The first day of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association is in the books.
I usually don’t do much on the first afternoon of the AHA meeting apart from getting settled-in. I arrived in Atlanta around 3:30pm, checked into my hotel, registered for the conference, and had a couple of meetings. The book exhibit does not open until Friday. I was hoping it would be open Thursday afternoon because I need to buy the book of a historian we are interviewing early next week for The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast. (Episode 0 now available on ITunes. Episode 1 will drop next week!).
I did not swing into action until the opening plenary session. My dinner meeting went late, so I did not get a chance to see Kevin Wagner of Carlisle High School win the Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for K-12 teachers. Kevin is a graduate of Messiah College and has done some adjunct teaching in our History Department. He is a gifted teacher who has been winning award after award of late, including the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History “Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.”
The opening plenary session–“The Confederacy, Its Symbols, and the Politics of Public Culture“–was stimulating, but not as controversial as it could have been. The general public was invited to this session, but academics dominated much of the conversation, its framing, and the Q&A sessions. The scholars on the panel did a great job (read my Storify for details), but some of us were expecting a bit more public engagement. I probably set my expectations too high for this session.
Much of the discussion in the plenary focused on what to do with symbols of the Confederacy in the wake of the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. W. Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina suggested that we need to develop a “hierarchy of Confederate monuments so that we know which ones to get rid of, which ones to move, and which ones to keep for the purposes of history education. Jane Turner Censer of George Mason University proposed moving them to cemeteries (where late 19th-century women’s groups in the South first began to care for the legacy of the Confederacy) or museums.
Late last night I learned that Rick Shenkman, the editor and founder of the History News Network, is not at the conference this year. Rick or one of his staff is always a fixture at the AHA. HNN has done a great job over the years of linking to conference bloggers, posting video of sessions, interviewing presenters, and publishing daily wrap-ups. Rick shot me an e-mail late last night to tell me that George Mason University has stopped funding HNN and until he finds a new source of funding he will have to put his HNN visits on hold. In addition, Rick is on the road right now promoting his new book Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics. Congrats!
I got back to the hotel to watch some of the Obama-CNN town-hall meeting on gun control. His proposals seemed modest and sensible, but when I watched the CNN commentary following the event I realized just how divided–sometimes foolishly–we are on this issue.
Stay right here for what I think will be a big day at the AHA.