Presidential Sessions at the 123rd Annual Meeting

Gabrielle M. Spiegel, October 2008

As in recent years, the program for the 2009 annual meeting builds on efforts to offer a more diverse range of panels that reflect innovations in both content and formats, in the latter case through a series of sessions linked by theme, through workshops, films, and an increasingly extensive poster session. We have tried to encourage the participation of scholars from abroad, especially in light of this year’s theme, “Globalizing Historiography,” around which many of the presidential sessions have been organized.

The principal reason for choosing this theme derives from our conviction that one of the great strengths of American historical scholarship over the past four decades has been its remarkable ability to enlarge the scope of its concerns in response to the changing demographic patterns of recruitment into the historical profession and to a growing awareness of the global nature of the environment in which we all now live. Moreover, historical scholarship in the United States since the founding of the American Historical Association in 1884 has always had extensive contacts with foreign scholars and been strongly influenced by their traditions of historical writing. The theme, “Globalizing Historiography,” thus offers an opportune moment to renew and deepen AHA members’ commitments to fruitful awareness of the global context in which we work. This awareness has already made itself felt in the rapidly expanding fields of diaspora studies, migration, immigration, and the like, and in the growing commitment to a practice of history that includes every part of the world, both in the past and the present. Hence several of the presidential sessions are devoted to medieval history (my own field of study) lest the rush to valorize our current emphasis on globalization leave the Middle Ages outside its framework. But like all historical practice, the study of medieval history has itself been transformed by contemporary sensibilities, as will be explored in the session entitled “National History in an Age of Globalization: The Case of Medieval France,” which takes its place beside the session on Byzantium, one more focused on new approaches to the history of that empire, but one that serves to remind us that imperial formations are scarcely the product of modern times alone.

The choice of the term “historiography” is meant to highlight the critical and conceptual underpinnings of historical scholarship, including its epistemological and theoretical dimensions. Several presidential sessions are devoted to such issues, notably “Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation,” a round table discussion of William Sewell Jr.’s recent book with that title. Two sessions explore historians’ sense of the waning influence of postmodernism on historical scholarship, one in terms of its application to medieval history—“The Post-Postmodern Middle Ages”—and another titled “The Return to Reality? Some Contexts in Current Historiography.” Other sessions explore broad themes of both theoretical and historical interest such as “History as Recrimination,” which looks at the role of resentment and recrimination in histories as diverse as that of the Ivory Coast and the modern Middle East; “Catastrophe and Transformation,” which explores the impact of historical catastrophes and the response to them as seen in various contexts, and a session devoted to the currently compelling question of the nature and place of political theologies as at once a philosophical question and a historical phenomenon.

Finally, there are the sessions that address the theme of globalizing historiography more directly: such as “Historians and Asia: The Missionary Matrix of a Historiographical Revolution”; or the session entitled “Global Humanity, King Leopold’s Ghost and the Belgian Predicament,” which investigates the impact of, and Belgian response to, the publication of Adam Hochschild’s book of that title; and a not unrelated discussion, “The Deferred Violence of Decolonization.” All the sessions in their different ways seek to explore and answer the question of whether the theoretical and methodological principles of historiography are sensitive to the changing global conditions within which the writing of history takes place.

The schedule for the presidential sessions is as follows (the numbers preceding the titles are session numbers as listed in the annual meeting Program):

Fri., Jan. 2, 1:00–3:00 p.m.

1. Catastrophe and Transformation

Hilton New York, West Ballroom

Chair: Michael Geyer, Univ. of Chicago.

Papers: The Catastrophe That Wasn’t: The Collapse of Segregation in the American South by Jane Dailey, Univ. of Chicago; Memorial Landscapes and the Taming of Catastrophe by Thomas W. Laqueur, Univ. of California at Berkeley; What Does It Mean to Be Deprived of Meaning? by Jonathan Lear, Univ. of Chicago.

Comment: Ruth Leys, Johns Hopkins Univ.

Fri., Jan. 2, 3:30–5:30 p.m.

26. Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation,
by William H. Sewell Jr.

Hilton New York, West Ballroom

Chair: Bonnie G. Smith, Rutgers Univ.-New Brunswick

Panel: Keith M. Baker, Stanford Univ.; Geoff Eley, Univ. of Michigan; Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia Univ.; Andrew Sartori, New York Univ.

Comment: William H. Sewell Jr., Univ. of Chicago

Sat., Jan. 3, 9:30–11:30 a.m.

52. The Deferred Violence of Decolonization

Sheraton New York, Metropolitan Ballroom East

Joint session with the National History Center

Chair: Wm. Roger Louis, Univ. of Texas at Austin

Papers: Algeria by Matthew Connelly, Columbia Univ.; The Congo by David Newbury, Smith College ; Kenya by Caroline M. Elkins, Harvard Univ.

Comment: John S. Darwin, Oxford Univ.

Sat., Jan. 3, 9:30–11:30 a.m.

53. The Post-Postmodern Middle Ages

Hilton New York, West Ballroom

Chair: Sara G. Lipton, Stony Brook Univ.

Papers: Ecclesiastical History: Has It Lost Its Plot? by Sarah Foot, Oxford Univ.; Sex and Gender: The Post-Postmodern Variants by Nancy F. Partner, McGill Univ.; Past/Present: Postmodernity and Historical Knowledge by Robert M. Stein, Purchase College and Columbia Univ.

Comment: The Audience

Sat., Jan. 3, 2:30–4:30 p.m.

76. Historians, Missionaries, and Expanded Horizon

Hilton New York, West Ballroom

Chair: Pier M. Larson, Johns Hopkins Univ.

Paper: Historians and Asia: The Missionary Matrix of a Historiographical Revolution by David A. Hollinger, Univ. of California
at Berkeley

Comment: Dorothy Ross, Johns Hopkins Univ., Jonathan D. Spence, Yale Univ., Grant Wacker, Duke Univ.

77. History As Recrimination

Sheraton New York, Metropolitan Ballroom East

Chair: David Nirenberg, Univ. of Chicago

Papers: Resentment and Recrimination in Cote d’Ivoire’s “Second War of Independence” by Mike McGovern, Yale Univ.; “Provoking Us into Provoking You”: Recrimination, Recursive Politics, and the Historiography of the Israel/Palestine Conflict by Daniel Bertrand Monk, Colgate Univ.; Mythologizing Sectarianism in the Modern Middle East by Ussama Makdisi, Rice Univ.

Comment: Margaret L. Anderson, Univ. of California at Berkeley

Sun., Jan. 4, 9:00–11:00 a.m.

100. Return To Reality? Some Contexts in Current Historiography

Hilton New York, West Ballroom

Chair: David Gary Shaw, Wesleyan Univ.

Papers:
Are Historical Periods Real? by Michael Bentley, Univ. of St. Andrews; “Sources” and the Reality of “Common Knowledge” by Eelco Runia, Univ. of Groningen; Against Incommensurable Epistemes in History: The “Messy Multiplicity of Meanings” and Historical Reality by John H. Zammito, Rice Univ.

Comment: Mary Poovey, New York Univ.

Sun., Jan. 4, 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

125. Global Humanity

Hilton New York, West Ballroom

Chair: Dominic Sachsenmaier, Duke Univ.

Papers: Humanity in a Global Epoch by Bruce Mazlish, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; The West and Its Search for Common Humanity by John Headley, Univ. of North Carolina; Humanity, Nationality, or Race? The Entangled Histories of Human Rights, Forced Deportations, Civilizing Missions by Eric D. Weitz, Univ. of Minnesota.

Comment: Akira Iriye, Harvard Univ.

Sun., Jan. 4, 2:30–4:30 p.m.

151. National History in an Age of Globalization: The Case of Medieval France

Sheraton New York, New York Ballroom East

Chair:
Brigitte M. Bedos-Rezak, New York Univ.

Papers: History, Identity, and the First French Text: Nithard’s "Historiae" and the Politics of Value by Courtney M. Booker, Univ. of British Columbia; Kingdom and Christendom. The Historiographical Legacy of Georges Duby by Dominique Iogna-Prat, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Saracen Paris by Sharon Farmer, Univ. of California at Santa Barbara

Comment:
Peter N. Miller, Bard Graduate Center

152. History, Museums, and the Politics of Memory: The Congo in Belgium after King Leopold’s Ghost

Sheraton New York, New York Ballroom West

Chair: Debora Silverman, Univ. of California at Los Angeles

Papers: Reflections on the Writing and Reception of King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild, San Francisco, California; The Violence of Collecting: Objects, Images, and People from Colonial Congo by Boris Wastiau, Museum of Ethnography, Geneva; “The Congo I Presume”: Tepid Revisionism at the Belgian Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, 1910–2005 by Debora Silverman, Univ. of California
at Los Angeles

Comment: Edward G. Berenson, New York Univ.

Mon., Jan. 5, 8:30–10:30 a.m.

179. The Other Middle Ages: New Developments in Byzantine Studies

Sheraton New York, New York Ballroom East

Chair: Judith Herrin, King’s College London

Papers: Writing a History of the Unlettered in Byzantium by Sharon Gerstel, Univ. of California at Los Angeles; Strong Flesh, Weak Spirit: New Approaches to Medicine and Charity in Byzantium by Dionysios Stathakopoulos, King’s College London; Social Networking in Byzantium: Brotherhood by Arrangement by Claudia Rapp, Univ. of California at Los Angeles

Comment: Barbara H. Rosenwein, Loyola Univ. Chicago

Mon., Jan. 5, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.

205. Political Theologies

Hilton New York, Trianon Ballroom

Chair: Hent De Vries, Johns Hopkins Univ.

Papers: Principalities and Powers by Dale Martin, Yale Univ.; Spinoza and Secular Mythologies by Yitzhak Melamed, Johns Hopkins Univ.; The Theology of Religious Freedom by Saba Mahmood, Univ. of California at Berkeley