AHA 2012: a report from Day 2

2012 January 7
by Shane Landrum

The American Historical Association annual meeting is the largest of scholarly conferences that historians usually attend. As far as I can tell, it’s a conference that faculty members will gripe (quietly or not) about going to, because:

  • it’s gigantic, and research talks usually only draw the 5–10 people interested in what you’re working on
  • it’s a jobhunting conference, so faculty members are locked in rooms with candidates all day.

As far as I can tell, neither of those two has changed for many people. However, compared to the two previous AHA annual meetings (San Diego in 2010 in Boston in 2011), this conference has a measurably livelier vibe.

  • First, the unseasonably warm weather in Chicago–in the 50s Fahrenheit yesterday–puts everyone in a better mood.
  • Secondly, the conference hotels this year have substantial lobby areas with ample seating and free wireless internet, which means that at almost any hour there are historians with laptops and portable devices hanging out as well as the usual array of scholarly sociability.
  • There is also substantially more wifi-enabled session space this year, which is making the twitter stream rather livelier, with many historians I haven’t ever seen on Twitter dipping their toes in to report on sessions they’re attending. (Kudos to the AHA and thanks to the many new faces on Twitter.)
  • But the real contributing factor for me and a lot of digital historians is this year’s substantial programming track on digital history, which included a THATCamp unconference. I wasn’t able to attend the AHA THATCamp due to other obligations, but friends who attended are saying glowing things.

From what I know, we have AHA president Tony Grafton and program committee member Dan Cohen (of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media to thank for this. (Well, maybe not for the weather, though who’s to say?)

Yesterday, I was so busy that I only had time to attend one session, the preliminary-report meeting of the AHA Task Force on LGBTQ Historians, which I livetweeted and about which more later. Today, it’s off to the Committee on Women Historicans breakfast, and then to chair our exciting experimental-format session Crowdsourcing History Collaborative Online Transcription and Archives, in Sheraton Ballroom IX at 11:30. You can follow and contribute to the tweets at #AHA2012 #session138.

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