Publication Date

January 1, 2014

Perspectives Section


The deadline for submitting proposals for the 2015 annual meeting in New York is February 15, 2014. Here are some tips on crafting a successful proposal.

Be creative

The Program Committee encourages proposals that move beyond the traditional format of three papers with a chair and commentator. Think creatively about the possibilities to create a lively and informative session, taking advantage of digital technology to maximize the exchange of ideas when your session convenes face-to-face. The Research Division has suggested some possibilities for creative formats (“New Ideas for Creative Formats at the Annual Meeting,” Perspectives on History, September 2013). Feel free to try one of their suggestions, or to pitch your own idea for reinvigorating the scholarly conference.

Propose a poster!

If your work lends itself to visual presentation—photographs, maps, material culture, data that can be presented graphically—think about proposing a poster. The poster format is suited to presentations on pedagogy and professional issues as well as original research. A poster presentation offers more one-on-one interaction than a formal presentation and provides an opportunity to discuss your ideas with interested colleagues. Graduate students can use a poster presentation to get feedback on their work and gain experience describing their research in a short, informal presentation. Need help envisioning how to craft an effective poster? See our general guidelines. By mid-January, this webpage will feature examples of interesting posters from the 2014 annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Use AHA Communities

The AHA’s new online forum allows members to create open or closed communities, build a professional profile, share documents and files, and connect with other users. There are numerous possibilities for using the system to simplify the process of putting together an effective proposal. For example, the Program Committee strongly favors proposals with presenters from a diverse range of institutions and specialties. A session organizer looking for a presenter to fill a gap in the coverage of a proposed panel could use the “advanced search” feature to find AHA members whose research interests would complement the session. Once the panelists have been identified, the organizer might set up a private discussion thread to facilitate conversation about how the presentations will flow together into a cohesive argument. Having that exchange in advance would be of enormous help in crafting a coherent and compelling abstract to submit to the Program Committee. Presenters could also use their private forum to share copies of presentations with each other. In a variation on the precirculated paper format, the panelists could also post their presentations to an open community for people interested in attending the session. Audience members could read the presentations online before the meeting, allowing more time for discussion during the session.

You don’t need to line up a famous chair

The Program Committee is much more interested in the quality of the proposal and the information that will be presented at the session than the name recognition of the chair. This is particularly true for sessions for which there is a separate commentator and the chair mainly introduces the participants and makes sure the session stays on schedule.

Your proposal doesn’t have to relate to the theme

Conference themes have recently been subject to some derision in the blogosphere (see, for example, Historiann’s blog post). It’s true that sometimes presenters stretch their topic in absurd ways to fit the theme, but such intellectual gymnastics are not a necessary part of a successful AHA proposal. The Program Committee welcomes and, in fact, encourages proposals unrelated to the theme. The theme helps focus and guide plans for the 10 percent of sessions organized by the Program Committee itself. It is also intended to inspire conversation across the various subfields of the discipline, and is thus designed to be as encompassing as possible.

—Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA’s coordinator, committees and meetings. She staffs the annual meeting Program Committee.

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