Reflections on a First Visit to the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians

OAH exhibit

Katie Lowe, a graduate student in American history at Towson University, is back from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians where she was covering the conference for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  In this conference dispatch, she writes about what it was like to attend her first OAH.  Read all of her OAH dispatches here.

#OAH19 was the first big conference I’ve attended (and my first history conference), so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I came in on Wednesday night to volunteer. I’m happy to report that about half a dozen people can stuff 2000 bags full of AHA swag in less than two hours, while another team prepares conference lanyards. I’m also happy to report that the OAH meeting team, which coordinated the volunteers, are wonderful people, and were quick to resolve any issues.

One of the things that surprised me is how loud the conference could be (and that’s before entering the book exhibit). I know it’s a cliché to think of historians as quiet (until they get into an academic dispute, of course), but I was not prepared for the volume.

I’m not completely sold on the panel format. I would really like to see the field become more accessible and engaging.  For me, this would mean a history conference in which fewer scholars read their papers at the audience. I realize that this would be a pretty big change for historians, but for now I would just appreciate more visuals or printed materials.  It would also be nice if presenters did not sigh upon learning that they have to use a microphone.  As far as the panel format itself, some sessions came together better than others, which I hear is not unusual.

One highlight: RIBBONS! (C’mon, you know you wanted a few).

My top takeaways are:

1) Redcaps are possibly angels.

2) Plan your day.  Know which panels you want to attend.

3) Be prepared to abandon all of your plans.

4) If you are an introvert, figure out where you can hide between sessions.

5) Don’t drink too much coffee!!

Overall, it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to next year.

One thought on “Reflections on a First Visit to the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians

  1. Katie,
    Your comments on the weaknesses of the panel discussion format were good. After all, if a scholar is simply going to read his/her paper, there is little justification for a live session. After all, isn’t learning more properly facilitated by interaction and debate? Furthermore, I would like to believe that the presenters would have enough confidence in their research to speak extemporaneously rather to just read their papers.

    Good insights on your part.


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