Published Date

January 7, 2021

Resource Type

AHA Policies and Documents

Approved by the AHA Council, June 5, 2004; last revised January 7, 2021.


1. Purpose and Goals of the AHA Annual Meeting

  1. Since the first annual meeting in 1884, yearly gatherings of the American Historical Association (AHA) have provided an opportunity to share new findings in every field of study, exchange information about the state of the discipline, and engage in professional development.
  2. The annual meeting should:
    1. Advance historical research, teaching, and public historical practice by providing a forum to support and debate significant and innovative work by historians.
    2. Discuss, protect, and develop the professional needs, rights, and responsibilities of the entire community of historians, academic and public.
    3. Provide a vital opportunity to develop networks and foster disciplinary community, within and across fields.
  3. The principal responsibility for content at the annual meeting falls to individual AHA members, who organize, propose, and participate in sessions. Members who believe their field is underrepresented on the programs of the annual meeting should take an active role in organizing sessions on their subject.

2. The Program Committee

  1. The AHA Program Committee is responsible for shaping and preparing an annual meeting in keeping with these goals. Members of the Program Committee will solicit sessions from the membership and affiliated societies, develop panels of their own, distinguish impartially between panels that meet professional and scholarly standards of quality and those that do not, and schedule sessions within the available time and space.
  2. The Program Committee is nominated by the AHA president-elect (who will also deliver the meeting’s “presidential address”) in consultation with the AHA Council, as detailed in Section 5. The Program Committee is given final authority for all sessions that appear on the official meeting program, within the boundaries established by the guidelines listed here. The committee should actively participate in shaping a meeting that reflects the vitality and diversity of the historical profession.
  3. The committee should:
    1. Seek and encourage engaging sessions on a broad range of subjects—bearing in mind the knowledge that significant innovations often start with few advocates.
    2. Uphold professional and scholarly standards of quality—with the understanding that presentations at the annual meeting tend to be at an early stage of development and should be held to less exacting standards than an article submitted to the American Historical Review.
    3. Consider current historiographical issues, important anniversaries, and the “state of the field” in diverse specializations (and along a variety of axes—geographic, chronological, thematic, and methodological).
  4. The AHA president-elect/president serves as Council’s representative to the Program Committee, advising on goals to be met by the annual meeting.

3. Allocation of Sessions

  1. The meeting program should represent a collaborative effort between the Program Committee and the officers, divisions, and committees of the AHA. From year to year, the total number of sessions will be determined by staff based on the number of rooms and time slots available. Once that number has been determined, sessions will be allocated as follows:
    1. The Program Committee shapes roughly three-quarters of sessions on the program. This includes submissions from the general membership and affiliated societies, as assessed and approved by the Program Committee, and sessions organized or recruited by the members of the Committee. The balance of the sessions on the program is initiated by the divisions and committees and the AHA president. The AHA president who will be serving at the time of the meeting may create one session in each time slot.
    2. The divisions and committees, including the Local Arrangements Committee, may initiate sessions on subjects that advance their respective missions or reflect current organizational priorities and initiatives.
    3. The Executive Director may organize one or two sessions on timely issues as they arise.
  2. AHA divisions and committees: To ensure the Program Committee can meet its responsibility for scheduling sessions on the program, participating divisions and committees must submit their proposals by May 15. Individuals participating in division, committee, or presidential sessions are subject to the participation limits in clause 4.2.b.
  3. Affiliated societies: The Program Committee will apply the same criteria to proposals for joint sessions sponsored by the AHA and affiliates that it applies to all other proposals.
    1. Affiliated societies are also encouraged to hold their own sessions at the annual meeting. The AHA advises affiliates to offer an innovative and diverse range of sessions, as detailed in section 4.1 below. Affiliate sessions should reflect the diversity guidelines outlined in section 4.2.d and e. The AHA will provide space as available, but the society is responsible for the organizational and financial details of ancillary sessions. For inclusion in the program, societies must submit such sessions to AHA staff by May 15. Responsibility for scheduling affiliated sessions on specific days and times falls to the AHA and is subject to space limitations.
    2. Participants on affiliate sessions must register for the annual meeting but are not required to become members of the AHA.

4. Organizing Sessions

  1. Session types: Proposals should be designated as falling under one of the following session types. In order to encourage discussion and exchange at the meeting, the Program Committee discourages the practice of reading papers and will give priority to sessions that foster discussion. At least 30 minutes of each session should be reserved for discussion. To assure substantial time for interaction between speakers and audience, panels are typically limited to a maximum of four participants in addition to a chair.
    1. Roundtables: The roundtable format—which can be used for the presentation of original research, work-in-progress, or discussion of professional concerns—offers short presentations, a fluid organization (not limited to the chair/presenter/commentator structure), and ample time for discussion with the audience. Roundtables foster a congenial exchange between audience and discussants. Program listings for roundtables do not include titles for individual presentations.
    2. Experimental sessions: This format is intended to allow members to organize a session using novel forms of presentation (in terms of organization, content, or both). Members who would like to organize such sessions are welcome to do so, provided they clearly explain the form and content of their panels as well as their plan to engage and connect with an audience of their peers. Experimental sessions may have more than four participants but must reserve at least 30 minutes for discussion.
    3. Formal sessions: The formal session is organized around a chair with presenters speaking for 15 minutes each, with the option of a commentator. Even in these sessions, the AHA encourages informal presentation over the formal reading of papers.
    4. Posters: Posters allow historians to present data and discuss their research in a less formal setting. Poster sessions allow for the presentation of professional issues, original research, or work in progress through posted visual materials—such as quantitative data, art, photographs, and text—displayed on bulletin boards. Posters are the only exception to the bar on submission of solo presentations.
    5. Practicum session: A practicum is a session in which members can learn or develop practical skills. A practicum is ideal for demonstrating the use of new or innovative tools for the classroom or for research.
    6. Workshops: Workshops consist of multiple sessions on a common theme, possibly using a variety of the session types described above. Ideally, this should provide the opportunity for a more focused discussion in which participants bring a common level of knowledge or skill to bear on a subject. The Program Committee will judge each of the included sessions on its own merits as well as the extent to which it advances the workshop’s broader theme(s).
  2. Selection and participation: Participation at the annual meeting is subject to the following limitations:
    1. All participants, excepting foreign scholars and those from other disciplines, must be current members of the AHA. All participants must register for the meeting.
    2. Participants may appear on no more than two sessions at the annual meeting, and the appearances must be in two different roles. Roles include but are not limited to: presenting a paper in a formal session, participating in a roundtable, presenting at an experimental session, presenting a poster, and chairing and/or commenting on a session. Participation in a plenary session stands outside this limitation.
    3. Due to the overwhelming number of complete session proposals that the Program Committee sorts through annually, we cannot accept single paper proposals and assemble them into complete sessions.
    4. We encourage the representation of the full diversity of our membership in the annual meeting program, taking into consideration the principles articulated in the Statement on Diversity in AHA Nominations and Appointments, which states that selections “should be consistent with the principle of diversity including such considerations as: Work context, including secondary schools, two-year colleges, four-year colleges, graduate institutions, public history, and independent research; as well as employment status, such as full-time, part-time, and temporary; sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation; race and ethnicity; age; rank, including junior as well as senior historians; regional distribution; and area of specialization, where pertinent to the position.”
    5. In keeping with the Statement on Diversity, issues of representation and difference should be addressed so far as possible within individual panels as well as within the context of the entire meeting. While panel diversity is not the deciding factor in assessing panel applications, it is heavily weighed against other considerations. Panel organizers are encouraged to make a good faith effort to identify and include a cross-section of panel participants.
    6. The Program Committee can accept sessions in which one or more participants contribute in other languages, as long as English abstracts are posted online prior to the session. Informal translation should be available during discussion to allow for audience comment. Because all proposals are read by at least three members of the Program Committee, the full proposal text shall be submitted in English. The print and online programs will indicate if any session includes a presentation in a language other than English.
  3. In special cases, the executive director will inform the Program Committee about restricted resources available from AHA revenues or outside grants to assist foreign scholars invited to present papers.
  4. Offsite sessions: The Program Committee will consider proposals for offsite sessions that take advantage of historical resources within the meeting city. Organizers of offsite sessions are responsible for making arrangements with the proposed host institution prior to the submission of a proposal. The AHA will not pay rental or site use fees for offsite sessions. Organizers must provide the name, e-mail, and phone number of a staff member at the host institution who is aware of plans for the session.
  5. Equipment: The AHA will provide essential equipment (head table, podium, and microphone as needed) in session rooms. Participants requiring additional equipment must:
    1. Note any audio, visual, or other needs they might have when submitting their proposal. (This is necessary for scheduling purposes and will not be considered by the Program Committee in assessing the scholarly and professional merits of the proposal.)
    2. Late requests for audio-visual materials (received between February 15 and June 1) are subject to a fee determined by AHA staff. Meeting staff cannot accept orders for additional equipment after June 1, though presenters are welcome to order equipment directly from the hotels at their own expense.

5. Obligations and Responsibilities of Participants

  1. Session organizers, chairs, commentators, and panelists together sustain the professional integrity of the annual meeting, and assume the following responsibilities and obligations:
    1. Organizer: Organizers are responsible for putting sessions together and serving as a liaison between participants. Organizers should review the guidelines laid out here and develop panels that serve the goals detailed above. Submissions to the Program Committee should state the scholarly or professional purpose of the session and describe any additional needs the panel might have. The organizer serves as the principle point of contact for questions about the session, including press inquiries.
    2. Chair: Chairs supervise sessions, ensuring they benefit panelists and audience alike, as well as the discipline broadly. Chairs should be able to effectively manage discussion and, if necessary, work to defuse controversy, particularly when it is veering into what might be considered unprofessional. Chairs (particularly when they are not also the session organizer) should communicate with participants at least one month in advance of the annual meeting, acquainting themselves with participants’ backgrounds and intended presentations, and making clear the time limit for individual talks. Chairs should introduce panelists in a way that highlights their professional standing and the topics to be addressed. Chairs also have an obligation to the audience: they must keep panelists to their allotted time and ensure that substantial time is reserved for questions and discussion from the floor. Chairs should also encourage participants to deliver talks in an engaging manner and discourage them from simply reading papers. In instances where the chair is also serving as a speaker on the panel, another panel member should be designated to keep time.
    3. Commentator: Commentators are not required but can play a vital role in some sessions. Anyone serving in this capacity should allot sufficient time before the annual meeting to review the presentations fully. Commentators have three tasks: 1) highlight common points or themes in the presentations, 2) note omissions, possible inaccuracies, or opportunities for improvement, and 3) stimulate audience discussion by offering questions for further consideration. The choice of commentator should be informed by the AHA conflict of interest policy, which bars comments from individuals with a “relationship with a paper presenter or author [that] would prevent them from forming a fair and disinterested judgment.”
    4. Panelist: Regardless of a session’s format, panelists have an overriding obligation to their audience. Presentations should be prepared well in advance of the meeting to ensure that arguments are fully articulated and evidence made clear. Agreeing to participate in a session obligates panelists to deliver their presentations to the chair/commentator at least one month in advance of the meeting. During the session, presentations should be engaging, succinct, and should strive to stimulate discussion.
  2. In keeping with the AHA’s Conflict of Interest Policy and the goal of diversity on sessions, advisors should not chair or comment on sessions on which a current or former student is presenting. Students and advisors may present on the same session in another capacity at the discretion of the Program Committee.
  3. Late changes: In the case of any changes made to a session—especially the withdrawal of a participant—the organizer must notify the AHA without delay.

6. Constitution of Program Committee

  1. With guidance from the executive director and the concurrence of Council, the incoming president-elect will select the co-chairs of the Program Committee shortly after taking office. Selection will take place on the following timeline:
    1. The incoming president-elect will work with the executive director to select potential candidates to chair the Program Committee. The chair should have a breadth of interest and vision, as well as the administrative skills, to shape a wide ranging and innovative program.
    2. The chair will then select a co-chair with the assistance of the president-elect, subject to final approval by Council. The chair and co-chair should be selected from different institutions and represent clearly distinct fields. (The chair and co-chair are approved by Council two years before the meeting.)
    3. The chair and co-chair will serve as members of the Program Committee for the preceding year, in order to develop experience and understanding of the process.
    4. The chair and co-chair will work with the president-elect and executive director to develop a committee comprised of up to twelve additional members who will represent a breadth of fields as well as the demographic and institutional diversity of the profession. Even so, the most important selection criteria is the energy and creativity a member will bring to the meeting’s preparation. To qualify for candidacy, all nominees must be AHA members at the time of their nomination, and continue as members during their term of service. The chair and co-chair will contact potential nominees about service on the committee. When approaching potential nominees, the chair and co-chair should make clear that the final selection of committee members is made with Council approval. Given the prior involvement of the president-elect and executive director in developing the list, Council will only disapprove names in cases of grave concern. (The composition of the committee is approved by Council one and one-half years before the meeting.)
    5. The Program Committee will consist of no more than 16 members, including the chair, the co-chair, the chair-elect, the co-chair-elect, and 12 other members.
    6. Given the limited number of positions on the Program Committee, not every category of AHA member can be represented. AHA staff will track the committee’s makeup to ensure that a wide range of constituencies are represented over a two- to three-year period.

7. Governance

  1. The Program Committee shall operate within these guidelines and the “Organization, Jurisdiction, and Operation of Association Divisions and Committees” document adopted by Council.
  2. The Council Committee on the Annual Meeting is responsible for overseeing the policies and guidelines of the Program Committee and the annual meeting. The AHA Council is ultimately responsible for articulating the policy goals to be achieved by the annual meeting program, and thus has final policy approval.