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Thursday Highlights at OAH 2018

An image shows three people seated at a table on stage speaking to an audience.

“California and the Nation–Past, Present, and Future” Plenary Session, April 12, OAH 2018

“Welcome to Sacramento! The Local Resource Committee invites you to enjoy the Central Valley’s mild spring days and nights and venture out into the neighborhoods surrounding the Convention Center,” say committee cochairs Paula Austin and Khal Schneider (both of California State University, Sacramento). “You’ll find a lively drinking and dining scene and evidence of Sacramento history, from its boomtown beginnings to its twenty-first century emergence as the fastest-growing big city in California.

Sunny skies, spring-like temperatures, and the scent of orange blossoms did indeed greet OAH conference goers on Thursday, along with a cheery “We’re Nuts for History” display at the Hyatt Regency.  


Sessions began in the late morning, and the exhibit hall featuring more than 50 publishers opened in the early afternoon.

This year’s OAH Theme Visualizer, an interactive conference program, offers participants a platform to explore events by theme, augmenting the traditional program organized by day, time, and type of event. It reveals how different kinds of events such as chats, film screenings, and papers address a shared theme like “Migration” and “Social Movements.” Using methods from the digital humanities, different forms of scholarly knowledge are aggregated according to shared themes to reveal new connections across the conference and ways to (re)organize the field.

Afternoon tours included a Sacramento Archives Crawl and an excursion to Sutter’s Fort, the first non-Indian settlement in California’s Central Valley. The Sutter’s Fort visitors also enjoyed the talk, “John Sutter and the Indian Business,” an alternate point of view on Sutter’s life and legend, from Albert L. Hurtado.

“Dozens of fourth graders completely focused on learning history—making wooden stools by hand, dipping candles, roasting chickens for dinner with girls in long dresses, aprons, and bonnets and boys in shirts, pants, and hats, each child playing a historic figure associated with Sutter’s Fort,” reported Heather Huyck, past president of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites. “They greeted us as we left the distillery (!) where we had heard Albert Hurtado’s explication of John Sutter’s complex life as ‘a con artist’ who had settled here, once a borderland between two indigenous tribes, now a historic site surrounded by downtown Sacramento. He painted a clear picture of how connected this fort was internationally.”

Huyck remarked how Hurtado’s own fascination with the fort as a child, as well as the fascination of these visiting children, indicate “the power of historic sites to connect us with history.”

The “New Approaches to the American Revolution” roundtable drew the largest crowd Thursday afternoon. Chair Eric Hinderaker kicked off the discussion with a few framing questions:


The first plenary convened in the late afternoon with independent historian T. J. Stiles, Waldo Martin (University of California, Berkeley), and Vicki Ruiz (University of California, Irvine) to consider the topic “California and the Nation–Past, Present, and Future.” To begin, Ruiz observed that “violence and innovation has been a binary in this state from the start,” citing the figure of fictional warrior queen Calafia, introduced by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in the early 1500s and sometimes shown holding a spear and a gyroscope. Martin treated the audience to an extended audio clip of Eddie Hazel’s “California Dreamin’,” elaborating on his point that the California Dream is the “apotheosis of the American Dream and a laboratory for working that dream out,” while also the “apotheosis of the American nightmare” in its growing economic disparities and racial inequalities. Stiles spoke about the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment–fiercely resisted in California for fear of extending citizenship rights to Chinese citizens–and its lasting impact of its concept of extending “citizenship” to “the other” as well as later efforts to use this amendment to justify extending “personhood” to corporations. Together, in a conversation that ranged over indigenous experiences, immigration, Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter, mass incarceration, venture capitalism, the tech boom, affordable housing, and public institutions of higher education, the panelists considered the role of historians engaging collaboratively as equal partners with communities in California and elsewhere to document, highlight, and combat inequalities and to achieve a better future.  

This conversation about community engagement turned naturally to a reflection on events here in Sacramento, following the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Stephon Clark, by local police officers last month. Stiles and the panelists expressed sympathy and solidarity with the Clark family and the community during this sensitive time. Stiles read from the official statement offered by OAH leadership, encouraging interested attendees to contribute to a fund for Clark’s children’s education to be established by former Sacramento King Matt Barnes or to the Build. Black. Initiative, and also highlighting the call issued to OAH exhibitors to donate books on guns, policing, and racial violence to the California State University Sacramento library and Sacramento Public Library via the OAH Book Bridge program.

The day concluded with the opening night reception in the exhibit hall as well as a Dessert before Dinner reception, sponsored by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society.

An image shows many people standing in an exhibit hall. They are clustered together in groups, either talking or looking at tables displaying books.

OAH Opening Reception, 2018

For more about the OAH 2018 Annual Meeting, see our highlights from Friday, highlights from Saturday, and OAH award winners.