January 05, 2012
Welcome to Chicago and the 126th annual meeting of the American Historical Association.
Some of us have already enjoyed tours of Chicago’s cultural institutions and historical landscapes – with others still to come.
This year we began our tours on Wednesday in order to facilitate a few longer excursions. I recall that this suggestion emerged at the public historians’ reception last year – a reminder that when historians get together formally or informally new ideas emerge.
This recollection (and I apologize to any colleague reading this who says “hey, I suggested that three years ago”) also offers an occasion to reiterate my plea to all members of the AHA, and nonmembers as well: we welcome suggestions/ideas/comments/criticisms relating to all aspects of the AHA’s work. Scholarly societies and meetings are in a period of transition, and as we adapt to new forms of scholarly communication, the wisdom of 14,000 members will be a vital asset to the AHA.
This year’s theme, “Communities and Networks,” points to some aspects of that transition, as we envision new kinds of scholarly communities, new ways for them to gather and thrive, and new networks of communication among historians working in a wide variety of venues. Consider our opening plenary session this evening, “How to Write a History of Information”: presenters will help us think about how new forms and pathways of information have transformed earlier eras. The session will begin a short time after many attendees finish a six-hour miniconference on the digital humanities, organized in ways very different from traditional historical meetings.
But even before all that, we begin with an aspect of what most historians have in common: whether we work in museums, parks, colleges, universities, high schools, historic houses, or the various other places where historians ply our trade, we teach. We help students, tourists, policy makers, and others learn about the past, the meaning of the past, and the value of historical thinking. The workshop this morning focuses in particular on undergraduate teaching, but I see the conference as a whole as an opportunity for all historians to think about how we communicate our understanding of the past, regardless of where we work as historians.