AHA 2012 Redux

Last weekend was my third trip to the American Historical Association Annual Meeting, but my first time attending as someone with a PhD (rather than a mid-level grad student or freaked out job seeker). During my first visit in 2008 (when it was held in DC), I scoured the program for digital humanities/technology-related presentations and hit up as many panels as I could. Last year in Boston when I was on the job market, I gave a presentation, hit up as many panels as I could, hung out with a couple of grad school friends and saw old friends, and hoped someone would want me for an interview.

This year, I went on my own terms. Not that the previous years weren’t (in some ways) on my own terms, but this year felt so different. This year I went to Chicago because I was giving a presentation with one of the affiliate societies. I arrived Friday night, so I missed #THATCamp and some great-looking panels on Thursday and Friday (I also missed a Friday luncheon for K12 teachers and think it’s insane that anyone would hold that on a Friday). Aside from my Sunday morning presentation, though, the only panel I went to was the TeachingHistory.org workshop on Saturday. And it was…okay.

I’ve been thrilled this year to see all the discussion in the AHA regarding the future of the job market and the need to think beyond tenure track. But so far, those conversations suggest extending to public history or other areas of academia/higher ed or perhaps even into the private sector. No one seems to talk about (or think about) the possibilities in secondary ed.

Let’s be honest: I don’t mean to suggest that there are BILLIONS of jobs in secondary ed for historians that are just laying around, and for that matter, let’s be honest in considering public history. Isn’t that similar in many ways to the library sciences, where jobs can also appear few and far between? Public history is a great idea, but it’s not the end all, be all. Rather, we need to think more broadly, and that includes thinking about opportunities to educate students below the collegiate level.

It’s entirely disappointing that the AHA has so few resources seemingly focused on secondary ed. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here to tap into. Of course, there are challenges, too: the AHA’s meeting time in the second weekend of January means that most secondary ed teachers are back in school, so aside from locals you may not get many secondary ed folks there. And many schools simply haven’t got the resources to send someone to the AHA.

But there’s potential. And there’s so much more beyond having a very basic workshop in which participants:

1. Get walked through a website
2. Hear someone argue about incorporating labor history into curriculum
3. Learn about some tech resources
4. Learn about SOME of the steps one school has used to break down the research paper process
5. Learn about some more tech resources
6. Hear a highly esteemed historian worry about whether technology can still help personal engagement with students.

None of this was bad. In fact, I suspect many people learned a lot. But I confess that none of this was what I was looking for or had hoped for. I’d hoped for an opportunity to network with other high school teachers, talk about how they approach teaching, learn from them, and maybe get involved. I complained that so many of the panelists were not in secondary ed (only to be reminded that there was one panel of secondary ed teachers), but you know, maybe leading with that one panel might have made things better.

Maybe all of this means I was simply at the wrong conference, and maybe I was. But I have a certain affinity for the AHA, maybe because I have such fond memories of the few annual meetings I’ve attended (last year’s job market stress and 2008 illness aside). I’ve maintained my AHA membership since graduating, and not solely because I was presenting in January. I greatly appreciate that there are ANY efforts to connect to K12 teachers, even if it’s as small as having a special membership category for us, or trying to get a couple of relevant panels at the Annual Meeting.

It’s just that it’s time to do more.

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