Paul Bartow Checks-In With A Few Session Reviews From AHA 2016

FreemasonPaul Bartow is back with another post as Day 2 of the AHA conference comes to a close.  See his previous posts here.–JF

After a great start to the AHA Conference yesterday, I was looking forward to day two. I attended the following sessions today: “Freemasonry: The World’s First Global Social Network,” “American Society of Church History Luncheon Honoring the Career and Contributions of Mark Noll,” and “The New Tools of the Trade: How You Can and Why You Should Become a Documentary Filmmaker or Digital Historian.”

The day yielded mediocre results in my opinion, but it was salvaged by the Exhibit Alley at 5:00 PM – a reception that included discounted book sales and complimentary wine, presumably to facilitate the uninhibited purchase of books.

The first session on Freemasonry was very informative. Coming in, I already had a fair understanding of the concept of Ancient versus Modern Freemasonry, which turned out to form the crux of the session’s discussion. I was very interested in papers on Freemason lodges outside of Britain and the United States. I had no idea that the French, who hate everything English, would have Freemason lodges, and the Germans were a pleasant surprise as well. Hans Schwartz, a PhD candidate at Clark University, seemed extremely knowledgeable even when asked what appeared to be a “designed-to-stump-you” question about Freemasonry in Latin America. Furthermore, I really appreciated how they emphasized the point that Freemasonry allowed influential, well-placed, and ambitious men to make business and professional connections across the Atlantic and within European nations. Grand lodge registers or almanacs were compiled with the meeting dates, places, tavern insignias, and other helpful information to allow visiting masons to make connections with their brethren spanning many nations. Perhaps the creators of LinkedIn should take note.

The luncheon honoring Mark Noll was obviously more ceremonial than informational. It was an honor to see Dr. Noll again, a scholar who has made pioneering contributions to Christian religious history in North America and Canada. While I was an undergraduate student at Wheaton College Noll had a peculiar but well-deserved cult following. The man’s integrity, humility, and pleasant demeanor coupled with his profound ability for historical scholarship is something rarely seen in the profession today. He will retire from the faculty of the University of Notre Dame at the end of this academic year. His scholarship will be dearly missed.

I was particularly looking forward to the session on documentary filmmaking. In my early college career at Waubonsee Community College, Ken Burns’s documentaries inspired me to declare a history major. His features on the Civil War, Lewis & Clark, and Thomas Jefferson were particularly compelling. I studied history in college but was never presented with options or training regarding how to become a historical documentary film maker. The title of the session, “The New Tools of the Trade: How You Can and Why You Should Become a Documentary Filmmaker or Digital Historian” seemed to promise insights into how to begin a career in the profession. After the first half hour, however, it became clear that two different schools were presenting their findings and syllabi on how they incorporated their first attempts at documentary and digital media courses at their institutions. This was not what the title led me to believe, and this was the biggest disappointment of the day. Although the panel presented great insights into how to implement documentary and digital media into college courses, perhaps they should have re-titled their session.

Tomorrow promises some great panels, and I look forward to writing about my experiences here at the AHA Conference in Atlanta!