What to Pack — And What Not To Pack — For #AHA2014

January 1, 2014, 11:06 am


For some of you it is just New Year’s Day, but for those of us with workshops and panels tomorrow, Day 1 of the American Historical Association Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., it’s travel day. After hemming and hawing about the wisdom of getting up at 4 a.m. tomorrow to catch a shuttle, I capitulated and made plane reservations for late this afternoon. Bad news? Missing a long, leisurely day at home filing the rest of my health care receipts for 2013, finishing up the hardback book that is too heavy to carry, and watching football. Good news? Not being exhausted in my morning workshop, and not worrying that this incoming weather system is going to lock me down in New York so long that I miss my second panel too. (Bonus points for flying in and out of handy Reagan National which is usually clogged with Congressmen and lobbyists.)

Fans of both the Radical and my blogpal Historiann will have to choose this year, as we are positioned opposite each other on Friday Afternoon at 2:30. In addition to the sassy Cowgirl from Colorado, Historiann’s panel on MOOCS will feature Elaine Carey of St. John’s, chair of the Teaching Division; Jonathan Rees of CSU-Pueblo and More or Less Bunk; Coursera prof Philip Zelikow of the University of Virginia; and Princeton’s Jeremy Adelman, who wrote about his experience teaching a MOOC here.

I am pretty sure that my panel, in which yours truly speaks to the digital history content of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Report on the Humanities and Social Sciences report, The Heart of the Matter, will be recorded and posted to the AHA’s YouTube channel. But we’ve got a great lineup too if you want to attend IRL: Anthony Grafton, Princeton University, a member of the committee that produced the report; Susan Griffin, National Council for the Social Studies; James Grossman, American Historical Association; Earl Lewis, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Estevan Rael-Galvez, National Trust for Historic Preservation. Themes I’m looking forward to hearing about? The many references to public private partnerships in the report, most of which suggest that public funds will never again be devoted to education or public culture. Themes I’m looking forward to talking about? The report’s assumption that putting history on the web actually makes it available to a broad public, and the general lack of critical perspective the committee brought to bear on the Internet, and what people need to learn to use it well.

So without further ado, what should you bring to the meeting in Washington?

Pack Your Paper Program — or not! The fun part about the paper program is reading it on the airplane and dog-earing the pages of panels you want to attend.  There are definite advantages to hauling it around, and it isn’t that large. That said, the AHA program app was a big hit last year, and the 2014 version seems even better. It has go-to categories for receptions, announcements, notes and building your own schedule. It breaks up the program by day, but also by affiliated groups and themes.

Pack Your Electronic Devices. I believe that this is the first free Wi-Fi AHA, but since I can’t remember where I heard that, either get tethering from your mobile provider or start doing your thumb exercises just in case. Last year’s #twitterstorians provided a running commentary on the meeting, which included an evening’s worth of tweets from several of us going from bar to bar in the French Quarter.

Interested in becoming a #twitterstorian? I find it’s a great way to take notes and interact with other people at the conference. You might want to go to this Perspectives roundtable (June, 2013) on social media ethics, organized by Vanessa Varin, first. The cheat sheet on tweeting is:

▪   If the person has a Twitter handle, use it.
▪   Always use the conference hash tag: #AHA2014.
▪   I tend to ask if it’s ok to tweet the panel: at digital history panels, this is generally a foregone conclusion.
▪   Be careful about humor.
▪   Tweeting during your own panel is considered by some people to be the professional equivalent of those students who text message and Facebook their way through class.
▪   Don’t assume that because someone is older, or doesn’t know you, that he or she will not see your tweets, blog or Facebook posts. I’ve seen people make this mistake more than once, with awkward consequences.
▪   Write your Twitter handle on your name tag, and consider writing it on a folding card at the podium when you are giving your paper.

Don’t Pack Any Books. At least, nothing beyond something to read on the plane, preferably on a Kindle or magazines you can throw away as soon as you are through with them. Why? First of all, if you are having a good meeting, you will have no time to read. None. You will be talking, laughing, listening, interviewing, watching the NFL wild card games in the bar, greeting old friends, and making new ones. But most important: you will come home with books. The biggest and best history book sale in the world is on Sunday morning, when publishers are selling off everything they would rather not ship home. Throughout the conference, commercial publishers may also be dumping hard-back editions of books that are soon coming out in paper, at rock bottom prices. And if you get sick of the conference and want to roam around? Georgetown is full of terrific used and rare bookshops.

Pack Your boots. While there is no snow predicted for Washington, the weather seems to be going back and forth between wet cold and dry cold. Unlike other cities, the Washington meeting has the advantage of two hotels positioned across the street from each other, but unlike cold weather cities like Minneapolis, there is no indoor bridge between venues. Some of us are still traumatized from 1996, when a snowstorm blanketed every major airport from Georgia to the Canadian border, so I actually never go to AHA without extra socks and underwear.

Don’t Pack Your Bathing Suit. The swimming pools at both the Omni and the Marriott are outside.

Pack Your Business cards. One great feature of the annual meeting is — well, meeting people. Not infrequently, you would like them to remember you, or be able to get in touch about whatever it was that sparked your conversation in the first place. Bring a lot of them and don’t be stingy: every conversation that makes a potential connection should end with “Can I give you my card?” (Note to card recipients: it is polite to take a person’s card whether you want it or not. If you don’t want it, wait until you get back to your room to throw it away.)

Don’t Pack Your Book Proposal. No one wants to carry paper home. But you might want to make sure a copy is accessible on Drop Box, along with a revised chapter and an up to date vita that you can share with editors who express interest. While they won’t read it right away, putting your materials right on someone’s desk top puts you first in line for being read when they get home.

See you there! After my vivid week online with the cantankerous English Literature profession, it will be a great pleasure to see hang out with some historians. Come up and say hello: I’ll be the one wearing a helmet and earplugs.

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