“The Real AHA”: Historians Reflect on Past Annual Meetings
In anticipation of the upcoming AHA 2015 annual meeting, we have compiled commentaries from attendees of previous meetings on their experiences.
As a graduate student, the AHA’s annual meetings have been essential for the development of my dissertation, as well as for my general growth as a scholar and educator. By participating in panels, I’ve had the opportunity to more deeply engage others in my work, and one of my conference papers was eventually transformed into a published article. Moreover, in attending sessions that lie beyond my specialization, I’ve discovered new methods, points of comparison, and historians interested in similar questions—the basis for future panels!
I’ll admit, it took me a few years to return to the AHA after I finally got a tenure-track job in 2010—too many memories of job market anxieties. When I did return in 2013, however, I couldn’t believe I’d stayed away for so long! I attended many stimulating panels and workshops, but this was just the beginning. At the AHA, I reconnected with dozens of old friends and colleagues, enjoyed a fabulous luncheon with the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and attended several lovely receptions in the evenings. I returned back to my home campus revitalized, both intellectually and socially. I went back to the AHA in 2014 and had much the same experience, and I’m very much looking forward to New York next month!
After having spent multiple years on the academic job market, I confess that the last thing I thought I’d ever want to do would be attend the annual meeting again. But when I attended in 2014, I was pleasantly surprised by how different the meeting feels without the pressure of job-seeking. As a digital-methods scholar, I spend my days interacting with far-flung colleagues on Twitter, but there’s still something very worthwhile about meeting them in person. I see people at the AHA annual meeting that I’d never run into at a subfield conference, and I run into friends from graduate school who have scattered to the four winds.
The AHA has put a lot of effort into expanding its programming for digital-methods topics, to the extent that it’s become a worthwhile conference for me to attend even in years when I’m not on the job market. Face-to-face conversations allow for a degree of productive brainstorming across subfields and specialties that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. The affiliated-society sessions, like the ones organized by the Committee on LGBT History, are also a treat for people who want to keep up with new work in a particular subfield. Finally, there’s a range of non-traditional and experimental session formats, including Lightning Talks, which are faster-paced and more interactive than a traditional 3-papers session.
~ Shane Landrum, instructor of history, Florida International University | http://cliotropic.org
Now that I am no longer “on the market” I find the annual meeting an exciting place to explore what’s going on not only in my own field but also in other fields. I can attend panels whose members are using innovative methodologies or conceptual frameworks that stimulate my thinking about my own work and meet people whose names I know only as letters on a page. Overall, it’s a wonderful chance to be immersed in my field in a way that’s impossible the rest of the year.
~ Laura Isabel Serna, assistant professor, University of Southern California
The first time I attended AHA’s annual meeting, I kept my nametag backward so no one could see the name of my institutional affiliation. I had just taken my first position as an assistant professor that Fall and my colleagues warned me to expect a chilly reception if anyone discovered where I taught. AHA was elitist, they explained, not welcoming to those just entering the field, so large that it lost sight of the individual, and most importantly, dismissive of people like me: historians who taught at a community college. By the end of the conference, however, I had discovered a very different AHA. Rather than being dismissed, I found a community of fellow historians who showed great respect for my work no matter what college I had on my nametag. True, it was a larger conference than those devoted solely to my field of French history, but I found this was actually a wonderful opportunity for cross-pollination as I left sessions on Renaissance Italy and Antebellum America brimming with new ideas for my own work. Most importantly, I found a network of colleagues who appreciated what others could contribute to the larger conversations that involve us all as historians, no matter our field or our institution. As I began engaging in these broader conversations about how we can merge our research and our teaching, how we think about and talk about the work that we do as historians, how we can advocate for the unique contributions of our field while still promoting collaboration with other disciplines, I discovered the real AHA. The real AHA, to me, is the network of historians I have come to know and admire who come to the conferences to share their research, their ideas about teaching, and their shared mission of developing the discipline. I keep my nametag facing forward now, since I know that I will be a welcome part of this community at AHA.
~ Sarah Shurts, assistant professor of history, Bergen Community College
I have really enjoyed exploring what the AHA annual meeting has to offer beyond the Job Center. The meeting has provided a centralized space for me to reconnect with friends, colleagues, and mentors who are spread out across the country. At panels, professional development sessions, and receptions, I’ve also met new colleagues with shared interests who I continue to work with today.
~ Elizabeth S. Todd-Breland, assistant professor of history, University of Illinois at Chicago
There’s still time to pre-register at a discounted rate for this year’s annual meeting, so consider joining us for AHA 2015. We look forward to welcoming you to New York!
This post first appeared on AHA Today.
Tags: AHA Today 2015 Annual Meeting
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