Just got back from Philadelphia where I attended and presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Overall, I had a good time as this was my first AHA meeting. I’ve attended a few academic conferences, but this one is clearly the biggest; the AHA is the largest and oldest professional organization of historians. My session, which focused on Civil War memory was well attended and very productive. Gregory Urwin of Temple University did an excellent job connecting all three papers in his comments, and the audience asked insightful and challenging questions.
There were only a few panels on the Civil War; on Friday morning I attended a roundtable discussion on teaching women in Civil War courses. I am thinking about offering an elective next year on just this topic; the panelists sketched out their own interests in the subject and offered their thoughts about the place of women and gender in the broader historical narrative. Alice Fahs offered particularly thoughtful comments on the tension between “contributory history” that is adding women to the standard narrative as opposed to interpreting women’s roles in a way that challenges assumptions of a “moral or noble” war. I could go on, but unlike so many other sessions I’ve attended over the years this one clearly left me with a great deal to think about. That afteroon I attended a session on technology in the classroom.
The most important part of the conference is actually the publisher’s hall. Just about every major academic and non-academic press (that concentrates on history) has a display stand where you can look at new or upcoming titles. Best of all you can buy these books at incredible discounts. If you time your visit you can actually leave inebriated as many of the publishers introduce new books and their authors with wine and cheese. What I found particularly interesting is the amount of interaction between potential authors and publisher representatives. Much of the discussion concerns ongoing projects in an attempt to peek the interest of the rep. Graduate advisors would do well to teach their students how to go about engaging these people.
Perhaps the most depressing part is watching the newly-minted Ph.D’s scramble for job interviews. I don’t know what the situation is with the job market, but from the look on people’s faces it can’t be that good.
As much as I enjoy going to these conferences I look forward more to getting back to the real world, or at least my preferred world. First, I hate being away from my wife and second, I end up missing my students. It is nice to be able to flirt with the academy. There are interesting people to meet and the discussions can be intellectually invigorating. In the end, however, and as I’ve stated before I wouldn’t give up my life as a high school teacher for anything.