled comes during a week when it is not difficult for individuals to take time off. Moreover, falling between Christmas and New Year’s, the current dates are “dead time” for most hotels, and they are desperate enough for our business to lower rates to levels other organizations only dream of. The lower hotel rates in turn make the meeting more accessible to those with limited income or little in the way of travel support. With attendance between three and four thousand each year, the AHA’s annual meeting is already the largest and best attended such gathering for historians in the U.S. Why tamper with success?

On the other hand, the December dates pose real problems for many Association members, especially those with children. This isn’t really a child-care issue—the AHA provides child-care service at the meeting. Rather, the concern is that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is the one time between September and May when parents and children—school age, college students, and even those away from home—can gather as a family for an extended time, an opportunity all too rare in our fast-paced and mobile society. When faced with a choice between family and the AHA annual meeting, many members have understandably chosen the former. Moving the meeting to the first Thursday through Sunday after New Year’s would reduce such conflicts.

Moreover, the AHA would still retain a favorable bargaining position regarding hotel rates—although there would be some competition from organizations in other disciplines—and possibly secure more economical airfares with a Saturday night stayover. By scheduling over a weekend, conflicts with academic calendars would be minimized. The shift in dates would not reduce the meeting’s utility in regard to interviewing, and most publishers see no problem in their continued participation. In sum, advocates of the January dates propose to make the annual meeting more accessible, insuring broader and more regular attendance, without sacrificing the advantages that we have enjoyed for so many years.

This issue has been the subject of discussion within the Association for a number of years, and the AHA Council hopes that this referendum will enable us finally to settle it one way or another. Read the statement that accompanies your ballot, weigh the pros and cons, and vote—let us know where you stand.