"Disagreement, Debate, Discussion": The Theme for the 128th Annual Meeting

Kenneth Pomeranz, Anne McCants, and Peter Perdue, September 2012

The Program Committee for the 128th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, has called for proposals from all members of the Association, from affiliated societies, from historians working outside the United States, and from scholars in related disciplines (Read the committee's invitation to submit proposals). The theme selected for the 128th annual meeting (scheduled to be held January 2–5, 2014, in Washington, D.C.), is "Disagreement, Debate, Discussion."

The chosen theme signals an interest both in the histories of all sorts of controversies; and in controversies, old or new, about historical facts and interpretations. It calls attention to uncertainty about how we know the past, but also to the ways in which professional and popular debates place some matters beyond contestation. It reminds us that it is usually areas of disagreement that stimulate people to explore history, but that we do so in search of at least provisional answers that are persuasive to more than just ourselves. We will, therefore, welcome both debate about particular historical issues and reflections on how debates about history actually do and/or should proceed: in classrooms, the pages of journals, museum halls, the mass media, and other past and current settings: coffeehouses and legislatures, temples, courts, and elsewhere.

As we meet in Washington—where the grounds for constructive disagreement often seem to have eroded—we wish to highlight the importance of vigorous disagreement for managing public affairs and enriching individual lives, as well as teaching and research. We intend to model something we all know from our professional work: that while we rarely reach complete agreement about history, this does not mean that everything is "just a matter of opinion." Our enterprise is defined by a shared, overarching commitment to logic and evidence, even as we disagree about what that commitment may entail in particular cases.

We also emphasize—at the risk of stating the obvious—that being concerned about how debate and discussion work in our own society does not mean that we are interested only in recent history, or only in issues with obvious contemporary resonance. On the contrary, one of the most interesting ways in which historical awareness enriches us is by pushing us beyond the pasts that seem immediately relevant at any given moment; and exploring past worlds stimulates us both by locating surprising similarities across time and space and by highlighting how different, even peculiar, our own times and assumptions are.

As mentioned in the call for proposals printed on the preceding page, and in accordance with AHA guidelines, the Program Committee will also welcome and seriously consider proposals that do not fall under the scope of this theme. Our overarching aim remains to provide the greatest number of opportunities to facilitate stimulating intellectual discussion.

Kenneth Pomernz (Univ. of Chicago) is the president-elect of the AHA; he will be presiding over the 128th annual meeting. Anne McCants (MIT) is the chair and Peter Perdue (Yale Univ.) is the co-chair of the 2014 Program Committee.