Hotshot Harry has sent in his latest and last dispatch–the price of scotch and eggs has driven him out of Manhattan after only two days! Fortunately for us, he typed this up tonight on a bumpy bus ride through New Jersey:
Day two got going early and kept is pace. The book exhibit was a hub of activity; more books being pitched at editors than sold by them, it seems. One press expressed concern that many conference goers will leave on Sunday, sticking the presses with an unusual number of remainders to either sell off to area bookstores (hello Strand!) or ship back home. So I’m not sure the Friday to Monday experiment will have worked all that well in the end.
I paid an obscene amount of money for eggs and dry toast at a midtown “diner.” I know there is cheaper food in Manhattan, but by the time you pay bus/subway/cab fare, it still ain’t that cheap. At what point does the AHA drive more people away than it attracts by holding the conference in NYC? (We won’t talk about how much the glasses of scotch cost.)
The Hilton did not have free wireless in the lobby, and for some reason, zero wireless in the conference areas (that I could detect, anyway).
I tried to go to a session on the fourth floor. Floors 1-3 are accessible by escalator. To get to floor four, one needs to take the elevator. With, it seems, everyone else who needs to go anywhere else in the entire 15-floor hotel. I felt like I was on the last chopper leaving the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in ’75. Leaving floor four, I decided to sneak down the stairwell to avoid the elevator crush, only to discover that it had no exits except to some random spot in the lobby. I think I passed Jason Bourne along the way.
A photo of the candidates in the job center might be worthy of Walker Evans.
Starbucks attached to the hotel? Madhouse. Forget about it.
There were so many people sitting on the floor in the promenade: talking on the phone, working on the computer, reading through a conference paper, learning to breathe after an interview. Can somebody please spring for some folding chairs? And some tables?
I went to a session on the problems of writing the social history of the elite in a ballroom that looked like John Jacob Astor’s dining room. At least one of the panelists noted the irony.
Why is it that at all conferences (and at commencement, come to think of it) chairs for the audience are crammed right up against each other. How cozy are we supposed to get?
I had an interesting conversation with the sales director of a particular press. I expressed pleasure that the book of a friend of mine is now available in paperback. She was wondering why/how professors make decisions against hardback books for course adoption. As I told her, from my perspective it is better to wait for the book to arrive in paper before assigning it, and if that means waiting a year or two for a given
course to work through the cycle, then so be it. There is only so much money I can ask my undergrads to pay for books, end every extra dollar that goes to a hardback is a dollar not spent on an additional paperback book. If the book does not appear in paper, then I’ll move on to something else. She seemed genuinely intrigued/surprised. Your thoughts, fellow readers? (Ed. Note: my first thought is that perhaps she hasn’t yet been to college? Or maybe fourth grade? Seriously–can she not subtract $22.95 from $45 or $65?)
Registration seemed to settle into its normal pace. I agree with Archie–whatever half-wit decided to encourage pre-registration only to make folks wait in a different kind of line for a badge should be relegated to stall-mucking at el rancho Historiann. And the staff with the T-shirts: my thought was Apple Store employee, but that might be because I had just been to the Apple Store on Fifth Ave before heading to the conference. (Totally cool store, BTW.) Sad indeed.
My main takeaway this year is this question: do historians have a celebrity complex? Several years ago, in an attempt (I think) to encourage more scholarly activity and engagement at the conference, the AHA instituted a series of panel discussions with established scholars engaging the big questions confronting the profession. It was a grad student’s dream. Drew Faust and James McPherson on the same panel discussing the writing of the Civil War? Sign me up. James Oakes and William Fogel on slavery? Save me a seat. Well, these little sessions have blossomed over the last few years, and generally they are quite engaging. I and about 100 of my friends tried to go to one on the study of Jacksonian America, featuring Daniel Walker Howe. One problem: the program was slated for a room that fit about 30-40 people. Now, if you are the AHA, and you promote these sessions as a way to encourage attendance at sessions and engage the big ideas, wouldn’t you put the session in a slightly larger room, especially with the most recent Pulitzer Prize winning author on the dais?
The crush of people, many of whom (like me) wandered off to another session, has me wondering: do we historians have a celebrity complex? Are we, in the end, no different from our students in this regard, save the fashion sense of the idols in question? (Though I do love Michael Holt’s bow ties.) Is the primary function of the conference to see the bright lights and be seen by them, rather than the introduction of new ideas that might shape the body of knowledge for the next several years? For that matter, when was the last time a great idea came out of the AHA, one that really impacted a given field of study? Please tell me it wasn’t Frederick Jackson Turner.