Report From The AHA

As promised here is my report from this years AHA meeting in Atlanta.  This is my second time attending the AHA and probably my last unless asked to participate in another panel.   [You can read a detailed overview of the AHA over at History News Network, including the arrest of historian Felipe Fernandez-Arnesto for jaywalking between hotels.] I am not a big fan of academic conferences, but it does give me a chance to interact with some very talented people, see friends, and make new contacts.  As a high school teacher I don’t often get the opportunity to converse with people who share similar research interests.  My wife and I set out on Thursday at around 6:30am on what turned out to be a 9-hour drive.  I guess we could have taken a 1-hour flight, but driving gives you the option of eating the artery-clogging food of Cracker Barrel every 24.5 miles.  If the conventional car ever became too boring we could have stopped off at one of the 10 Harley-Davidson superstores along Rt. 85.  Can you picture us arriving at the Hilton with me on a Harley and my wife in one of those side carriages?

I attended some very interesting panels on a range of issues.  On Friday I listened to papers on African-American celebrations of Emancipation Day and Juneteenth.  One of the papers analyzed the 1936 Texas Centennial Fair and its inclusion of a “Hall of Negro History,” which I didn’t know anything about.  Other panels looked at railroads in the nineteenth century and another focused on digital history projects.  The latter was a roundtable-style discussion which left plenty of time for questions.  We discussed questions about how digital history projects function as historical interpretations and how they should be assessed as such.  The roundtable format is far more preferable to the standard 2 to 3 paper panel.  It is simply too difficult to maintain the level of focus necessary to follow even a fairly sophisticated arguments – not to mention that the sessions normally run for 2 hours.

The best part of the conference is the exhibition hall which includes just about every academic publisher.  You can purchase soon-to-be-released books and other titles at discounted prices.  I picked up a number of titles from LSU, Oxford, and University of Virginia Press.  It was nice to see that the University of Kentucky Press stand had copies of The View From The Ground and I was even more pleased to learn that the book is actually selling.  At this point I can announce that  Kentucky Press is evaluating my Crater manuscript for possible inclusion in their New Directions In Southern History Series.  The manuscript was mailed today and I should get the reviews at some point in March/April – at least that’s what the editor tells me.  There is no guarantee that they will accept it for publication, but there is the possibility that if everything goes relatively smooth there will be books available about this time next year.  The exhibition hall is where a lot of the action takes place.  Representatives are available to discuss book projects and shop ideas.  I had a chance to talk with a representative from the academic press that is likely to publish my edited project on John C. Winsmith.  The room is truly overwhelming and for someone who loves to look at quality books there is no better place than the AHA to do your shopping.  It’s actually overwhelming.

As I mentioned above one of the nice things about conferences is that it gives you a chance to catch up with friends.  Here is a photograph of me (on the left) with my friend Tom Ward.  Tom and I taught together at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science and now teaches American history at Rockhurst University.  He is the author of Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South, which was published in 2003 by the University of Arkansas Press.  The book is well written and focuses on the steps taken by black Americans to become doctors and the difficulties they faced in a Jim Crow society.  I also met some new friends, specifically a few of the bloggers over at Cliopatria.  We met for lunch on Friday afternoon and Ralph Luker (founder of Cliopatria) was kind enough to pick up the tab.  It was nice having the opportunity to put a face on some of my favorite bloggers, including Rob MacDougall, Rebecca Goetz, Jonathan Dresner, and Tim Burke.  To my surprise we talked very little about blogging.  It was a great lunch and the conversation was entertaining.

I attended a very lively panel on Saturday morning which was supposed to include Howard Zinn; however, he was not able to attend due to health reasons.  The session was sponsored by Historians Against the War and focused on Staunghton Lynd’s experiences as a radical historian teaching at Yale University in the 1960′s.  Though Zinn was not in attendance Jesse Lemisch presented an entertaining paper that took a number of pop shots against Bush and the Yale culture.  While it was entertaining it was not the most informative session.  The whole atmosphere had a very different feel to it.  It was as if a sub-culture of the AHA had converged into one room.

I spent the early part of the afternoon making some final changes to my short talk.  The session went very well.  We had a nice turnout and the roundtable format proved to be the best route.  There were six of us total and each of us took five minutes to talk about our work as it relates to researching Civil War soldiers.  It was a real pleasure taking part in a panel that included such distinguished and talented scholars.  [The photograph to the left is of the panel and includes from left to right: Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Jason Phillips, Chandra Manning, Charles Brooks, Kent Dollar and me.] We identified somewhere between eight and ten possible dissertation topics that could be written.  One thing is crystal clear to me and that is that there is no crisis in Civil War studies.  Some of the most talented people are working in the field and even with all we’ve learned in the last few decades it is safe to conclude that it will continue.  Keep an eye out for Aaron’s study of the Confederate family in Virginia with UNC Press.  Jason Philips is revising a study on Confederate defeat with Univ. of Georgia Press; check out his recent article “The Grape Vine Telegraph: Rumors and Confederate Persistence” in the November 2006 issue of the Journal of Southern History.  Chandra Manning’s study of Civil War soldiers is set for release from Knopf in March.  I had a chance to browse the page proofs and it looks to be a first-rate study.  Charles is hard at work on a study that looks at Civil War soldiers in connection with Constitutionalism, and Kent recently published Soldiers of the Cross: Confederate Christians and the Impact of War of War on Their Faith with Mercer University Press.  Following the talk I had a chance to talk with Lesley Gordon who had some nice things to say about my comments.  I commented that unit histories are ideal places to explore conflict amongst veterans during the postwar period since most of the men tended to live in the same places.  Unfortunately most unit histories are written by people who have little interest in these questions.  In my talk I discussed the political debates between veterans of Mahone’s Virginia brigade during the Readjuster period.  Lesley is currently completing a study of the 16th Connecticut and will incude an entire chapter on their postwar experiences.  I look forward to her study which will be published by UNC Press.

All in all I had a great time at the conference.  This year I am scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville Civil War Roundtable in February, Rappahannock Valley CWRT in March, and the Richmond CWRT in July.

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