AHA report part deux, check (it) out now! Hugs and learning for everyone! (Except straight historians.)


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!   

Where's Classy Claude? (HINT: The man loves him his canvas tote bags.)

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.)

0 thoughts on “AHA report part deux, check (it) out now! Hugs and learning for everyone! (Except straight historians.)

  1. This is why I never go to the AHA: I detest the name-tag gazing and other competitive aspects of this conference, which Claude captures so well. (Also, there usually are relatively few panels in my field, and it always occurs during the first week of my teaching schedule!) I do enjoy going to small, thematic conferences that actually relate to my research, where people genuinely want to exchange ideas rather than have a pissing contest.


  2. Yeah, it’s not my fave, for all of the reasons you and Claude list. (My field too is underrepresented, although I regret not being in San Diego this year & missing Laurel Ulrich’s presidential address/impress on the event.)

    I think Claude’s AHA strategy sounds just about right: find your friends and the fun receptions, and hunker down.


  3. thanks for sharing this, I did not attend but was privy to similar discussions about hotels for another major conference. Since the thinking behind not shifting venues was the cost and the contracts, it would have been nice if more historians had shown their political support by showing up to the rally, after all we may right the history but it seems the activists were in the process of making it.

    I agree w/ squadratomagico abt smaller conferences holding more sway for exchanging ideas and getting to know knew people. It’s a growing critique that I think some of us are really thinking about in terms of how we structure our associations and the meetings around them … have had some productive convos abt this lately that I think might lead somewhere. (hope I’m not just being naive)


  4. I think one reason few historians were at the Saturday rally was a lack of publicity — I think of myself as relatively aware, but I found out about it by seeing it from a distance as I was walking into a session at the Marriott.


  5. Actually, my take on the conference was that it was mellow: since people could sit out by the harbor and enjoy the view and the sun, people were more relaxed than when you have to stay inside a hotel because it’s snowy/freezing/icy outside. It meant that the inside of the hotels was less of a pressure cooker.


  6. My bet is that, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “all of that fresh air and sunshine put the zap on [your] brain[s].” Again, I revive my call for Dallas, Phoenix/Santa Fe, Denver, San Diego/L.A., and San Francisco as the places to hold a large conference in JANUARY. (Can’t find a link for that quotation–can anyone help here? I think it was from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.)

    Let’s ditch the rust and snowbelt for the sunbelt. Really, folks–you don’t know what you’re missing. (Why not add Vegas to the list? Lots of big hotels there.)


  7. I live in Buffalo, and frankly my time in San Diego was nirvana. Southwest has cheap flights so I’m game for more southwest sunny locations. Enough of Chicago and similar locations.


  8. I think I had my best AHA visit ever… I saw two panels that I really enjoyed. I talked with a publisher about how they handle book proposals. The weather was great! I spent most of my time visiting with my family. And I met some new people. And I wasn’t on the job market, so I was not stressed out.

    Yes, the AHA is huge, unwieldy, and there is a lot of silly status related behavior. But there are not many other places where as a non-specialist, you can sit in on a panel and learn something new that might help you with teaching a survey class. Even more importantly, I was inspired to put together a panel / paper proposal and get my scholarship out of its rut.

    But back to the weather… why not Vegas? the AHA really is better when its some place warm. And I am _NOT_ talking about Atlanta people. “The West is the Best…”


  9. Matt, I’m glad you had a good time at AHA. I think you’re right that large conferences serve us too, in that they offer panels completely out of our research fields that might be useful when it comes to thinking about teaching, especially.

    One commonality between you and Classy Claude is that you neither were interviewing people for jobs, nor were you being interviewed. Avoiding the job search on both ends appears to be key to conferee satisfaction. (Oh, yeah: AND being in San Diego instead of flippin’ Chicago!)

    Yes to Vegas. What’s more American than Las Vegas?


  10. This was my first AHA. Having just defended and deposited the dissertation late last month (Yip to the Ee!), I thought it would be a good thing to suss things out. If I’m lucky enough to land an interview next year {pleaseohpleaseohplease}, there will be fewer unhappy surprises in store for me. I probably would have gone no matter which frozen armpit of the world they’d held it in, but San Diego was a sweet, sweet bonus. The weather truly was perfect — better even than the paradise it usually is, or so I was told by the locals.

    It’s unfortunate the protests weren’t more widely supported, but I think there were several reasons participation was low. As some commenters have noted, it wasn’t very well publicized. Also, it was really easy to avoid the front entrance to the Hyatt altogether. The sessions were held in two adjacent hotels and it was super easy and highly picturesque to travel between them by taking the back route. I hardly ever had occasion to use the front door. And then for me, as a newly minted Ph.D., I spent *all* my time attending the many professionalization sessions the grad committee put on. Frankly, I could have cloned myself and still been in sessions all day (not my usual conference habit, btw). Saturday went from 9 to 4:30 with a single stinking hour for lunch. The panels were a mixed bag, to be sure, but overall I found them incredibly helpful, and I would not have been willing to give them up, no matter how worthy the cause.

    Sorry to leave such a long inaugural comment – and without preview at that. Apologies for any infelicities ….

    Cheers, Robyn


  11. The conference was fab. If I hadn’t crossed that picket line, I would never have been able to enjoy such an academically fulfilling panel on labor movements of the early 21st century.


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