All aboard for the AHA!!

Like so many of my colleagues, I’m headed to Boston in a few days for the annual meeting of the  American Historical Association. I have written about this annual history festival before, and I know some people consider my fervent attachment to it somewhat strange.

It is a HUGE event, with thousands of people attending. Other disciplines have similar events, the Modern Languages Association (MLA) and American Philosophical Association (APA) also falling in the two weeks after Christmas. The AHA program is the size of a phone directory for a small town, and a major feature of the conference is that job interviews for many positions are held there. This is part of the reason that for many people it seems a chamber of horrors (in their descriptions): expensive holiday airfares to get to humiliating interviews capped off with $10 beers in the Hilton bar.

This has not been my experience. I have never landed a job as a result of an AHA interview, but I haven’t found the job center itself a bad system. I have had far more painful interviews for jobs outside academia (to put this in perspective, I was once turned down for a job answering the phones for Pizza Hut...). But for some people I know, the fact that the AHA and their struggles on the job market are inseparably intertwined, means that they hate it, hate it, HATE IT. And once they land a tenure-track job, they vow never to go again. And this is a great shame.

I find much more to love than dislike at the AHA. Indeed, what puts some people off is actually what I love. In addition to jobseekers, the other people who seem critical of it are those who find little in the program of interest. It’s broad, not like subspecialty-focused or local conferences. People have told me they get far more intellectually from attending the conferences of their area. But for me, the breadth is its beauty. Yes, I go to specialised conferences in the field/s I research. But the AHA allows me to dip into areas of history I don’t know much about. For instance, I’m not going to attend a conference on the American Civil War, or Feudal Japan, or marine archaeology: but I’ll go to a panel on one of these things if it’s at the AHA and looks interesting. If I’m at some point going to be teaching broad survey courses, I feel it’s useful (indeed a professional obligation) to at least be vaguely aware of what’s going on OUTSIDE my own subspecialty. And more than that, I actually enjoy learning about other fields of history and what people are researching. For people who LOVE HISTORY, the AHA is FUN!!

This is the first one since Phillie (2006) where I am not presenting or interviewing*, so I look forward to going to panels and meeting people. My good friend, Helena Toth, has put together a panel on the culture of death and remembrance in Eastern Europe, so all you Europeanists should come along!

I will also be announcing the winners of the Cliopatria awards for the best in history blogging, so that should be fun. I’ll be making the announcements during a dinner for Twitterstorians on Thursday, January 6. If you are interested in coming, register here.

*If you are on a search committee, and want to hire in urban/social/world history, drop me a line.