Published Date

September 17, 1972

This resource is part of The AHA Review Board: A Preliminary Report (1972). 

Few subjects are more controversial than that of the annual meeting. The convention has become the most important activity of the association for many reasons: it affords an opportunity for the dissemination of scholarly and professional information, offers the entire membership a forum to discuss the concerns of history and the AHA, and provides a chance for the informal meeting of historians of different interests and occupations. Although the Review Board has been urged to propose the abandonment of the convention or, alternatively, to propose substituting annual regional conventions, we have concluded-especially in view of the revised purposes and structure which we set forth in this report-that the association would suffer from giving up the sole existing occasion for a gathering of all historians. Furthermore, the convention as it is now constituted serves too many functions which cannot otherwise be served as well. Its termination would work to the serious disadvantage of many members.

The proposals which follow attempt to bring the convention more into line with the ideals and goals of a reconstituted AHA. We are convinced that, despite the difficulties and frustrations involved, each convention must exhibit and represent the diversity of historical studies and interests in the United States today. Recent experiments with new session formats, which seek to diversify the programs and broaden participation, seem to us sound and desirable. What follow are proposals to improve still further the nature and administration of the convention.

First, we propose that the date of the convention be shifted as soon as possible to early September. Doubtless some members will find this meeting time inconvenient, as many have always found late December to be. But we make this proposal for a number of other reasons: travel in late December remains unreliable and precarious; many members are reluctant to leave their families during the holiday season for convention business.

Second, we propose that the convention fee for regular members be raised from its current to $10 in order to help the association defray rising convention costs.

Third, we propose reducing the number of convention sessions, but not at the expense of diversity and representativeness. Some reduction in sessions will occur naturally, as a result of recent limitations upon the convention privileges of specialized and constituent historical societies (see section 8).

Fourth, we propose that more and regular opportunities be provided at each convention for the formal discussion of matters of concern to all professional historians. The format of each convention must, of course, remain the prerogative of the program committees. However, as an example of the format we have in mind, we would suggest that the divisional committees might present their reports and hold discussions at 4:30 p.m. of the first day of the convention (see section 3) with no other activities scheduled officially at that time. The awarding of prizes and the presidential address might take place at 8:30 that evening. The business meeting could convene at 4:30 p.m. of the second day and meet until 6:30; during that time, the Council and officers could make their reports, elections be announced, and other business be transacted. If circumstances required reconvening the business meeting, it might meet again at 8:30 p.m.

Fifth, we urge the association to give more attention to the problems that graduate students encounter in searching for jobs at the annual meeting. While the functions of the job registry have been taken over by the Employment Information Bulletin, it is clear that the annual meeting will continue to be a central occasion for interviewing, and the association must take that into account in allocating facilities. Too often graduate students have been forced to think of the annual convention as, indeed, a slave block, and the arrangements provided have done nothing to diminish that impression. As employment opportunities have decreased, this sense has become even more acute.

Recent programs of the annual meeting have contained panels addressed to the state of employment in the profession; we hope that similar panels will frequently be included so that both faculty members and students will have an opportunity to share opinions on this serious matter.

Bulletin boards should be provided in central locations where institutions recruiting candidates might list interview hours, room and telephone numbers, and interviewing personnel. Small rooms and lounges on the main floors of the hotels should be reserved and made available to interviewing personnel desiring them. The association should also make all efforts to assure that interviewing is as considerately and professionally treated as possible.

Sixth, we think that the Council should continue to appoint the chairman of the ad hoc Annual Program Committee who should then be at liberty to choose the members of the committee. (On the Standing Program Committee, see section 4.)

Seventh, we propose that the ad hoc Annual Program Committee for the next convention meet during the annual convention to receive suggestions from members for sessions and papers. This committee should always be free to define convention “themes,” to propose sessions, and to try out new formats. We suggest, however, that the committee announce its intentions as early as possible in the Newsletter.

Eighth, we propose that the ad hoc Annual Program Committee consult closely with the vice-presidents in charge of the divisional committees to determine the concerns of each division that might beneficially be discussed at the convention. In addition, the ad hoc Annual Program Committee should try to restrict any historian’s appearance as participant to only one session, should invite volunteers to serve as critics as well as formal speakers, and should seek to attract as participants the widest representation of historians.

Ninth, we urge that the ad hoc Annual Program Committee continue to feel free to alter and vary session formats. Each convention should attract to its sessions the widest number and variety of historians. The popular and the controversial, the traditional and the less popular subjects and fields should be juxtaposed in the program. Program committees should be encouraged to offer sessions which substitute questions from the floor and clarification and amplification from the lectern for formal comments on the part of critics or which offer opportunities for historians to present research which cannot appropriately be offered in the form of delivered papers (such as the results of statistical investigation, which might be presented in print-out form and discussed and interpreted by all those in attendance). The Program Committee might also provide for a “demonstration room” where new materials and procedures for teaching and research might be shown and where members might instruct others in data analysis, demography, interview procedures, and the like.

Tenth, we hope that the practice of providing child care facilities at the annual meetings will be continued.

Finally, we urge the program committees to continue to seek ways to make papers available to members at a reasonable fee both before and after each convention. Following upon recent practice, the committees should consider requiring that a resume, perhaps up to one hundred words, be submitted by all speakers for printing in the program in order for a paper to be delivered. The important advantage to be gained from such a procedure is that those unable to attend a convention would be better informed about the content of papers and better able to determine if a copy should be sought from authors.