Embedded At The American Historical Association

January 8, 2011, 4:02 pm

History flash mob at Au Bon Pain, 8:45 AM

Dateline Boston. Perhaps the most frequently asked question I heard yesterday at Day Two of the American Historical Association Meeting was “What am I doing here?” I don’t know what the attendance figures are, but despite the lousy job market and reduced conference budgets, the Hynes Convention center and the bars at the three conference hotels are jammed.

What is peculiar here is that in order to get from place to place a historian has to navigate miles of passageways filled with upscale shops. Yes, history fans: we can honestly say that this is the first time in the Radical’s memory that an AHA has been held in a shopping mall. It isn’t quite as disorienting as the year the OAH was held in a casino but it is right up there.

One theory as to why they have held the meeting in a mall is the incessant sartorial comparisons with MLA. My suggestion for next year? Make personal shoppers available to guide historians to appropriate stores.

The good news is that everything is on sale. The bad news is that because it is a hermetically sealed environment, everything is overheated and dry: moisturizer, chapstick and a water bottle are items as essential to scholars this weekend as they are to the beachcomber. Aside from the inconvenience of not being able to roll from the bar to an elevator and from there to bed, this is a good year not to be staying in the conference hotel. During a fire alarm a few minutes ago, when convention staff insisted that the book exhibit be evacuated into the all, I chatted with one person who claimed not to have gone outside at all in the last 48 hours, which is entirely possible to do without intending it.

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