Publication Date

September 1, 1994

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

The 1994 Program Committee saw as its task the shaping of a program representative of the breadth and depth of the work of the historical profession as a whole. We sought to promote excellence in research and teaching and to address significant professional issues. Because the date of the annual meeting had been changed to early January and the meeting itself scheduled to be held on the West Coast, we were concerned that attendance might be affected. We are delighted to report that proposals actually increased to 360 from 300 the year before and that attendance was 800 more than the last time the meeting was held in San Francisco. Indeed, there were only 150 fewer registrants than at the meeting the previous year in Washington, D.C., which reached the twenty-five year high of 4,200.

We benefited enormously from having a very insightful, hard-working, and enthusiastic Program Committee to whom we are most grateful. We learned a lot from the diversity of interests and ideas presented by the members of the committee. These were: Elizabeth Clark, Duke University; Sherman Cochran, Cornell University; Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Harvard Divinity School; Rachel Fuchs, Arizona State University; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, then University of Pennsylvania, now Harvard; Marilynn Jo Hitchens, Wheat Ridge High School, Denver, Colorado; Gary Kulik, National Museum of American History; Patrick Manning, Northeastern University; and Francisco A. Scarano, University of Wisconsin at Madison. Robert L. Harris, Jr., Cornell University, and Ann-Louise Shapiro, Wesleyan University, chair and cochair for 1995, also served as important members of the 1994 committee. We want to express our gratitude to Rebecca Hurysz of the University of Rochester who worked tirelessly for the Program Committee throughout our tenure. In addition, Sharon K. Tune, convention director, and James B. Gardner, acting executive director, were extremely helpful and always provided sound and sensible advice. We are in their debt.

The Program Committee, as is customary, sought to have a plenary session that would display the comparative interests of the profession. Sparked by interest in the changes unfolding in Eastern Europe, this year we presented a session entitled "In the Aftermath of Revolution: 1790s, 1950s, and 1990s" that examined political upheavals throughout the world and their subsequent developments. Thus we had presentations by Joyce Appleby, University of California at Los Angeles; Isser Woloch, Columbia University; T. Ivan Berend, of Budapest and University of California at Los Angeles; Martin Maleia, University of California at Berkeley; and John Coatsworth, Harvard University. Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr., University of California at Berkeley, chaired this plenary session. We had hoped that Bronislaw Geremek, the Polish medievalist and leader of Solidarity, and Achille Mbembe, University of Pennsylvania, would also participate. We are most grateful to the panelists for addressing these important issues at a session that drew an audience of several hundred.

After the Program Committee had completed its work, we noted that the distribution of panels both by field and chronology resembled the distribution at the meetings in the mid-1980s. Within these areas, of course, the focus changed somewhat, reflecting the current interests of scholars. The Program Committee itself generated a few sessions. These included sessions on late antiquity, an area that had been underrepresented at previous meetings, and one on environmental history that drew an audience of over one hundred. We were especially pleased to be able to present as many panels as we did on teaching. Indeed these sessions drew several hundred participants. It is clear that there is significant interest in teaching as well as in preparation for the profession as indicated in the job market. Finally, in reviewing the reports of sessions, we were struck that many sessions that were sharply focused seemed to draw an enthusiastic response and discussion. While we continue to believe that the AHA program should include panels with broader comparative themes, it should also reflect the subdisciplinary interests of its members.

We offer these recommendations to the AHA and to our colleagues.

  1. The Research Division should refine the Program Committee guideline prohibiting participation two years in succession in any capacity. We advise not prohibiting those, particularly junior members of the profession, who comment or chair a session one year from offering a paper the following year. This two-year rule may also account for an odd cycle in the numbers of proposals for panels that we noticed; for example, we had fewer proposals in American history than were submitted for 1995. We are pleased to note parenthetically that no questions were raised about the goal of gender integration of sessions.
  2. While it may seem obvious, we find it is necessary to remind members that panels should not be composed exclusively of colleagues at one school. Moreover, it is inappropriate for dissertation directors to serve as commentators on their own students' work.
  3. As the 1991 AHA Program Committee report pointed out, the burden of paperwork is enormous. Given the increasing stringency of university budgets, the AHA must count on contributing and indeed perhaps increasing its support for secretarial assistance to the cochairs of the Program Committee. Other expenditures the AHA might consider include some contribution to the travel expenses of a limited number of foreign participants in the program.
  4. Each committee arranges its work differently. While the Program Committee always shapes the program, we found it helpful and intellectually more satisfying to have submission of relatively complete panels. Nevertheless, we responded to each and every inquiry we received to help proposers put together complete panels.
  5. While the Program Committee makes a preliminary schedule, the final schedule rests with the AHA office. According to the session chairs' reports, few sessions had audiences with more than one hundred in attendance, many were around twenty-five to thirty, most fifty to seventy-five. We therefore urge the AHA office not to present sessions in ballrooms, although we realize that such scheduling is constrained by the rooms available in the convention hotels. Finally, as it always does, the AHA instructed the Program Committee to anchor the last day with strong sessions. We received the usual complaints about such scheduling, which was perhaps worse because the meeting was on the West Coast and airline travel therefore more circumscribed. Nevertheless, we recognize that such complaints are unavoidable—resembling, in fact, student complaints about the scheduling of exams.

It seems to us that the work of the Program Committee is not unlike the Olympics. The committee members themselves are rather like Olympic rowers; they participate in a sport in which there are no financial rewards, just the pleasure of working together to complete the race. The long two-year stint resembles the marathon; the crush of business around the final due date, with the copying and the sorting of proposals at midnight to send to members, the frenzy of hockey. In the end, though, the Program Committee itself is rather like ice dancing, and all scoring is in the eyes of the beholder.

Linda Levy Peck
Professor of History
University of Rochester

Stanley L. Engerman
John Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of History
University of Rochester

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