Wednesday round-up: What I saw at the OAH

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.

    Claude: Keepin’ it classy.

  • 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.

12 thoughts on “Wednesday round-up: What I saw at the OAH

  1. I am a big fan of the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference. Sometimes I think they are not discriminating enough in terms of the panels and papers accepted, but I love the wide range of topics covered in panels that reach across disciplines, places, and periods. The Society has really branched out from their original roots in Reformation Europe. They definitely welcome the seventeenth century, which is my own area of expertise. And it is such a friendly and inclusive group. I highly recommend trying it out.


  2. AK-H is one of the coolest scholars out there. I wish she was frequenting some of the conferences I can end up affording to attend.

    I used to be appalled by the drift into the 19th century, and then I stepped foot into the 1790s for a tiny little thing and got sucked into the whirlwind– I’ve even got a few things going on as late as 1882! In theory I still hate the idea; in praxis, it’s o.k. for now, but I’m still planning on planning on coming back to the first half of the loooong 18th century soon.

    JAH on MOOCS: Boooooooooooooo… as theywe say in Philly. And that’s not a tribute to MOOOOOOOOOOOcs, either! Why don’t they push these pretty-bad articles back into the tail-end of the long 21st century? 🙂

    “when they learned…” about the club’s policies?!? I thought that kind of vetting was pretty much standard issue front-loaded grunt work for these things now.

    Hola, Meander!!!


  3. I used my OAH satisfaction survey to push them to think ahead about who OAH members are (or who they want them to be) and book appropriately-sized rooms for panels like “Intimate Matters at 25.” I wonder if this point touches also on the issue of African American history in the West and that scholarship’s representation at the conference. The book and the field’s importance demanded something at least slightly larger than an ordinary panel room. I was the commentator on the “Masculinity and Pediatrics” panel and it was a pleasure to have such thematically- and chronologically-linked papers to think about together, something that the OAH may lend itself to. And we all appreciated Historiann’s classy, generous closing remark at the panel about its connections and flow; when audience members get something from a panel, it’s great for the panel when they get to learn that!

    As to other pluses of the OAH, I also have found that for Americanists (not sure about ‘early’ Americanists) the OAH publishing/book exhibit can be the best place to access acquisitions editors and publishers. The AHA is so big and field sweep so broad; in comparision, I have experienced that there is time to have meaningful (time will tell of course)10 to 15 minute conversations, even with the busiest presses.


  4. Jessica–thanks for commenting here. It was a terrific panel! I think you’re right about the contact with publishers–there were plenty of early American pitches going on there as well.

    The African American history in the West panel was in a larger (and appropriately sized) room than the ones our panels were in, but I think you’re right that the schedulers badly misjudged the audience for the Intimate Matters roundtable. (Why wasn’t that a plenary session? I kept wondering.) I didn’t go to any of the Civil War/Lincoln/American political history panels, but would be interested to hear about what their seats-in-the-room to audience ratios were.

    Indyanna: I will likely be venturing into the Early Republic for my next project, but that doesn’t mean I have to LIKE or APPROVE of it being called “early America.” FWIW, I’d think that the nineteenth century historians would be cheesed about this drift, too, especially the antebellum ones.


  5. Well, the next 16thc studies conference is in San Juan in October…I’ll be there (and I don’t usually go because it’s so close to the NACBS meetings….) They meet in conjunction with the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women,so there is a pretty good feminist presence.


  6. Lots of church historians at the SCSC which is a good thing – those of us who work in the 16th century but only incidentally brush up against religion need to be reminded of its centrality ! Also quite a convivial gathering with room for all.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.