I just paid $215 to register for the American Historical Association 2014 conference as a non-member, which strikes me as a confiscatory rate. Why am I not a member? I already get too many journals every quarter that I can’t keep up with and which just take up space on a bookshelf. I’m not on the job market. And at my incredibly low salary, it would still cost me $118 per year to join. I figure I can use that toward another plane ticket to Quebec or somewhere else I can get some real work done.
I admit that when I was a grad student on the market, I rarely (if ever!) paid to register for this conference. Quite honestly, I wasn’t using any conference services or going to the receptions (and I only sneaked into the book exhibit once with a borrowed badge). I just showed up for my interviews and then made myself scarce until I had to face the next one. However, I consider it my duty now to pay full freight on the rare occasion that I go to this conference. I don’t have much travel money, so I’m not sure Baa Ram U. will even cover this much of the conference expenses (although it did buy my plane ticket. We only get $1,200 of travel money, so most of us end up footing at least half of the bills–or much more–for our ongoing professional development and research trips.)
I’m not complaining–much. I’ve got it good compared to many who absolutely must attend this conference because of the job interviews. I’ve at least got some travel money from my employer. And yes, I have an employer, unlike the many un- and underemployed folks who will be hustling for jobs this winter.
I don’t think I’ll have much incentive to accept invitations to join an AHA panel in the future. (But, you may point out: if only people at major research universities with major expense accounts attend this conference, how will it ever change or reform? Won’t I be depriving my colleagues at AHA of my perspective as a professor at an Aggie school in flyover country? You’d be right to ask these questions, but quite honestly, I’ve got other social justice battles that I think are more important. For example, my colleague at CSU-Pueblo, Jonathan Rees, is fighing a fake budget crisis that threatens fifty jobs on his campus this week. For realz.)
I sure as heck will argue much more strongly that we need to stop conducting job interviews at this conference. It’s manifestly unfair to expect the poorest members of the profession (and those least likely to have expense accounts!) to travel for the mere chance at another interview! If hiring institutions had to pay the travel expenses for all of their interviewees and for all interviews, I think the AHA interview would meet a swift end. Somehow, we’d manage to muddle along either by bringing candidates straight to campus, or by using Skype for screening interviews.
Some professions and departments do this all of the time. Why do we historians and literature scholars consent to be prisoners of conferences (AHA and MLA) that happen to meet over winter break? Anthropologists and Political Scientists have their conferences in the fall, so most departments dispense with the conference interview entirely. Why can’t we?