From the 123rd Annual Meeting column of the September 2008 issue of Perspectives on History
Welcome to New York
Daniel J. Walkowitz, September 2008
The AHA returns to New York City after a 12-year hiatus for its 123rd annual meeting. Much will be familiar to meeting regulars, but there is a notable change to the usual schedule. New Year's Day falls on a Thursday this year and that has necessitated an unusual Friday afternoon start to the meeting, which will extend this year to early Monday afternoon. The proximity to New Year's Day does, however, provide a wonderful opportunity for attendees. We have received a considerable break on room rates—only $129 single and double per night!—and that rate will be available for three days before and after the meeting for historians who wish to get some research done at the city's many archives or want to enjoy the city's rich cultural life. Indeed, rooms for New Year's Eve are likely to sell out quickly; so you should plan early and act soon.
Those who have been here before will find some things about the city changed but much that is familiar. The events of 9/11 erased some landmarks from the city's skyline, though the events remain etched in memory and echo in some of the ways New Yorkers—and all of us—experience daily life, whether in security checks or reactions to unexpected loud noises. At the same time, new postmodern skyscrapers both in midtown and downtown boldly trumpet the city's indefatigable spirit. You can take the Number 1 train down to the World Trade Center site and begin to see hints of the new complex emerging, or simply step outside the meeting hotels and look around. To the north at 57th Street and Eighth Avenue one sees the distinctive silhouette, made up of interlocking triangles, of the Hearst Tower, a "green" building designed by Norman Foster that sits atop Joseph Urban's existing six-story Art Deco building. South on 8th Avenue at 43rd Street you will see the multicolored glass skin of the Westin New York at Times Square, a 45-story prism split by a beam of light that soars above the skyline. Continuing south, passing a 42nd Street that has been revitalized as a Disney-like theater mall, you can also see the first of the post-9/11 skyscrapers—the (new) New York Times Building designed by Renzo Piano (who also designed the Pompidou Center in Paris). A future article by the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) will outline a walking tour that includes these buildings.
But first things first, and that is the meeting itself! The Program Committee has organized a wealth of sessions—230 in all—around the theme "Globalizing Historiography." The Local Arrangements Committee has arranged for four sessions to be held at three off-site locations related to the history of New York City—the Center for Jewish History, the New-York Historical Society, and the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of New York City.
Each of these off-site locations is a repository of significant historical archives and, in that sense, an addition to the robust set of tours the LAC has organized for participants. New Year's holiday closings and considerations of time and weather shaped our choice of tours (the Herstory Archives in Brooklyn are also well worth a visit if you stay on after the meeting, for instance), but we think we have a rich set of offerings. The first two tours will take place on Friday afternoon and give participants the choice of an insider's view of the New York Public Library, one of the richest research collections in the world, or a visit to the African Burial Ground National Monument, one of the country's most significant archeological sites. A tour of the United Nations Archives has been organized with the participation of the AHA's Graduate and Early Career Committee. Graduate students will have priority in registering for this tour, which is designed to complement a session on preparing for the research trip. Other tours are open to all conference attendees and include the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, the New York Transit Museum, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a tour of contemporary cutting-edge art in Long Island City, and a bus tour of the Paterson (New Jersey) Great Falls Industrial Museum. Finally, the LAC will offer three tours on Monday morning, of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, an exclusive curator-led tour of the Paris/New York: Design Fashion Culture, 1925–40 exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, and a tour that should be of a special interest to historians of disability, women, and reform—the Helen Keller Archives. We think we have at least one tour for almost any taste. Tickets are available through meeting registration, for a nominal fee.
Of course, you need not take one of our organized tours to enjoy the city. You can get out and see the city on your own. Other cities have some restaurants the equal to any in New York, but none can match the diversity of cuisines and the extensive number of quality venues. The LAC will provide essays in future issues of Perspectives on History to guide you to many of our favorites across the city and its five boroughs. Within walking distance of the meeting hotels are 39 Broadway theaters and a panoply of off-Broadway theaters (yes, you do not have to travel "downtown" to go off-Broadway, though you may have to, if you want to go "off-off Broadway"). You are only half a block from the Museum of Modern Art and the American Folk Art Museum, but the galleries of Chelsea, Soho, or the museum mile of Fifth Avenue are all less than a half-hour taxi or subway ride away. Jazz, ballet, modern dance, opera, concerts… just check The New Yorker, Time Out New York, or the New York Times Arts and Leisure section—the city's cultural life is alive and well.
And did you say shopping? Alas, the city has become "mallified" like much of the rest of the country, but designer boutiques and specialty shops still make New York arguably the most cosmopolitan of American cities. You will be competing with many bargain-shopping tourists, however, whether it be on Madison Avenue or in Macy's flagship store on 34th Street. Forty-six million visitors came to New York City last year, many from abroad. Indeed, the city may be (is!) expensive for those of us who live here and for American visitors, but due to the exchange rate the city is on sale to European visitors, many of whom are known to arrive with empty suitcases for shopping.
So, welcome to New York! Enjoy the annual meeting and, if you have some free moments, remember you are in the city that never sleeps. Enjoy it!
—Daniel J. Walkowitz is director of experiential education at New York University where he holds a joint appointment in the departments of social and cultural analysis and history. He is chair of the Local Arrangements Committee.
2009 Local Arrangements Committee
- Chair: Daniel J. Walkowitz, New York Univ.
- Co-Chair: Temma Kaplan, Rutgers Univ.
- Timothy Coogan, LaGuardia Community Coll.
- Brenda Elsey, Hofstra Univ.
- Steve Fraser, (independent scholar)
- Owen Gutfreund, Barnard Coll., Columbia Univ.
- Daniel Hurewitz, Hunter Coll.
- Cynthia Ai-Fen Lee, Museum of Chinese in America
- Joseph Morgan , Iona Coll.
- Marci Reaven, City Lore
- Ellen Ross, Ramapo Coll.
- Robert Snyder, Rutgers Univ.-Newark
- Daniel Soyer, Fordham Univ.
- Pam Sporn, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, Bronx
- Lara Vapnek, St. John’s Univ.
- Suzanne Wasserman, Gotham Center, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
- Jocelyn Wills, Brooklyn Coll., City Univ. of New York
- Peter J. Wosh, New York Univ.
- Dylan Yeats, New York Univ., and Local Arrangements Committee Assistant