#AHA2013 Wrap-Up: Things You Won’t Read Anywhere Else

January 7, 2013, 11:48 am

Oysters, please. And then deep fried oysters for the main course.

I can think of a number of good reasons to have a conference in New Orleans. At the top of the list is the excellent, moderately priced food, served at relatively uncrowded restaurants a stone’s throw from the hotel. For the three full days I was at the American Historical Association Annual Meeting I did not have one bad meal (although I was with someone who did.) Furthermore, there are a couple of landmark places that seem to draw the tourist trade (such as the famous Acme Oyster House), leaving equally great places like Desire and Felix’s open to the rest of us. At Felix’s (where I had gone for a little alone time Saturday night because I felt conferenced out) they open the oysters and smack ‘em right down on the bar in front of you. And they keep right on opening them until you’re done.

Yours truly found a pearl, said by the oyster-opener to be a rather large one and worth polishing and setting, although it is so small that I originally thought it was a chunk of molar. Word spread quickly, and complete strangers took pictures of said pearl with their iPhones. Life only got better later in the evening when, revived by raw shellfish and boudin, I located a bar with a good cover band and plopped myself down.

If you were there, I was the one with the Kindle.

I whiled away a few hours watching (among other assorted wimminz of all ages) sorority girls from Baylor dance with each other. Some had multi-colored fluffy Viking hats on, and one had little blinky purple cat ears. Another group of girls, dressed in evening gowns, had faux yellow crime scene tape on that said; “Danger! Bachelorette party!” Occasionally the wimminz would scream ecstatically, usually when the tight-pants emcee stopped dead still and made his basket tremble at eye level. “Take a picture and Facebook it!” he would call out.

I have never seen this trick before, in my life, and it was worth the price of admission (which was free, or twenty dollars if you count the two for one beer that I bought because it seemed like the right thing to do and the ten dollar tip for the band.) As I said in one of my Tweets, it was like being in a gay bar except with straight people.

You can go here for the American Historical Association’s “Name That Drink” contest, and here for the original posting of AHA Bingo.

Other conference highlights:

It seemed big, but not that big. No, no: get your dirty mind off the emcee. According to a tweet from AHA Deputy Director Rob Townsend, there were 4,300 people registered for the meeting, which is, as he pointed out, “Terrific for one of the smaller cities in rotation.” I’ll say. Surprisingly, for all those people, there were only 4,486 tweets, and 3,815 unique tweets. Michael Regoli has archived all of our tweets here. John Fea (whose conference roundup, backed up by his blogging team, begins here) was the top tweeter with 335.  @amwhisnant was second with 315, and I came in at #7 with 147.  Tweeting was briefly interrupted on Sunday because one of the hotels caught fire, possibly lit by a determined John Fea who may have had his heart set on being the Twitter King.

It was long, but not that long. I am referring, of course, to Bill Cronon’s presidential address, “Storytelling” (see the HNN video here.) Cronon’s speech was a well-planned culmination to several days of discussion, in multiple panels and in various meetings, about how historians communicate, both with each other and to a larger public.  This conversation began on Thursday night at the Presidential plenary, where yours truly was the resident “power blogger” (see the New York Times‘ account of the evening’s conversation here. Yes, my name is misspelled, but there is no such thing as bad publicity.)

There were terrific exchanges about about Bill’s address afterwards in less formal locations, and I am looking forward to seeing it in print.

Smaller can also be good. Saturday I went to the Business Meeting, which I dropped into because the last time I went to one the Yale TA’s were on strike and I wanted to know what a normal AHA business meeting looked like. Just as I got there, Patricia Nelson Limerick ended her Teaching Division report by reciting limericks. The delightfully acerbic John McNeil, Vice President of the Research Division, followed up by observing that in contrast to Patty’s limericks, in the future we may describe epic presidential addresses as “Cronon-length.”

Get a room, why dontcha? The Cold from Hell was spreading fast. It was one of those wet colds that some of you are probably just starting to come down with now.  I kept urging people to go take a nap, which really meant: “I am afraid of you, despite the fact that I am eating Vitamin C like Pez, not touching anything you are near and washing my hands every 45 minutes or so.” I mean, I was genuinely concerned, but I have to tell you: you guys would have been sent back at Ellis Island, you were so sick.

In the movie about #AHA2013, Executive Director James Grossman will be played by Mandy Patinkin and I will be played by a butched-up Claire Danes. I’ve really wanted to say that since I had this idea in the Business Meeting.

The thing most frequently said in my presence: “How do you find time to write that blog?” It’s a really good question, but I have no idea, to tell you the truth. I should probably be doing something else right now instead of blogging.

Most cool internet fun: Getting the Twitter action from #mla2013 while Tweeting from #aha2013. At one point I tweeted something and got an answer back from Flavia up in chilly Boston (whose most recent post, on stressed-out students, is really interesting, as are the comments.)  This revives my interest in doing joint sessions between the two conferences via web feed. It seems that two fields that have so much in common intellectually, and so much at stake politically, ought to be in dialogue when their annual meetings are simultaneous. I realize that the historians have a lot of wardrobe anxiety when it comes to meeting the lit crit types en masse, but we need to overcome false divisions, perhaps doing so by using Google+ Hangout from the neck up.

Either stop mocking ourselves for how we dress, or dress better.  Furthermore, I have an institutional solution: create a Committee on Wardrobe at the AHA Washington headquarters, co-chaired by Jim Downs and Stephanie Gilmore, both of whom have finished wonderful first books  (here and here) and thus have the time, as well as the skill, to attend to the rest of us.

Forget the cleverness here. Because it would be bound to offend,  given the gravity of this final section. We were all saddened to learn of pioneer women’s historian Gerda Lerner’s death last Wednesday, on the eve of the conference, and at the age of 92 (the New York Times obituary is here.) As an aside, does anyone but me remember that Roy Rosenzweig died, also after a long battle with cancer, on the first day of the American Studies Association conference in 2007? Although they were very different people, it seems an unintentional kindness to the many friends and students you have collected over the years to cross the river at a time when it is likely that many of them will be together.

I captured one of the many tributes to Lerner on my iPhone at the CCWH/CLGBTH/Berkshire Conference reception, but am not putting it up yet as the resolution is awful and I had no permission from the speakers to make it in the first place.  But a few snippets:

  • From Eileen Boris, UCSB: “From the very beginning, [Lerner] talked about class, she talked about race.” Her documentary collection, Black Women in White America (Vintage, 1992) “was one of those books that was so generative.” Lerner, Boris noted “played an incredibly institutional role” in “bringing people together. She was the mentor, and the advisor, and educated a generation of students.”
  • Leisa Meyer, College of William and Mary, and a former Lerner graduate student at Wisconsin: reminding us that Lerner had been struggling with cancer for some time, Meyer confessed, “I think none of us thought she would ever die. She was such a presence, an incredible presence, always, and not just as an intellect but as a mentor.” Addressing Lerner’s famously strong personality, Meyer noted that “She was a fighter, her whole life.” A legendarily tough taskmaster, Gerda Lerner “always had your back, and was always supportive. She was someone who was always learning, she wanted to learn, she wanted to change how she was thinking about things.” Initially skeptical about lesbian history and the history of sexuality, and of the opinion that these fields were a poor career move, Meyer recalled, Lerner allowed herself to be educated by her students: “she was always someone who was willing to think about something different. But the most extraordinary thing about Gerda was that she had a mission that she believed in: that the way we could bring women’s history to a large group of people…was to start at the ground level. And so all of her her graduate students, from the first day we got there…worked together with the K-12 teachers, with the elementary schools, with the junior high, and with the high schools to create a women’s history class. And that was part of the women’s history program at Wisconsin: teaching women’s history from the ground up.”

What did I miss? Let’s put it in the comments section. FYI: The new comments policy is in effect for the New Year, and will soon be added to the sidebar. Unfettered democracy has not been a success at Tenured Radical.  There will be no purely personal attacks, no using the comments section to tease someone else relentlessly, and no derailing the comments thread into personal hobbyhorses. Violators will be dealt with politely and swiftly. Too many people at AHA told me that they were avid readers, but never commented, because the atmosphere in the comments section is so ugly. Let’s make it a group project in 2013 to change that.

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