Publication Date

November 1, 1997

The 1998 annual meeting in Seattle will offer a record number of sessions representing the enormous range of historical fields and topics of inquiry. The program committee made a special call for comparative sessions which can take advantage of the diversity of fields at our annual gathering. The response was extraordinary both in number and quality of submissions. As a result, the program is rich with sessions which use comparison to pursue questions and challenge interpretations in innovative ways. In addition, the high quality of proposals across the board meant that the committee was able to construct an extraordinary program. There was pain with the pleasure, however, as we were forced to turn down a large number of excellent proposals as well.

The two plenary sessions are especially exciting examples of the possibilities of comparison. In response to current controversies surrounding museums, we posed the question of the role of the national museum. Chaired by Lonnie Bunch of the Smithsonian Institution, the panel includes representatives and directors of national museums in Johannesburg, Canada, Barbados, China, and the United States. The panel will explore the ways that national museums Can enrich historical perspectives on contemporary issues and stimulate public discussion as well as the political con texts and pressures within which such museums must operate. Who "owns" a national history as presented in such a museum? How can museums present debates on historical interpretation in ways that draw in the public without incurring the wrath of particular political and economic interests. (The current pressure on the Smithsonian to change its upcoming exhibition on sweatshops is only the most recent example in our own country.) What are the peculiar responsibilities of a "national" museum? The second plenary addresses the current prospects of comparative history. Chaired by Richard McCormick, president of the University of Washington at Seattle, the panel will present major papers by two eminent historians: Natalie Zemon Davis and Stuart Schwartz. Together they will assess the utility and the pitfalls of crosscultural comparisons in the context of emerging interests in global history and cultural contacts.

The program, with more than 160 numbered sessions and 800 scholars (10 percent of whom are international), is one of the largest on record. It includes presentations by established scholars as well as recent Ph.D.'s and graduate students, on topics in both traditional and emerging fields of inquiry. The committee was attentive to fields which have recently been underrepresented and glad to see the submissions in areas such as political history have increased. As noted in the Annual Meeting Highlights there are also a number of exciting sessions sponsored by Association divisions and committees. We look forward to the meeting in Seattle.

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