Whither AHA?

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s “Brainstorm” blog, Stan Katz has a thoughtful reflection on the future of the American Historical Association‘s annual meeting. Here is a snippet:

The challenges for the umbrella disciplinary associations (the AHA, the MLA, the APSA and the like) are daunting these days. But the annual meetings are especially daunting. They are too large to constitute a meaningful community, they are too expensive (travel, registration, meals, hotels), they are increasingly marginal to cutting-edge intellectual discourse, they fail to engage senior faculty.

3 thoughts on “Whither AHA?

  1. Interesting thoughts on the size/style of institution and how that might make AHA interviews more or less desirable. While GayProf teaches at a significantly more prestigious university than I do at Baa Ram U., they’re both essentially research universities, so contact with colleagues is really minimal (if you want it to be) outside of faculty meetings. We’re really left to follow our own bliss–something I really enjoy, although since I work with some great people, I wish in some ways that we had more of an opportunity to work together!I hope you had a good time this weekend.

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  2. Historiann: This makes perfect sense to me. My college provides funding for one conference per academic year and I usually choose to spend that money on a more specialized conference. When you add up two or three nights in a hotel room, plane fare, food, etc… a weekend at the AHA can easily add up to $1000. I usually go only when it is in New York, Philly or D.C. since it is within driving distance. This year, for example, I am staying in Jersey with my parents and taking NJ Transit into NYC.As far as interviewing goes, I have mixed feelings. I am sympathetic with you and GayProf on this, but from the perspective of someone who has sat on both sides of the table, I think that the first face to face meeting with a candidate or a committee is important, especially at a small college where one bad hire could ruin a department. From the perspective of the search committee at a small college, the initial contact is important.

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  3. I don’t know anyone who goes to AHA outside of either conducting job interviews, being interviewed for a job, or participating in the professional organization meetings that are held on conference weekends.You and your readers might be interested in a post at GayProf’s place (centerofgravitas.blogspot.com) that (in part) asks why we bother to do convention interviews anyway. If the current economy and fuel prices continue to make travel unrealistic, then I really think the annual AHA meeting may lose its only real raison d’etre: the job market. I’m coming around to GayProf’s position, which is that departments would still save lots of time and money by bringing 4 candidates straight to campus, rather than fooling around with the screening interviews at AHA. (If your departments really love those screening interviews, you can do them by phone or webcam now.)In my experience, it’s rare that the top candidates going into the convention don’t come out on top after the interviews. Occasionally someone who was back-of-the-pack vaults to the top, and someone who seemed really great slips down a notch, but that could probably be ascertained in a phone or videoconference interview.So, wither AHA, indeed? Candian history departments do just fine without screening interviews in January, and most other discplines in U.S. colleges do without them entirely. So why are we all spending so much time and money (in January!) to travel to one Northern city to participate in this antiquated ritual?

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