Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Where Have All the Smart People Gone?

New Year’s Eve passed pleasantly. Since returning from New Mexico, I have been feeling a wee-bit on the hermit side. As a result, I wanted something low-key. Besides, I find that people get too sloppy with their drinking on New Year’s Eve. As my great-uncle used to say, “New Year’s Eve is a night for amateurs.” Have I ever mentioned that I come from a long-line of alcoholics? Anyway, Atari and I drank ourselves into a coma celebrated the arrival of a new year.

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.


vuboq said...

Atlanta! What fun! Coca-Cola! CNN! You History People sure know how to rock the joint!

My cousin's family is from (near) Atlanta. I remember going into the city once for the sole purpose of taking the escalator into one of the MARTA stations. Halfway down that station's escalator the brickwork swtiches from horizontal to vertical, which creates a very strange optical illusion/sensation.

I can't remember the name of the station, though. I'll see if I can find out from the cuz. Then you can take all your HistoryPals. Wouldn't that be AWESOME?

Anonymous said...

GayProf, all we really care about is the forecast for some hot historian-on-historian sex.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Massachusetts is disappointing me. I have high hopes for their nice new governor though.
Have fun in Atlanta. I'm pretty sure that you are the rockingest of all the historians at that place. No one is cooler than Gayprof.

Doug said...

If all people care about is their name badge, then do people forge their badges to look like yours? Yours being the one that attracts the most attention, of course. If you find people walking away from you, you could put glitter, or shiny stars, or pictures of naked guys on your badge.

Do the majority of historians really agree that dubya is the worst president ever? I find that reassuring.

Anonymous said...

Atlanta is actually a pretty cool place. I like it and have considered living there. I have many friends there, too. Enjoy Historypalooza. Don't get too crazy now!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I can see it... "Historians Gone Wild!" Show us you Magna Cartas baby!

Anonymous said...

I can remember two things about Atlanta: Every street seems to have "peach" in its name, and it had the first gay adult cinema I ever visited--purely for research purposes, of course.

When you guys start filming the "Historians Gone Wild" Atari mentioned, just remember to make sure your scrolls are properly protected.

Vausey said...

Will you be daring and wear something other than tweed or black? If you do, I say good! I never had the guts to break the dress code.

Anonymous said...

I have such fond memories of Atlanta. I actually had my "coming out party" there - of course I didn't realize it would be my coming out party - but there you go. Have fun!

And the 1859 joke was very, very funny.

GayProf said...

VUBOQ: Don't forget that, in addition to Coke and CNN, it also has the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library!

I would love to impress history folk with my knowledge of MARTA stations.

Huntington: Of course, historians will be getting naked with each other somewhere during this conference. Have you seen many professors, though? Few would call the group "Hot."

Pacalaga: Yes, the new governor does offer hope (and at least gets rid of the evil one (who now wants to be president)). I also was heartened that he took a bold position on the gay marriage issue. He could have been like other people on the left and sold us out.

Doug: What?! Alter the secret-sacred name badges? That would be treason!

Steve: I am actually interested in learning more about Atlanta.

Atari: Hmm, Historians Gone Wild? I don't see Snoop-Dogg signing onto that anytime too soon.

Arthur: If such a film is made, I am sure that historians are well-versed in preservation techniques to keep their documents secure.

Vausey: Good God! First Doug suggests altering the name badge, now you are talking about breaking the dress code! The AHA will soon launch the secret police after me.

Jennifer: Well, I hope at that coming-out party you at least wore a hoop-skirt.

Anonymous said...

GayProf, while not as academic as a historian conference, being an IT nerd, I get to go to computing conferences. Wow - talk about a bunch of no-social-skilled, black-t-shirt-wearing know-it-alls who can't wait to out-nerd each other. So I sympathise. Sometimes, tho, you do get the occasional geek who likes technology but knows there's more to life. They're the ones I'm more likely to find attractive.. but they're always straight.. Oh well...

Anonymous said...

I just love the assasination idea. I say go for it.

Anonymous said...

Well, if have to become an assassin, at least you'll already be in all black. And you'll blend in, too!
(Police: "Who killed Herr Doktor Professor Ahshole?" Witnesses: "A man dressed in all black!" Police, looking around: *crickets*)

If you DO find some hot historians to get naked with, take pics!

Speaking of Mitt Romney, I was just listening to an NPR story about his presidential hopefulness. I almost had to laugh/weep/snort/roll eyes when they were talking about how he started out as a moderate and even gay-friendly, but that his views had "grown" while in office (this was a right-winger talking about whether they should believe his conservative bona fides or label him an opportunist, and, like DUH!). How nice that, in some circles, "growth" is considered going from an at least reasonably tolerant attitude to bigotry!

They were also talking about how he's using Massachusetts' liberal reputation as a foil to himself to drum up support among conservatives. They played a snippet of a speech he gave to a rightie group; typical Kennedy, Clinton, and "liberal" media crap. Oh, and he's also an "intellectual" who "loves a challenge" and he's just like JFK (both from Mass. and both members of religions that people won't vote for members of).

The sad thing? All while I was listening to this, I had the awful feeling that he's going to win.

On that happy not, good night! *LOL*

Anonymous said...

As a flunky at a major educational institution in dear old beantown, I feel your pain. Though my faculty are by and large well behaved, when I was an undergrad studying english (why do you think I'm a flunky) it was always fun watching the humanities faculty getting drunk and perpetrating character assassination at faculty get togethers. Have fun!

Anonymous said...

As usual, the left, collective victims of ADD, has wandered off and gotten lost. One of many reasons I hold no hope for the incoming Congress.

Gawds, I'm pea-green with jealousy! Well, have fun anyway. I guess. Dish all the dirt that is unfit to dish when you get back.

Margaret said...

Oooh, are you staying in the Panopticon Hotel? I stayed in it once for a conference and it was frightening.

All of my memories of Atlanta (having been there twice) involve cars. There are a lot of cars, and big streets-- not a very ped-friendly place. And a place that called itself a "tapas" restaurant, that actually just served appetizers. Like, mozzarella sticks. Since when are mozzarella sticks "tapas"?

Anonymous said...

I was in Atlanta, did the Carter Cenrter, the King Center (, the Coke center, and the CNN center - was in the audience on one of their talk shows. It was the year before the Olympics, so all the roads were being repaired, apparently at the exact same time; I imagine it's much better. And that Peach comment is true - pay attention to the full name of anything starting with Peach, or you'll be lost for sure.

Anonymous said...

Atlanta is a fun city to visit; a good friend of mine lived there for a while. Went to my first drag show in Atlanta.

For true nerdosity, go to an English teacher's convention. Not university level mind you, just junior and senior high school English teachers.


Lots and lots of denim jumpers and appliqued sweaters. Oh, and stretchy pants. Can't forget those.

And why is it that 90% of English teachers are overweight, middle-aged women?

Anonymous said...

Go the the Clycorama while you're here; I'll bet you'll really enjoy it.

Best wishes,