Classy Claude has returned from the American Historical Association’s annual conference in San Diego to the wintry climate were he currently resides. Classes begin tomorrow for Claude–alas, what lessons did the professor learn at the 2010 AHA? You might be surprised!
I have now returned from San Diego – and leaving was somewhat painful, I have to say. The weather was just about perfect, and the sad truth was that anyone leaving San Diego today was clearly going somewhere where it would not be.
I don’t have oodles to report because, in true AHA fashion, I didn’t actually go to all that many sessions – only one yesterday, and it was my own, and none today. (I did not see the John D’Emilio talk discussed in the comments yesterday, but I, too, heard that it was fantastic.) I did, however, attend the anti-Manchester rally yesterday right outside the Hyatt. The protest was scheduled yesterday for two reasons: it was the two-year anniversary of the day that Doug Manchester made the donation that enabled people to begin the signature drive, which put Proposition 8 on the ballot in the first place. His involvement was even more insidious and instrumental than I had thought! Secondly, the AHA is among the few major organizations not to honor the boycott. So, I went to the protest in solidarity with the anti-Manchester, anti-Hyatt, anti-Prop 8 gang.
The protest, which was supported by many different organizations, was a joint venture of both queer and labor organizers and it was – some grandstanding aside – pretty wonderful to see the kind of cross-class, multiracial support that was in evidence. Fired Latina Boston Hyatt housekeepers roused the crowd talking about Hyatt hotels’ nasty labor practices and a racially diverse crowd of queer activists talked about their support for labor, and then labor talked about the fact that there was no real equality for them or for anyone at all until all people were treated with justice. There’s nothing like a common enemy to unite disparate groups. Be still my leftist heart!
That said, attendance by historians was not what it could have been (total attendance was probably about 2 or 300, but I’m not great with numbers). Most of the people protesting were local activists and some union people who had driven down from LA. While there were certainly historians in evidence, I recognized lots of them as being queer (by actually knowing them, that is; my gaydar is good but not foolproof). Where were our straight allies? Not so much in evidence, it would seem. (Ed. note: Or just too busy getting busy?) The protest organizers had made a big banner that said: “What will history say about the American Historical Association?” As a friend of a friend said of the sign: “Whatever we want it to. We’re the historians, after all.” Touché. We all marched around the hotel twice, shouting “Boycott the Hyatt! Check Out Now!” My friends and I were even interviewed by InsideHigherEd.com reporter Scott Jaschik, though the story does not seem to have been posted yet. (UPDATE, 1/11/10: Here’s Jaschick’s article at Inside Higher Ed.)
That night I attended the reception of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, which was celebrating its 30thanniversary. Walter Williams, cofounder with the late Gregory Sprague, told the story of the organization’s founding 30 years ago at an AHA annual meeting in San Francisco. Williams and Sprague, noting that there was no gay content in the program, bought poster board and markers and plastered signs around the conference announcing that anyone interested in gay history should meet at a designated time and place. They took up a collection at the first meeting and the organization was born. Happy Birthday CLGBTH! (Ed. note: can you work on a more pronounceable acronym sometime in the next 30 years?)
This year – for the first time ever – I attended the AHA only to give a paper. I was not being interviewed – as in two past years – or interviewing others – as in two others. As a result of this, I had a great time. Add to this the fact that I saw friends I don’t normally get to see and the fact that San Diego, which I’d never before visited, had perfect weather the entire time. I noticed something else as well. Conferences are, for me, a lot of fun, but also a minefield of opportunities to feel inadequate as a result of not having a fantastic job, not winning prizes, and not publishing enough. There is as much competition packed into a couple hotels, at the AHA particularly, as an Olympic Village, but it is much more veiled and under the radar and silently suffered. In a way that generally does not occur in one’s own department (except as a grad student) when one is surrounded by people with different specialties from one’s own, at the AHA one comes into contact with many, many people who do things very similar to oneself.
This is, of course, what can be so intellectually rewarding about conferences. But it can also make for high levels of feeling inadequate. There is much name-badge checking and dismissing and all kinds of people asking about one’s current employment situation and employer and far too many judgments passed about the answer. And because everyone is coming from so many different institutions there is a whole lot of talk about one’s working conditions and complaints about jobs. So all that said I was pleasantly surprised to hear lots of people saying positive things about their jobs, jobs in places that did not sound all that fun to me, and at institutions that I was sometimes unaware even existed. Maybe this is a result of so many of us being aware of how horrible the job market is right now and being slightly more thankful than we would normally be to have employment at all. I even said some rather positive things about my own home institution – and those who know me know that that is a rare occurrence indeed!
I leave you with a snapshot of the sunset over San Diego Bay Saturday night:
Thanks so much Claude, and goodnight! Goodnight, American historians–see you next year in Boston! (As if! Call me when you’re meeting in Waikiki, preferably sometime before it becomes laughable for me to appear publicly in a bathing suit.)