This is my first day at my new job. I won’t bore you with it because I can’t. I’m not there yet. I’m blogging from the train going into Metropolis, connected to the Interwebz via Bluetooth (that extra $5 a month from AT&T is worth it. Trust me.) Therefore, I don’t know anything about my first day yet, except that I am going to have a set of very important tasks.
The first will be to find my classroom, which is how I came up with this title. This gives me the opportunity to point out that I am semi-shamelessly ripping off Jack Halberstam’s funny piece on Dude, Where’s My Car? This then gives me the opportunity to say that you should read Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure (Duke University Press, 2011). I downloaded it on Kindle last week. Which, in turn, gives me the chance to say, “F^ck you people who think eBooks are the end of the world! How else could I have purchased and started reading this outstanding scholarly text at 1:00 in the morning because I was so nervous about my new job I couldn’t sleep, and through this insta-purchase, gain a new perspective on my entire life?“
The other new kid this month is William “Bill” Cronon, of the University of Wisconsin, who is now the president of the American Historical Association. By contrast, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin whose surrogates tried to bash Cronon, may soon be governor of nothing in retaliation for this, and other, misdeeds. The following scenario would be very cool:
Professors 1, Right Wing Zealots 0. Try us again, why don’t you? Huh? As the Cowardly Lion said, “Put ‘em uuuuup! Put ‘em uuuuup!”
Cronon has begun his presidency with a nice piece in Perspectives about history and the digital revolution that says, very politely, that even if you don’t dig the digital, it is changing your world. The question of what role a professional association has in facilitating these changes is interesting: I often feel as though there is more going on at the professional fringe than in the center on this topic. An excellent piece like this has told me nothing that I don’t already know, and my guess is that historians younger than I wouldn’t read it at all. Which means that one of the changes I would urge on the AHA is to get out in front. Right now you are reporting on what has already happened, which is okay, but to become really relevant, you need to speak to the younger set too.
This leads me to my closing topic: the relevance of professional association memberships, which Jim Grossman addresses here. Everyone from the newest graduate student to the fullest professor should read it, especially if you are not a member of the AHA. It is particularly good at revealing the hidden benefits of the AHA: as with taxes, you don’t just pay for goods and services you choose, you support the structure. In a town this means roads, snow clearance, the fire department. For historians, this means everything from preventing Congress from passing bills that impede our work to running an annual meeting where we socialize, hire people and share scholarship.
I think I have been a member of the AHA without a lapse of more than a few months since I was in graduate school, and have never regretted it even though it isn’t the place where I feel coolest or most fulfilled. Had I taken out a bank loan for a life membership in 1985, it would have long paid out by now. But let me also say, speaking as a dedicated joiner of all professional associations related to my field, belonging to the AHA is an act of faith that is not always fulfilled . At my salary, it costs over $200 a year, which in practical terms may work out a little better for me than for other people because of my blogging practice. I need access to everything published on the web that I can get my virtual mitts on. I also believe everything I said above.
But — are y’all listening out there? Here’s my best idea for updating the organization.
Develop an app for the American Historical Review. Create hyperlinks in the digital version so we can go straight to the book reviews we want to read, rather than having to page through the many others that are interesting to other people. Then (this is my best idea) create a time-limited offer: anyone who buys a life membership in the organization can get one that has been pro-rated for the number of years between that person’s current age and 67, discounted 10% with an agreement to only receive the AHR in digital version for the rest of one;s life!
If I were running this promotion, I would also throw in a cool tee-shirt (not a another tote bag, Jim, I agree) that said something like: ”I went to the AHA this year and all I got was the AHR app.”
Why is this a good idea? Because the organization would be coming up to speed technologically; it would save money (and trees) on all the journals not printed and mailed; it would save money and time not reminding people like me to renew every year; it would get a huge infusion of cash from people like me who are really too old to benefit from the life membership deal; and, through selling life memberships to people younger than me, cement a group of people to the organization who would energize it (particularly on things digital) from below.