Much has happened in the world that would normally capture my blogmagination. Tomorrow, though, I leave for Atlanta and the annual convention that draws together all of the historians in the nation. If terrorists literally wanted to change the direction of history in this nation, they would only need to target the convention hotel. Yes, I have these types of cheery thoughts often. What? Hey, this blog is called the Center of Gravitas for a reason. Go somewhere else for sunshine and lollipops.
My decision to attend this year’s conference did not come until relatively late. It turns out that my attendance is required, so off I go. Of course, this also means more time away from the gym. With travel and my cold, I have not been to the gym in almost two weeks. I have not taken this much time off since moving to Boston. At least coughing is a good workout for your abs.
Leaving now might be a good break. I am a bit depressed that the Massachusetts legislature caved to the pressure of right-wing religious zealots. Despite the governor-elect’s appeal to a sense of civil rights, the legislature allowed a proposed constitutional amendment banning gays from the right to marry to move forward. People on the left proved completely unprepared to deal with the right – again. They became sucked into a lame technical issue over whether the legislature should be required to vote or note. In the meantime, they ignored the fact that the religious nuts want the law to treat queer folk as less than human. Jason at PIHP discusses his anger at the left here.
So, some time away from this debate about gays’ right to marry might do some good. Yes, better for me to go to Georgia, where I have no rights at all as a gay man. What is wrong with this nation?
Anyway, this history convention is equivalent to a multi-day rock festival. Consider it Historypalooza. Only there will be fewer drugs. Also, instead of music we will be listening to egg-heads present their historical research. We are also so out of sync with mainstream culture that we still use terms like “palooza.” Nobody will be wearing t-shirts with ironic consumer images either – Just lots of herringbone and tweed. People at rock festivals probably have better hygiene as well. Okay – It’s nothing like a rock festival.
Atlanta is not the usual backdrop for this convention. Because we historians aspire to be a fair crew, the meeting moves around the nation from year to year. Sometimes it’s in the east (Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., etc), other times it is in the west. Well, if by “west,” one means San Francisco exclusively. See? Fair. This year, the AHA selected Atlanta as the city of convergence. That way, everybody will be equally inconvenienced.
Beyond spending many, many, many hours of my life in the Delta terminal, I have never actually been to Atlanta. Does Aunt Pitty-Pat still live on Peachtree Street? I imagine that Atlanta still looks like this:
I actually don’t mind attending the academic meetings. Some senior historians I know despise the annual meeting. I, though, like the idea of being able to hear new research being presented that hasn’t even been published yet. It’s exciting.
Of course, the convention does have its downside. Most academics are not known for their social skills. Indeed, it seems to be a prerequisite for the job to be a little awkward. Historians usually take it one step further. We, after all, prefer the company of dead people. I suppose, though, we are better off than literary scholars, who prefer the company of imaginary people.
Here are some things that I expect at this academic convention:
- We pay for the privilege of attending these conferences. What do we get for our $100+ investment? Well, basically the only thing that you need your official badge for is to get into the book exhibit. Yes, for a mere $100, you can get a slight discount on books from university publishers. Given that we are all hopeless nerds, we actually think that this is a good deal.
Certain people will not bother to look at your face upon meeting you at a convention. Instead, they scrutinize your name badge. As they do so, you can almost see the calculations occurring in their little brains. First, they read your name. Are you somebody important? Have you recently published a book? Are you a potential source for a letter of recommendation? If not, they next read your home institution. Is this a university where they hope to end up with a job? Or does it have fellowship opportunities for them? If the answer to these questions are all “no,” they immediately exit the conversation. You are just a void in their quest for stardom.
Speaking of stardom, academics measure it by the amount and type of free books that publishers send to them. There’s a ranking. If you get text-books, you are just a lowly first-year junior-faculty member teaching intro classes. Publishers who send hard-back monographs, however, think you are the Oprah of the history world.
I will live in fear of discovering another junior faculty member or a grad student who has completed identical research to mine, only better and with a better writing style. Should this happen, I am fully prepared to become an assassin. Sigh.
I will need to get out my “Academic to English” dictionary. So, when a professor says to a colleague, “Your research has a good foundation,” I will really know they are saying, “You suck.” When that colleague responds by saying, “Given your lengthy experience in this field, I appreciate any advice you can give,” they really mean, “Why aren’t you dead yet?”
Numerous senior historians will disparage my sub-discipline of Latino history as "trendy." What they really mean, though, is that they liked history when it was exclusively about dead, white, straight men.
At least one or two people will make the joke, “Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1859!” We historians don’t have much of a sense of humor. – Okay, I will be one of those people making that joke.
Given recent events, there will be numerous debates about where Gerald Ford will rank in history. All these debates will end with the general agreement that, no matter where Ford ranks, Bush, Jr. will be remembered as the worst president ever.