Attending a big conference like the Organization of American Historians is fun, especially when it’s in an pleasant place like San Francisco in the spring in mid-April. What I do is so marginal to the OAH conference that I’ve got lots of free time to attend panels and hear how experts in other subfields talk about their work, explore the city with old friends, and go to parties! Here are some observations and lessons learned, in no particular order:
- No matter how big the conference, you will never see some people, and you will continue to run into the same people again and again. Aside from the few early American feminists I kept running into at some of the same panels, over the course of three days every time I strolled through the hotel lobby or some of the other open spaces I saw either Roy Ritchie or Alice Kessler-Harris. I also never saw a colleague of mine who was there the whole time–not even at a distance.
- “Early America” now goes through most of the antebellum period, at least according to the OAH. Stop fighting it, Historiann and others who specialize in anything before the nineteenth century! I think I witnessed the single paper that included anything on the seventeenth century. These are now like the Dodo–and not even in much greater evidence at conferences like the Omohundro Institute annual conference. (Speaking of which: did you hear that they cancelled their party scheduled for Friday night when they learned that they had booked it in a club that doesn’t offer membership to women? Good for them, but that’s quite a huge loss on the party, in addition to what’s surely a major donor problem now.)
- (Aside on the temporal issue: I keep hearing that The Sixteenth Century Society is a fun group, and their understanding of the long sixteenth century is pretty long, from 1450 to 1660. Your thoughts? I was becoming kind of a semi-regular at the Western Society for French History and French Historical Studies, so I’m all for going European if that’s what it will take.)
- My source inside the Journal of American History editorial board meeting said that the talk there was all about moving online–moving into enhanced web-only features and exhibitions connected to the print edition of the journal, as well as online education (MOOCs especially.) He also told me that the backlog there is (unsurprisingly) pretty bad–articles accepted today won’t see print until late 2014, if then, so word to the wise.
- The OAH sponsors a number of “state of the field” roundtables, which are among the most interesting sessions in my opinion. African American History in the West was one of these, and the first panel I attended just for fun. Albert Broussard called out the OAH as “one of the worst” history conferences for overlooking or ignoring the black history of the U.S. west, whereas he found that the Western History Association and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association were much friendlier to the field. He also pointed out that when he started out several decades ago that African American history was essentially an urban history in the west, a trend that continues to be evident among younger scholars, many of whom are writing more now about different waves of immigration and the intermingling and mixing of African Americans with Mexicans, Latin Americans, American Latin@s, Asians, and internal U.S. American migrants.
- Unsurprisingly, Intimate Matters at 25: Reflections on the History of US Sexuality, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (1988) by John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, was packed in the smallish room we were granted. At the start of the session, it was standing room only at the back of the room. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole session, but I heard from those who attended that it was a smart and fitting celebration.
- Another interesting panel was Protecting Manhood: The Influence of Hegemonic Masculinity in Pediatrics, completely not my field but it was a terrific example of how all of the papers on the panel, layered together, really made a powerful argument that both the medical research and marketing behind the mumps vaccine and human growth hormone were driven by the cultural ideals the white, middle-class male body was supposed to represent as well as the white, male, bourgeois identities of pediatric researchers.
- Lessons for attending conferences now that I’m in my 40s: Curious about mutual friends of the people you’re hanging out with? Don’t ask! I heard about divorces and life-threatening conditions suffered by people who are around my age, when I was just looking for some fun banter, and ended up feeling ghoulish and regretful (as well as lucky). Memo to myself: try to get back in touch with people directly.
- Why, you might ask, am I writing my own OAH round-up? Where is Classy Claude, my intrepid conference reporter? Well, he was there too, but he was throwing a party on Saturday night as well as serving as my host in San Francisco, and there’s only so much one man can do in a weekend.
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