Cities and Nationalisms Conference

This conference will take place in London on 17-18 June 2010, and may be of interest to urban historians who are in the area.

“Cities have been intimately connected with nationalisms of many kinds. The architecture and spatial design of cities have commonly been intended to bolster national pride. So have the nationalist ceremonies that cities have staged. Yet cities have also been places of contending nationalisms or counter nationalisms in which urban territorial divides have helped shape and maintain competing or actively hostile group loyalties. Cities have also sometimes promoted themselves as cosmopolitan and hospitable to all nations. This conference aims to explore the nature and rich variety of connections between nationalisms and cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Cities explored include Alexandria, Belfast, Buenos Aires, Budapest, Cape Town, Cork, Cracow, Hong Kong, Kinshasa, Kirkuk, London, Montreal, Paris, Prague, Shanghai, Tel Aviv and Washington.

Speakers include: Robert Bickers (Bristol), Iain Black (Cambridge), Bill Freund (Kwa-Zulu Natal), Tim Harper (Cambridge), Paul-André Linteau (Québec) and Prashant Kidambi (Leicester)”

I will be there as a panel chair, so come and say hello!

More information here

Cityscapes in History Conference - 29-30 July 2010

I am co-organising a conference, Cityscapes in History: Creating the Urban Experience, in Munich at the end of July.
The program is here, and we have a variety of panels on urban history – registration will be free, if you would like to attend!
The Center for Advanced Studies

Belated FEEGI Conference Report

Last week, I was at the FEEGI conference at Duke. The Forum For European Expansion and Global Interaction ( has had me as a member for a while, but this was the first time I had attended the biennial conference. And it was GREAT!!

What set it apart from other conferences I have been to:

  • The price (ie NOT hell expensive. Yes, AHA, I am looking at you... )
  • The included food was impressive! No cold ham & cheese sandwiches, but a Lebanese buffet the first day, and Indian the second. And that was LUNCH.
  • The fact that everyone went to everything. There were no simultaneous panels, so everyone spent all of the two days in the one room, watching the presentations together. This might sound claustrophobic, but I found the audience to be highly engaged. I got some very useful comments on my paper, despite being later in the program (around the time people are often either napping or heading to the airport).
  • Despite covering an impressive swathe of world history (European expansion across the globe from the 14th to 19th centuries!) there seemed to be commonality and focus across the program. For the first time in a long time at a conference, I actually got something out of every panel I saw.

(and what made this truly astounding? It started at 8AM each morning. And everyone showed up!!)
So, how do they do it, and what lessons can be learnt? I’m organising a conference this summer and am keen to see what works (I’ve sat through some truly dire examples of what DOESN’T). Included lunch obviously helps, as that way people stick around and talk during the break, rather than running down the street to a sandwich shop (and not bothering to come back for the afternoon panels). And having somewhere to SIT for the lunch. Too many events I’ve been to involve trying to juggle a plate, a wine glass and a bread roll while standing up. OK, so I’m food obsessed: but it does seem to make a real difference. Just try telling the academics at a conference that there is no coffee... ;)
The coordinators obviously also went to some trouble to select the papers that complemented one another, to make strong panels. But isn’t that what all conference planners try to do?

There’s obviously a mysterious something else, that gets a crowd to stick around, and stay involved. I don’t know what the FEEGI trick is (was it in the coffee?), but I would like to see it at more conferences.

San Diego to Boston and All Points Between - thoughts on the AHA

About a week ago, I received an email (from a group I had never heard of) inviting me to move my AHA panel from the Hyatt. The issues were the hotel owner’s stance on gay marriage, and some labour issues. They weren’t offering alternative venues, but suggested that some people were using their own hotel rooms (I am not expecting a huge audience for my paper, but I was hoping for a better crowd than 3 people sitting on my bed). Shortly thereafter, I received a message from the AHA saying much of the message was disinformation, there is no labour dispute at the hotel, and repeating the outcome of discussions at the last AHA meeting: the hotel was booked years ago and pulling out at this stage would be more financially damaging to the AHA than to the hotel. A series of panels on the history of marriage will be held at the Hyatt.

Tenured Radical and others have discussed this proposed boycott and why it was not going to work for the AHA financially. This series of sessions on marriage being held at the Hyatt also generated some H-NET discussion, with a couple of responders saying they expected the panels to take one side of the debate (no papers endorsing an anti-gay marriage perspective). I don’t know yet but I suspect this will be true. And that’s unfortunate. I am in support of gay marriage, but I don’t think this is the type of thing on which the AHA should have a position.

I don’t know Mr Manchester or have any particular interest in his views, but as I understand it he participated in the elections as a citizen, legally exercising his democratic right to support a particular viewpoint, and donating money to the cause he supported. After all, it’s not just Doug Manchester holding a certain opinion, evidently thousands of Californians agreed with him. The subtext I’m sensing is that the Hyatt has become the focus for a lot of anger from AHA members who were unhappy with the passing of Proposition 8. If the Proposition had not passed, I don’t think anyone would be suggesting boycotting the hotel.

The more general complaint I’ve heard about the AHA in terms of its location is the cost: I think I’m paying more for my hotel this year than I did last year (which was New York at New Years). I will be interested to see how much attendance is down due to the economic downturn (as opposed to the lower attendance which is apparently typical whenever the AHA is on the West Coast).

I have been told that the reason we go to cities like Philly or Boston is that they are much cheaper than, say, Miami in January. But the cities that have hosted the recent meetings and are on the calendar for the next few years seem to offer a fairly unimaginative shuffle, with New York and DC on high rotation. (I understand the Washington meeting of 2008 was a last-minute replacement for New Orleans, but perhaps they could have moved the 2014 meeting away from DC).

2005 - Seattle
2006 - Philadelphia
2007 - Atlanta
2008 - Washington, D.C.
2009 - New York
2010 - San Diego
2011 - Boston
2012 - Chicago
2013 - New Orleans
2014 - Washington, D.C.
2015 - New York
2016 - Atlanta

I don’t know how the AHA chooses the destinations: does it depend on local members campaigning for it, like the Olympics? Obviously it has to be a city where a local organising committee can make arrangments, so a city with a density of members does make sense (also because all the people living and working in New York or Boston can make a good base, whereas at another city a higher proportion of attendees have to come in from outside). I get all of that, but it would be good to see some other cities getting into the mix. Baltimore? Savannah? Providence? Memphis?

CFP: Cityscapes in History Conference

Call for Papers:

"Cityscapes in History: Creating the Urban Experience," at the
Center for Advanced Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, Germany, 29th and 30th July, 2010.

The conference aims at bringing scholars from various disciplines together
to study the history of the urban experience. One of our main themes will be the performative and ritual aspects of urban life, and the built environment.

We invite proposals for individual (20 minute) papers or 3 paper panels.

Please submit a 300 word abstract per paper, for panel submissions an abstract for each paper plus a brief (<200 word) summary of the panel.

Submissions to

Katrina Gulliver  

Helena Toth

Deadline for submissions is Friday 22nd January; notifications will be sent of the acceptance of papers by Friday 12th February.

At the Anglo-American Conference!

I am at the Anglo-American conference, which is the annual conference at the Institute of Historical Research (which is where I work). The conference has been going since the 1920s, and it’s fun to look at the posters for the past years and see the big names giving the keynotes addresses.
This year the theme is cities! So there are urban historians everywhere. Swarming.
One interesting thing is that the conference has a twitter hashtag, #aac_2009, which is something I would like to see other history conferences adopt. The AHA, for instance... You can follow the feed, at

All sessions will also be recorded, and I believe the plan is to release them as podcasts.

Last weekend I was at the World History Association conference, which was fun! I enjoyed visiting the town, and the National Parks Service really stepped up providing guided tours and plenty of information about the local area.

There were some great papers (mine, of course ;) and opium and Jesuits came out as particular themes (not in the same paper though, at least not that I heard!). Marion Diamond gave a fascinating paper about the 18th century reception of Opium, on a panel with a paper from Frances Karttunen about the opium addicted women of Nantucket, and I loved the keynote address by Dane Morrison about Salem and the China trade, from the perspective of expatriate Salemite communities through East and Southeast Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some elements could have been better organised, one comment I heard from a number of people (and with which I agreed) was the apparent lack of awareness of people coming from outside the US to attend (it’s called the WORLD history association, people!). The information on transport was limited, and distances were all given in times, e.g. “X is only five minutes away” - meaning the time it takes to travel there BY CAR. Nobody seemed to know the timetable for the shuttle bus, or how long it would take (I was given estimates anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes), and not enough time was allowed to get between the conference sites at the Peabody Essex Museum and Salem State College by bus between panels.

Nonetheless, it was a fun experience, and I’m interested in the theme for next year’s WHA, ‘The Pacific in World History’.