Still Looking for AHA Correspondents for Washington D.C.

Once again, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from this year’s (January 2014) American Historical Association Meeting in Washington D.C.

I am looking for readers who are going to the conference and might be interested in serving as “correspondents.” I can’t pay anything, but I can promise the fame associated with your words and by-line appearing on this blog!

What am I looking for out of these reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

As for your identity, we can go one of two ways. You can identify yourself and we can introduce you with a little bio about you and your work. Or you can remain anonymous and write under a pseudonym. The choice is up to you.

Check out some of the work of our previous correspondents: 

Erin Bartram
Mary Sanders
Wolfe’s Tone

Also check out Adam Parsons’s dispatches from the American Academy of Religion annual meeting

If interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu  


I will be in Washington for the conference and hope to set up a time when I can treat all of our correspondents to a good cup of coffee.

What Should Undergraduate History Majors Be Able To Do?

The American Historical Association’s Tuning Project has made a renewed effort to “describe the skill, knowledge, and habits of mind that students develop in history courses and degree courses.”  You can read the full report here.

All history students should be able to:

1.  Engage in historical inquiry, research, and analysis. 

2.  Practice historical empathy. 

3.  Understand the complex nature of the historical record

4.  Generate significant, open-ended questions about the past and devise research strategies to answer them

5. Craft historical narrative and argument

6. Practice historical thinking as central to engaged citizenship

Read the entire report in order to see how the members of the Tuning Project have elaborated further on these six points.  The report also offers “sample tasks for demonstrating competencies.”

This is a very useful document for anyone who teaches history and/or  is responsible for a history curriculum.  I am sure I will refer to this over and over again as I teach, prepare my courses, and discuss curriculum with the faculty in my department.

AHA Career Fair

I love this idea.  The American Historical Association is planning a career fair for students and job candidates in history.  Yesterday they put out a call for professionals who use their training in history in their jobs.  Here is the announcement:

Were you trained in history and use that training in your job?  Do you work in business, education, nonprofits, government, archives, libraries, publishing, or another area?  If you’ll be in Washington, DC, om the afternoon of January 4, please come to the Marriott Wardman Park and share your experiences with students and job candidates who are attending the AHA annual meeting.

We’re looking for people willing to volunteer anytime between 1-5pm on January 4.  You can find a sign-up form on the AHA website.  Mentors will be stationed at tables where students and job candidates can browse.  Feel free to bring literature about your field or employer, but there won’t be room for extensive displays.  Help expand the horizons for history majors, and let them know about all the myriad options for them to use their skills and knowledge!

The AHA jobs website notes that “Mentors have already signed up from independent schools, community colleges, historical societies, government and publishing.”


The AHA Has a New Look

Check out the new website of the American Historical Association.  Vanessa Varin describes the new look at AHA Today Blog.  Here is a taste:

…Last week we launched the most comprehensive redesign the Association has undertaken, featuring a new homepage, navigation, a new comment application, a mobile friendly design, plus a ton of other cool new stuff.  The site will continue to evolve and grow as we roll out future phases of development, but for now we wanted to provide a brief overview of some of the most interesting upgrades…

AHA 2014 Correspondents Wanted for The Way of Improvement Leads Home

Once again, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from this year’s (January 2014) American Historical Association Meeting in Washington D.C.

I am looking for readers who are going to the conference and might be interested in serving as “correspondents.” I can’t pay anything, but I can promise the fame associated with your words and by-line appearing on this blog! 

What am I looking for out of these reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

As for your identity, we can go one of two ways. You can identify yourself and we can introduce you with a little bio about you and your work. Or you can remain anonymous and write under a pseudonym. The choice is up to you.


Check out some of the work of our previous correspondents: 

Erin Bartram
Mary Sanders
Wolfe’s Tone

If interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu

Historiann on Conference Themes

The theme of the 2014 annual meeting of the American Historical Association is “Disagreement, Debate, Discussion.”  The theme of the 2014 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians is “Crossing Borders.”  What do these conference themes mean?  Are they useful?  Historiann weighs in:

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about conference themes, specifically organizing themes for some of the really big conferences like the AHA, the OAH, the Berks, etc., as opposed to smaller conferences focused on more specific subfields. He wondered why historians bother with coming up with themes, when the themes tend to be so broad that pretty much anyone with a brain can figure out a way of making their research fit the chosen theme, which ends up making the conference about everything and no specific theme in the end

As is the case with all of Historiann’s posts, the comments are worth reading.

The Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History

The program for the Winter Meeting of the ASCH is out and it abounds with interesting and provocative sessions.  I wish I could go to them all.  I am looking forward to joining Anna Lawrence, Christopher Jones, Katherine Carte Engel, and Mark Peterson on a session entitled “Fracturing a Global Empire: Religion and Place in the American Revolution.”  I will be sharing some work in progress on my project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.

Other sessions that caught my eye:
  • A session evangelical book culture featuring Catherine Brekus, Jonathan Yeager, Keith Grant, and Daniel Vaca
  • A session on David Bebbington’s so-called “Evangelical Quadrilateral” featuring Timothy Larsen, Kelly Elliott, Thomas Kidd, Amanda Porterfield, and Bebbington himself
  • A session liberal religion in America featuring Lydia Willsky, Matthew Bowman, Elesha Coffman, and Matthew Hedstrom
  • A session on war featuring Darryl Hart, Benjamin Wetzel, Cara Burnidge, Paul Kemeny, and Richard Gamble
  • A session on Amanda Porterfield’s Conceived in Doubt featuring Katherine Carte Engel, Michael Altman, James Byrd, Kathryn Gin Lum, and Mark Noll
  • A session Indian missions in the early republic featuring Linford Fisher, Brian Franklin, Nicholas Aieta, and Joshua Rice
  • A session on Pentecostals featuring Kate Bowler, Christopher Kinder, Susie Butler, and Jonathan Root
  • A session on religion and the American Civil War featuring Mark Noll, Harry Stout, Allen Guelzo, James McPherson, George Rable, and Laurie Maffly-Kipp
  •  A session on Catholicism and the politics of life featuring Leslie Tenter, Daniel Williams, Raymond Haberski, and Marian Mollin
This should be a great conference.  Unfortunately I have other responsibilities that will keep me away from all of these sessions, but I hope to make as many as possible.

AHA Seeking New Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives

The American Historical Association is seeking a Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives. The Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives will oversee the AHA’s communications with members and other constituencies. This includes print and digital publishing, web design, information management, and membership – all part of a strategy to enable the American Historical Association’s programs and activities to take maximum advantage of the new digital environments in which historians work. The AHA seeks a scholar with the skills and vision to help lead the development of the AHA as the nation’s most important hub for the work of professional historians in the 21st century.
Key responsibilities include:

  • Play leadership role for team developing new research, communication, networking, job market, and other professional tools for historians via a full-service AHA digital environment
  • Oversee all communication relating to AHA membership activities, and AHA digital and print publications (not including American Historical Review)
  • Supervise (directly or indirectly) seven staff members
  • Serve as liaison to the business operations of the American Historical Review
  • Oversee AHA relationships with publishers
  • Provide expertise on issues relating to scholarly publishing
  • Coordinate the efforts of the AHA’s governing Council and standing committees, including working
    with the Executive Director to organize Council activities
  • Oversee all information technology purchases, maintenance, and staffing/consultant support
  • Represent the Association in meetings and activities relevant to areas of responsibility

For additional details on the position, and how to submit an application, see the complete description of the position.

Navigating the Academic Job Market

Eunice Williams (a pseudonym, but I am imagining she might be an early Americanist who knows the story of the Williams family as portrayed in John Demos’s masterful The Unredeemed Captive) shares her experience on the academic job market at this year’s AHA conference.  Here are a few things she has learned:

1.  Do not schedule interviews on the day you are presenting on a panel.

2.  The AHA conference requires willpower–“the will to get off the bed and out of your hotel room even when you’re exhausted, to motivate yourself to be ‘on’ for each of your interviews, to repeat your research points and teaching philosophy using concrete examples, and to juggle the names of departmental research colloquiums and faculty members just long enough to get through the interview….”

3.  Plan your meals.  Interviewees need proper sustenance.

4.  Reward yourself after a day of interviews.

For a full treatment of these points check out Eunice’s entire piece.

Robert Townsend on the State of the Historical Enterprise

One of the books I hope to read this year is Robert Townsend’s History’s Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880-1940 (University of Chicago Press).  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Townsend, he is the deputy director of the American Historical Association.  He is also the guy who writes all of those reports on the state of the profession and the history job market.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Serena Golden asks Townsend a few questions about his new book.  Here is a taste of that interview:

Q: What does it mean to say that “[f]ollowing World War II, the historical enterprise was irrevocably broken”? What was the cause, and what were the results?

A: In the late 19th and early 20th century, leaders of the discipline engaged quite broadly with the various activities of history, taking a direct part in the development of professional and content standards for the schools and the gathering of historical materials. At the same time, high school teachers, leaders of historical societies, and librarians could all rise to prominent positions within the AHA. By the 1940s, however, the various spheres of historical activity had broken off into separate spheres, each with their own distinct professional structures and idioms, leaving the AHA as the province of self-defined “research men.”

The net result is not entirely negative, as the professionalization of most aspects of history led to significant improvements in the way history is taught and historical records are maintained and made available to the public. Nevertheless, the differences often generate friction across the various areas of history work when we could potentially work collaboratively. As a result, the academics are often viewed as an object of scorn for many who perceive themselves as excluded, and academics find they have little standing to intervene in questions that closely affect the public’s window into the discipline, such as teaching of history at the K-12 level and the presentation of history in a variety of cultural institutions.

Q: “It is too late to try to reconstruct a historical enterprise, but there is still time to bring the sundered pieces back together in more active conversation and collaboration with each other.” What might that entail?

A: The book developed out of an effort to explain why and how the professional divisions built up over many decades, which can make it so difficult to come together in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect to address growing challenges to our role in public life and the financial resources necessary for that work. While those in the academic wing of the history discipline can bring substantial content knowledge to the table, they often seem to forget that their potential collaborators bring a significant amount of training and wisdom about their areas of work. As a result, I’ve been involved in a number of projects that foundered on the academics’ failure to appreciate others professional expertise, and a purist view of the way knowledge about their subject should be shaped and delivered. When these sorts of projects work well, the academics and other history professionals work with a clear understanding about the limits of our respective areas of expertise, and a willingness to work through differences about the way a particular piece of historical information may need to be organized or even simplified for different constituencies and audiences. To try to open a better foundation for that kind of discussion, I tried to show how the refinement of particular areas of expertise benefited the discipline, but also made it increasingly difficult to speak across professional lines.

Why We Need More Than Just STEM

Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address was steeped in American history, but when he talked about education he focused entirely on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.  The folks at the American Historical Association have noticed this discrepancy.  Jim Grossman, the executive director of the AHA, pointed it out in a recent blog post.  Today Kenneth Pomeranz, the current AHA president, has also brought it to our attention in a piece at Inside Higher Ed.

When I heard Obama reference Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall last week, I wondered how many Americans knew what he was talking about.  How many future presidents (or their speech writers) will be able to use American history to move the nation to action?

Pomeranz makes a pretty good argument for the usefulness of historical research as a complement to STEM fields.  History underlies public debate and it shows us that many of the ideas that inform our public life are actually quite “new.”  Here is a taste of his piece:

It hardly seems a stretch to think that a world facing our current challenges might benefit from awareness of other ways that people have thought about the relationship of work, citizenship, adult status, “independence” and dignity, or about consumption, economic growth, leisure and the nature of progress. Or to take some narrower examples, consider the implications of learning how relatively recently life insurance went from seeming like a morally dubious gambling on death to a taken-for-granted tool for managing risk. Or that, while (as Thomas Ricks noted in a recent Atlantic) almost no U.S. generals were removed from their commands for poor performance during Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, many were so removed during World War II – suggesting that the recent situation does not represent an inevitable feature of government, much less of hierarchy generally. Historical knowledge of this kind does not provide lessons as straightforward as “deficit spending can work,” but it can add significantly to our understandings of what is possible, for better or worse, and how things may become, or cease to be, unthinkable.
Research that produces these results, both testing earlier certainties and responding to new questions , thus seems a useful, even necessary complement to research in the STEM fields. Fortunately, most historical research is also relatively cheap, but it does not thrive on complete neglect.

Cebula on Reading Conference Papers

Check out Larry Cebula’s hilarious take on those scholars who read papers at history conferences.  At taste:

I am so excited to be at Big Annual Conference in my discipline! And now here I am at Session With Very Interesting Title. I have read books and articles by these women and men, so to have them all sitting together is a buffet of scholarly brilliance. And now the woman who is doing research on the very thing I am most interested in is about to give her presentation. This is going to be great!
Wait. Why does she have all those papers? No need to panic. Most likely those are handouts, or at worst some notes. She wrote Really Awesome Book That Changed the Field, so she knows what she is doing. There, she is beginning. …

Oh, God, no. She is looking straight down and reading from her paper. I spent 10 hours on airplanes and all my professional-development money for this? Maybe she is just reading the introduction before she shifts to a more conversational presentation? … No, she is forging into the second paragraph, reading the words out loud.

Why is she doing this? Surely she does not teach her courses this way, or write out her conversations with her family in advance. Maybe she does not know that we can read, and she thinks she needs to read out loud to us? That doesn’t seem likely. Maybe she is on prescription medication of some kind. She does look a bit under the weather.

Trying to pay attention. Time has slowed to a crawl. I’ll bet I can finish this sentence for her in my head. Ha, I was right. And again. OK, this game is getting old.

I would take out my phone and check Facebook if I weren’t sitting in the front row. What if I hid my phone behind the conference program? Would anyone notice? It’s not like she is looking up. Maybe some of my friends are at the beach or something. …

Whoa—I just missed a long section. She was talking about the Jesuit mission and now she is on to the territorial government. Was the passage just descriptive, I wonder, or was there some new research? Oh, well, her new book will be out next year, and I will read it then. Because I can. Read, I mean. I think I just missed another bit while I was trying to figure out the first bit I missed.

That is a nice suit jacket the session chair has on. I should get one like that. It would go with my blue shirts and also with my green tie. Good cut, too. I need to pay more attention to that sort of thing. Are two-button jackets back in style? I wonder what the chair is thinking—he looks like a wax statue up there. They all do. My butt hurts.

Read the rest here. And then read Cebula’s blog post on the article here. 

In case anyone is interested, you can read my very brief take on the whole question, written in response to Cebula and others trying to ban the reading of papers at the recent meeting of the AHA.

"Clio’s Craft" Video

Clio’s Craft” was one of my favorite panels at last weekend’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New Orleans.  It included some big name historians talking about narrative, storytelling, and historical writing.  I tweeted the session and storified the tweets here, but now you can watch the entire session on your own.

Do You Buy Books at Conventions?

Brian Croxall asks this question today over at Profhacker.  Here is a taste:

As Jason and I wandered around the MLA’s book exhibit on Saturday, we not only took in the amazing demonstration of the ChronoZoom beta by Microsoft Research but also shared something like the following conversation. (Names have been altered for anonymity’s sake.)

Brendan: Do you ever buy book at conventions?
 
Jared: Yeah, sometimes.
 
Brendan: I’m always torn. There are so many that look interesting. But I can get almost all of them cheaper on Amazon.
 
Jared: Yeah. But you’re directly supporting the publisher in this way.
 
Brendan: I know. But I’m poor.
 
Jared: So are your friends who wrote them. It’s important to support our colleagues, as well as presses who publish interesting academic work.
 
Brendan: Okay. But, I work in a library, so I can the librarians buy any—or all—of these books. So I can have what I want for free and for as long as I want, most of the time.
 
Jared: Good point. But you can’t write in them.
 
Brendan: Sometimes I do anyway.
 
Jared:

See my brief reflections on the AHA book exhibit here.

Are You an Educator or Historian?

Mark Schwehn begins his masterful Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America with a story from his days teaching at the University of Chicago.  While waiting for a meeting to start, one of the scholars at the table asked everyone to share with the group how they would be identifying themselves on their tax forms.  I will let Schwehn take it from here:

The first person spoke up at once with a kind of brisk confidence.  “Sociologist,” he said.  And so it continued–“anthropologist,” “historian,” “psychologist,” “historian.”  At about this point (though I have been sometimes slow to catch the drift of things, I did discern this time a clear pattern emerging), I began to wonder whether or not I had the courage to be honest in the company of so many of my senior colleagues.

Though trained as an intellectual historian, I had never once thought to put such a designation down under “occupation” on my tax form.  When I finally spoke up, I admitted (it certainly felt like an admission) that I had written “college teacher” under the relevant heading.  This disclosure was greeting with what I can only describe (though it was doubtless a projection even then) as a combination of mild alarm and studied astonishment.  I felt as though I had suddenly become, however briefly, an informant from another culture.

Anyone who has passed through Valparaiso University as part of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts knows this story.  Just ask historians like John McGreevy, Paul Harvey, Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Tal Howard, Stephanie Yuhl, Mike Utzinger, Mary Henold, Andrew Finstuen, and Matt Hedstrom, among others.  It is one of the many stories that informs the culture of a wonderful post-doc program.

I also imagine that Lendol Calder (who was not a Lilly Fellow, but has certainly read Exiles from Eden) was thinking about this story when he recently asked an audience at the American Historical Association annual meeting in New Orleans how they would describe themselves on this year’s tax form.  (I was not in the audience, so I do not know if Calder referenced Schwehn).

Calder was part of a panel on improving teacher-training in history doctoral programs.  I did not get a chance to attend the session, but Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed apparently did.  She has written an informative article on several teaching-oriented panels at the AHA.  Here is a taste:

Lendol G. Calder, history professor at Augustana College, in Illinois, asked audience members to consider whether they’ll describe themselves as historians or educators on their tax forms this year. The varied responses among professors pointed to a fundamental disconnect between the way historians approach their research – problem-based and rigorous – and their pedagogy, he said. 

“Few historians inquire into teaching and learning the way that we venture into our own work,” he said, adding that historians typically have had a disdain for educational literature. But that’s changing. The History Teacher journal now has 40 or more footnotes per article, versus far fewer 15 years ago. Scholarship also focuses now on how to teach, not just what to teach. 

Colleges and universities also can help reshape the supply of teaching-savvy Ph.D.s by demanding more pedagogical training from would-be faculty members. Augustana, for example, now requires interviewees to prepare a 50-minute pedagogical colloquium on teaching philosophy, in addition to the standard information about their dissertations and backgrounds.

“We were nervous when we started,” Calder said. “To our surprise, it sent a very strong message about who we were to applicants, [without] any drop-off in the quality of their research.”

So how will you be describing yourself on your 2013 tax form?

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (9)

Mary Sanders–historian, blogger, and Ph.D student, reflects on her AHA experience.–JF

I spent Sunday morning at a panel on “New Directions in the Study of Global Evangelicalism,” a roundtable conversation about John Wolffe’s and Mark Hutchinson’s new book A Short History of Global Evangelicalism—another one of those books that is now on my list of must-reads.  Jehu J. Hanciles, Mark A. Noll, and Dana L. Robert all offered their perspectives, and there was a lively question and answer session after.

I spent much of my trip home yesterday decompressing and reflecting over the past few days.  This was my second AHA meeting, and, to be honest, I think a lot of people were wondering why I went.  I’m not on the job market, I wasn’t presenting a paper—I just went.  I’m glad I did.  It was good to talk with people, meet new people, and see old friends.  Graduate school is such a solitary activity—read, grade, write, repeat.  Conferences remind me of the essentially collaborative nature of what historians do.  I was exhilarated and refreshed by many of the conversations I was able to have this weekend, and I’m ready for the new semester (which started today!) because of them.

Perhaps I’m glad, also, for a slightly more selfish reason: I’m writing this post as I take a break from my dissertation prospectus—a prospectus that is much more clear in my mind after answering the question “So what is your dissertation about?” multiple times in New Orleans!  I may be back to the grindstone, but the way ahead is a little clearer than it was in December.