Pandemic “AHA!” Moments: #12 in a Series

Like many scholarly groups during the pandemic, the American Historical Association (AHA) has cancelled its annual face-to-face convention, which had been scheduled for January 7-10, 2021 in Seattle. 

What is distinctive about the AHA decision is the seismic shift it has precipitated in the way historians view their discipline, a shift that will reshape future AHA meetings.  

According to AHA President-elect Jacqueline Jones of the University of Texas (Austin), “a ‘Eureka’ moment occurred as we deliberated the cancellation.  For the most part, our field focuses on the activities of people who are long dead.  Do we really need to come together in person every year to discuss the actions of individuals who can’t be present?  I don’t think so.  Consider the panel that was held at last year’s convention on the impact of the 1789 Women’s March on Versailles on the French Revolution.  None of the women who participated in the march are still alive, so we had no representatives from that group who could speak their truth in the session.  Not even a grandchild or great-grandchild was available.  It was embarrassing!

“And don’t get me started on sessions that address any aspect of the Roman Empire.  Let’s take a quick scan of some of the emperors from that era:

  • Aurelian:   dead
  • Constantine the Great:  deceased
  • Romulus Augustulus:  like, TOTALLY dead
  • Justinian I:   teaspoonful of dust
  • Basil II:   half of one tooth (a molar) remains; otherwise, dust

“You get the picture?  There’s simply no justification for cheek-by-jowl gatherings of historians to pontificate about these guys when Instagram and TikTok are available.  

“We’re not political scientists.  They can go to a convention and at least talk about the living, and maybe even invite some of them to show up.  Who wouldn’t want to see Mitch McConnell and Yale superstar Robert Dahl debate the relevance of post-modernist gun-control legislation to American democracy in the 21st century?  Oops, scratch that.  Dahl died in 2014.  But you see what I’m sayin’, right?”

NOTE:  Beginning with its 2022 conference in New Orleans, the AHA annual meeting will include no academically oriented sessions — paper, panel, or otherwise.  Conference activities, all involving LIVE participants, will include bowling, hot tub karaoke, and beginners’ workshops in Cajun cooking and beignet dusting.  The Job Fair will be held from noon to 12:20 pm on the second day of the convention in the alcove housing the ice and soda machines on the 14th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel.  Please bring a hard copy of your CV, notarized summaries of student evaluations of your courses over the past three years, and a harmonica.  The New Books Exhibit, sponsored by Coursera, will occupy the counter space to the left of the cardboard divider at the Concierge Desk in the Main Lobby.       

In the event the host city is submerged at the end of 2021 due to aggressive glacial melting, the conference will take place at Henderson’s Petting Zoo in Enosburg Falls, Vermont.