Last January I ventured out in faith and hope to the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Boston. It was not my first history convention, but it was my first AHA. I was excited to get out of Lincoln to the big deal. I had long-planned my trip, actually for several years. I eagerly expected to shop my C.V. and find a job since I also had planned to have my dissertation finished. By the time the AHA rolled around, I was still in the middle of my diss. I had hoped to have some job interviews lined up, but nothing. Since I had already purchased my plane ticket and planned to go, I decided to follow through. I had booked a room with a fellow grad student who had just completed his PhD the previous spring. He had interviews.
Perusing the conference schedule, I noted the sessions that interested me. There were not many. Few dealt with American history. Fewer dealt with Digital History or teaching success or innovation. Many just were not interesting at all.
I did like the setting. I liked Boston. It was great to be on the East Coast for the first time. I liked the conference space and the sense of activity associated with a huge conference.
I could not manage the sinking feeling of lost money and time. I felt that I would have gotten more out of staying at home and writing or planning for class. I did not come away inspired or hopeful for my profession. I got the feeling that few people there were interested in what I was interested in and that without a PhD there was no purpose in attending the AHA.
The American Historical Association provides great resources for its members. I find the journal interesting. Perspectives gives a revealing look at the state of the field. The annual conference does not provide inspiration or encouragement like other smaller conferences do. The Western Historical Association’s annual meetings have been very inspiring and provide networking opportunities – something the AHA’s size limits, at least for junior scholars.
That said, after reading about the experiences this year at Chicago, I wish I had gone. Many people from my department attended and have come away inspired and motivated to do more. Attending with peers from your field or department improve the isolating experience of a huge conference. I can’t wait to find the right series of circumstances – especially finishing my Ph.D. – to justify attending again.