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Six Myths about the Annual Meeting

Debbie Ann Doyle, October 2013

Myth: All the sessions in my field are always scheduled at the same time.

We often get complaints about session conflicts in our response to our annual survey of meeting attendees. There will be 259 sessions on the 2014 annual meeting program. The program committee works hard to balance sessions across the schedule, particularly in underrepresented fields. But with a meeting this large and diverse, some overlap will inevitably occur. In addition, nearly 50 affiliated societies will be sponsoring events at the meeting that can overlap and sometimes conflict with sessions scheduled by the program committee.

Broadly comparative sessions that bring together specialists from a variety of fields are a scheduling challenge for the program committee, but a real strength of the meeting. It is nearly impossible to schedule such sessions without at least one or two of the presentations competing with a more field-specific session.

Conflicts are inevitable, but indicative of the rich diversity of the offerings at the meeting. The program will be online in early October, and the printed version will arrive in members' mailboxes later in the month.

Myth: Graduate students only attend the annual meeting when they go on the job market.

Strong mentors can encourage their graduate students to present at or attend the annual meeting before going on the academic job market. The meeting offers students an important chance to build their professional network, learn about new research, get useful advice, and become a part of the profession. We know from our post-meeting surveys that more graduate students are attending than just those who interview.

Attending the annual meeting doesn't need to be expensive for graduate students. Our discounted hotel rates allow three people to share room for a little over $60 each per night (plus tax), and we offer substantial registration discounts to students. There are also opportunities for free food at the many receptions sponsored by the AHA and its affiliated societies, including a Thursday evening reception specifically for graduate students. Most are open to all attendees. The AHA also routinely hires graduate students to work at the meeting for an hourly rate plus free registration. (The Local Arrangements Committee advertises the opportunity to local students, but we also hire students from outside the area. Contact me for more information.)

Not all graduate students plan to go on the academic job market, and the 2014 meeting will offer multiple sessions of interest to those interested in broadening their career options. From a workshop on finding a federal history job to the AHA's first Career Fair, which will allow students to network with historians employed in a variety of fields, job seekers will be able to meet and learn about historians in government agencies, military, nonprofits, businesses, colleges and universities, presses, independent scholars, and K–12.

Myth: There is nothing on the program for teachers.

There will be nearly 30 sessions on the 2014 program on pedagogy, teaching strategies, and resources for use in the K–12 and undergraduate classroom, a number that has steadily grown over the years. Topics include the Common Core, AP history, collaboration between secondary history teachers and university history professors, and a presidential session asking "What Should a Twenty-First Century History Textbook Look Like?" Saturday will feature a workshop on internationalizing US history in the classroom focused on the Atlantic world, which will be preceded by a complimentary networking coffee break.

Teachers tell us that the most valuable part of the meeting for them is the chance to attend sessions on the state of the field. There are many such sessions on the 2014 program, including sessions exploring the global significance of the First World War, the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, and overviews of the history of financial crises, women's history, and "History on Very Big Scales."

Myth: Undergraduates do not come to the meeting.

There are members who regularly bring their undergraduates to the annual meeting for a chance to become familiar with career options for historians, get a sense of what it is like to be a professional historian, meet and talk with experts in their field, and explore the possibilities for attending graduate school. Like graduate mentors, undergraduate faculty can register themselves and their students for a nominal fee. Ann Paulet's article in this issue describes her positive experiences bringing members of her institution's History Club to the last several AHA annual meetings.

Myth: Nobody leaves the meeting hotel.
Participant surveys reveal that the average person attends between three and six sessions at the annual meeting, and that just 20 percent of attendees at the 2013 meeting reported that they were interviewing or being interviewed in the Job Center. That suggests that the other 80 percent, when not in sessions, are taking advantage of the chance to catch up with friends and colleagues at local restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.

Attendees enjoy exploring the resources of the meeting city. Tours organized by our Local Arrangements Committee regularly sell out. In DC, there will be tours of the Capitol, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Mount Vernon, the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the US Department of State, the archives of the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, the Library of Congress, the landscape history of the National Zoo, and plans for the rehabilitation and reuse of the historic Old Post Office Building. Washington has numerous archives and research libraries for those who would like to get some research done while they are in town.

Myth: The meeting is always in Washington, DC, or Chicago.

Yes, we concede that the AHA often meets in DC or Chicago, but in part that reflects the size and complexity of the meeting. There are only a few cities with enough hotel rooms to accommodate a meeting of this size. Members have expressed a strong preference for keeping travel expenses down by meeting in cities with airline travel hubs. We try to move around the country on a roughly five-year rotation of Northeast, Southeast, West, mid-Atlantic, and Midwest. The next three meetings will be in New York City (2015), Atlanta (2016), and, for the first time, Denver (2017).

It has been five years since our last Washington, DC, meeting in 2008. When the AHA last met in Washington, there had never been an African American president, the Washington Nationals hadn't played a game in its new stadium, there was no Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the US Capitol Visitor Center had not yet opened. We hope you will enjoy exploring everything the city has to offer.

—Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA's coordinator of committees and meetings. She works closely with the Program Committee and the Local Arrangements Committee.