Day By Day

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Historians' Annual Follies

Despite having been a professional historian for much of my life I long ago ceased having anything to do with the professional associations. The grandaddy of these exercises in absurdity is the AHA [American Historical Association] which holds its convention every year in January. This year it is in Atlanta and Rick Shenkman is in attendance and reporting daily on the goings-on. Things seem to be changing. [Read Rick's report, complete with You Tube illustrations here]

Rick starts by noting the decline of an old institution -- the SHEAR [Society of Historians of the Early Republic] poker party. He witnessed an elderly male professor trying to seduce a young female grad student into attending. She, showing good sense, refused. I used to belong to SHEAR and, although Rick doesn't identify the old lech, I have my suspicions.

The content of the panels presented was the usual. Rick attended one on "Black Power" and noted that it featured a lot of black faces, something unusual in the past. There was a lot of agreement that these are "bad times" and that it's Bush's fault. There is the usual angst over the fact that nobody [again showing good sense] is paying much attention to what the historians are saying or doing. This was the subject of two panels that concluded that the problem was that historians don't write well, and don't write about subjects the general public cares about. There was no sense that their elitist, partisan political slant might have something to do with it.

The first evening's activities were devoted to "black music" and the presentation of an award to Rep. John Lewis, "hero of the civil rights struggle" and Rick notes that ironically the award was named in part for Woodrow Wilson, a devout racist, had previously been won by Sen. Robert Byrd, a former KKK member. Rep. Lewis was too busy to attend, but his staff did send a videotape of him delivering a "firey talk" on the subject of history and race relations [view here note the signing and the fact that there seems to be at most half a dozen people in attendance -- perhaps they're at the poker parties]. The evening closed with a performance by the Wendell Phillips Whalum Community Chorus.

Do you sense a theme here? Good, I knew you could.

The presidential address, delivered by William Chafe, addressed the problem of a lack of racial diversity within the AHA. It revealed that the AHA is less diverse than the last Republican national convention, which "drew a gasp from the audience." Just think of that, historians being compared unfavorably to Republicans!!! These must indeed be the end days.

The afternoon's most important meetings dealt with the activities of "truth commissions" formed to expose the hideous sins of right wing political movements throughout the world.

And so it went..., and so it went. The organization adopted an anti-war resolution that occasioned considerable debate -- not so much about the war, but whether or not the AHA should take stands on anything other than its professional purview.

The meeting also condemned the practice of establishing "free speech zones" that confine protestors to specific areas away from events they want to disrupt, and decided to study the possibility of affiliating with a labor organization.

The highpoint of the meeting was the arrest of one historian by local jackbooted thugs [police] for jaywalking. He was taken into custody and later had a great time describing the indignities to which he had been subjected by the local gestapo. I'm not sure what the circumstances of the arrest were, but I'm quite sure the Atlanta police have a different take from that of the historians.

So ended the latest futile gathering of these silly people.

And they wonder why nobody is paying attention to them.


More information is coming out about the arrest. It seems that the historian mouthed off to a local cop and got taken down. Read about it here.

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