There are a lot of potential conversation partners at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. I had some great chats today with friends and fellow historians.
After attending a great session on religious geography in early America (I am hoping the good folks at Process blog will Storify the session. If not, I will eventually do it), I had hoped to attend and live-tweet Paul Krugman’s plenary address on the uses of history in public debate. But when I arrived at the room it was already packed. I wanted to see Krugman, but I can’t tweet unless I am seated with my laptop. So I took another lap around the book exhibit and eventually read the twitter feed.
As I left the exhibit to head back to my room I was tempted by the amazing candy and fudge stand in the lobby. It was here that I met Joe, the hotel staff member who was working at the stand.
Joe asked me what area of history I studied. When I told him that I was a historian of early America who writes a lot about religion, Joe’s eyes widened. We spent the next 30 minutes talking about American evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Finney. (And he sold me a white chocolate peanut-butter cup). Joe was reading a book that offered a critique of the new atheism, so we talked about that. It turns out that Joe attends a local Assemblies of God congregation in Providence and was really interested in American religious history. He had a lot of questions and I did my best to answer them. I also learned a lot about his personal story. We had similar backgrounds.
Joe was really interested in learning more about Butler’s plenary address (tomorrow night) on the religious history of modern New York City. He said that he was not working that night and might be interested in coming, but he worried that he would not be allowed to attend. I told him to come anyway. I hope that was OK.
If we are serious about reaching public audiences with good history, we need to be having more conversations with people like Joe.