Friday, the first full day of the OAH meeting in Providence began early with breakfast for new members and first-time attendees, and a coffee for independent scholars. The First-time Attendee and New Member Welcome Breakfast was very well-attended, despite the 7:30 am start time. Membership Committee Regional Chairs, Executive Director Kathy Finley, and Membership Director Beth Marsh were on hand to welcome and chat with attendees. Lovely weather greeted the members of the “Explore Newport” tour, and a wi-fi outage in the Omni didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the “Start Your First Digital Public History Project” workshop, led by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan of George Mason University.
Later in the morning, the “Page by Page: Writing History for a Trade Audience” session, featuring David Nasaw of CUNY, Jill Lepore of Harvard, OAH past president Patty Limerick, and Tony Horwitz, was jam packed, with several intrepid attendees standing in the doorway to listen to the whole session.
The lunch sponsored by the OAH Committee on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession once again drew a large crowd, who were treated to a few minutes of a Nina Simone song, as Rhonda Williams of Case Western Reserve began her talk, “From the Streets to the Academy: Struggle Costs Ya.”
Lunchtime in the convention center also included a surprise plenary honoring Edward T. Linenthal, who has has been the editor of the Journal of American History since 2005. In the past eleven years, with Ed’s leadership, the JAH has offered rich and diverse content in every period of American history, in traditional articles, “Interchange” conversations, state-of-the-field projects, and special issues. It has demonstrated the OAH’s capacity as a “big tent,” open to a wide variety of historians and practitioners. Geographers, historians of jazz, photographers and subjects of photography, historians of geography, population, business and technology contributed to its special issues on Hurricane Katrina, on the history of oil, on the carceral state. In 2008 the JAH began a podcast program offering quarterly interviews with selected authors of published JAH articles and also occasional “editor’s choice” interviews with authors of significant books. In December 2013 it introduced Metagraph, a series of feature reviews and original research articles that highlight the evolution of the monograph in an age of digital media and methods. And in early spring 2014 JAH and OAH staff also began collaborating on the blog Process, which over the past year has begun to mature into a lively digital space.
Ed is also a professor of history and an adjunct professor of American studies at Indiana University. Prior to coming to Bloomington, he taught for twenty-five years in the department of religious studies at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. He is the author of The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory (2001) and Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (2nd edition, 2001), among other books. His work in the 1980s on Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (2nd edition, 1993) began an ongoing relationship with the National Park Service.
The Friday afternoon plenary, featuring New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman filled the Plenary Theater to capacity, with the audience overflowing into the exhibit hall.
Plenary session discussant and program committee cochair Eric Rauchway of the University of California, Davis, observed:
At least from where I was sitting up on the stage, it looked as if Paul Krugman was an excellent guest for this OAH conference with a strong thematic thread focused on leadership. We asked him to come because we knew he had thought a great deal about how we can apply what we know about economic history to economic policy, and how people at the Federal Reserve, the IMF, and in the White House and Congress have both succeeded and failed in doing so. He was gracious and insightful in talking about these issues in terms of both recent history and the more distant history of the Great Depression. We had apposite questions from what certainly seemed like an engaged audience. I know Naomi Lamoreaux [fellow discussant, of Yale University] and I got a great deal out of our discussion, and I hope the other conference attendees did too.
The next plenary, “The National Park Service at 100: A Conversation with Robert Stanton,” featured lively conversation with former NPS Director Stanton, Gary Nash of UCLA, and William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin. Christine Arato, Chief Historian, Northeast Region, National Park Service*, shared her thoughts on the plenary:
Bob Stanton invoked John Hope Franklin’s call for “places that move us to a higher resolve to become better citizens.” I think this aspiration towards “wholeness” (to borrow from the excellent work of Danielle Allen) underscores the need for parks as classrooms, but not in the vein of didactic instruction. Instead, I hope that the work of the NPS in our next century creates spaces for the courageous practices of reciprocity and empathy, skills learned not just through knowing but also in doing. We need these places to be better citizens of the world not only through frank encounters with our past, but in conversation about our responsibilities to one another. This is a goal that will demand the higher resolve of a much larger community of practice, a sort of large landscape conservation for, of, and by We the People.
(*The views and conclusions expressed in this statement are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the National Park Service of the United States Government.)
Also in the audience, Anne Mitchell Whisnant, adjunct associate professor of history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a coauthor of Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service (2012) commented:
I was heartened to find the OAH continuing to sponsor high-level conversations about the future of history in the NPS—a matter that should be of central concern to all American historians. I was glad to hear a number of issues we raised in Imperiled Promise mentioned —persistent NPS underfunding, problematic elements of NPS culture, and the need to attend to the agency’s own history. The most poignant moment to me in that regard was Director Stanton’s observation that the memory of family road trips to the National Parks—typically considered as universal and often cited as a key driver of parks visitation– is not a history that most black Americans can call to mind. I have high hopes that Mr. Stanton might bring Imperiled Promise’s recommendations about developing leadership to support courageous history work in the NPS to the attention of current NPS Director Jon Jarvis. The session left me grateful for the OAH’s ongoing investment in history practice in the Park Service.
A reception immediately followed the NPS plenary.
Among the many receptions held on Friday evening was one for graduate students. Students at a variety of stages in their educational careers, from being weeks away from their dissertation defense to deciding which graduate programs would be the best fit, met to chat in a relaxed and cozy setting.
Did you live tweet a panel that we missed? Tweet us @The_OAH and let us know!
- Plenary: Can We Use History?
- Plenary: The National Park Service at 100: A Conversation with Robert Stanton
- Protest, Politics, and Ideas in the American Century: The Work of Alan Brinkley
- Leading Together: Archivists and Historians Shaping the Digital Archive
- Old Stories, Young Leaders: Oral History and Leadership Development in the National Park Service
- Why You Can’t Teach United States History without American Indians
- Open Question: What Is the Relation between Slavery and Capitalism?
- Page by Page: Writing History for a Trade Audience
- Podcasting—Reaching a Mass Audience from Above and Below
- State of the Field: Ed Linenthal
- How Places Shaped Spaces: Scale and the Religious Geographies of Early America
- Myths of the Market
- Democracy in America and Europe
- Early American Labor History
Some tweets that caught our eye:
— Edward T. O'Donnell inthepastlane.bsky.social (@InThePastLane) April 8, 2016
— John Blanton (@jnblanton) April 8, 2016
— Cara Caddoo (@CaraCaddoo) April 8, 2016
— Douglas Bradburn (@DouglasBradburn) April 8, 2016