This year’s American Historical Association’s (AHA) annual meeting was help in the great city of New Orleans. It was my 5th trip to the AHA meeting and, as usual, it did not disappoint. Unlike smaller, more field-specific conferences, the AHA is quite large in terms of topical scope and attendance. Considering the size of the meeting, the AHA manages to do a great job every year. This year saw the debut of an AHA Meeting app – which made getting to the different panels very easy (it allowed you to add panels to your calendar as well as hotel floor plans and local maps). The meetings (at least in my experience) are always very well organized and the staff on hand (usually fellow grad students) are always willing to help.
For me, at least this year, the wide variety of historical topics and themes limited the number of discussion panels in my research area (the Civil War and Reconstruction) and the few that they did have that were of interest to me were scheduled at the same time. Panels usually run from about 8:30/9 a.m. until the late afternoon. The few panels that I did attend were outstanding, including a panel that discussed the teaching of slavery and a panel on African Americans, racial violence, and collective memory (chaired by my advisor Kidada Williams). I took advantage of my downtime at the meeting by going on a Reconstruction walking tour of New Orleans led by Jim Hogue of the University of North Carolina – a leading scholar of Reconstruction history in the city. These tours are very cheap (I think I paid $12), a great way to see a new city, and meet other scholars in the same field. The panels and tours are a great way to see what other scholars are doing and it is a means to remain inspired with your own work.
The fun and excitement of enjoying the nightlife in New Orleans (the French Quarter in particular) is a great way to wind down the night. I took advantage of going to little, out of the way restaurants and bars to relax before retreating back to my hotel room. I also took advantage of getting to know fellow grad students from Wayne State by meeting up with Jerry Sloan for a night out in the French Quarter. Jerry and I met up for some food as well as a few drinks at the oldest bar in North America - Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar (named for the famed New Orleans pirate, Jean Lafitte). A good time was had by all!
While I did not present at the conference this year (or interview for any jobs), the AHA annual meeting is still a great way to meet other scholars and see the local sites. It is also a good way to get inspired for your own research (or remain inspired!). Many of the people I talked to at the meeting had nothing but nice things to say about Wayne State and I look forward to going to the next one.--David Hopkins