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Friday Highlights at OAH 2017

The conference day began early with complimentary breakfasts and coffee (not that food has been hard to find in this lovely city) for several OAH constituencies. These events brought together new members and first-time attendees as well as independent scholars to welcome them to the organization and to the conference as well as to enable professional networking.

Mindful that this year’s conference coincides with the 100th anniversary of the American entry into World War I, the program committee organized several sessions on that conflict. One of today’s offerings, “Legacies of World War I,” chaired by Brooke Blower of Boston University, featured panelists Michael Kazin of Georgetown University, Mary Dudziak of Emory University School of Law, Eric Arnesen of George Washington University, and Candace Falk, editor of the Emma Goldman Papers at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Panelists sparred during a lively Q&A” reported Blower, “debating whether antiwar dissent became easier or harder for the U.S. government to squelch after the 1917–1918 conflict. They disagreed about whether policymakers could actually shape the public’s emotional reactions to conflicts unfolding around the world, and whether historians needed to spend more time investigating right-wing opposition to war to match the work that has focused on opposition from the left.”

The highlight of the afternoon was the plenary “African American History, Art, and the Public Museum,” a conversation with Lonnie Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Richard J. Powell of Duke University, and Darlene Clark Hine of Northwestern University.

“This plenary session was a unanimous ‘no brainer’ for the program committee and OAH president Nancy Cott to organize,” said program co-chair Robert Self of Brown University. “We wanted to recognize and honor one of the most important developments in public history in the last decade or more.”

“The audience was not disappointed,” Self continued. “Lonnie Bunch explained the political strategy (make congressional allies before you need them), the economic strategy (tap corporations and the wealthy black donor class), the collecting strategy (encourage ordinary people to donate materials to local museums, which would feed the national museum), and the rhetorical strategy (African American history is American history). He and Richard Powell reflected on the decade-long process of collecting and curating more than four centuries of black history in North America. Bunch also revealed that an astonishing 70 percent of the museum’s permanent collection came from the attics, basements, and storage closets of ordinary people. The plenary offered a fascinating look at how Bunch guided the museum from an idea to an architecturally powerful new building on the National Mall, curating an intellectually honest and unflinching portrait of black American history and culture. Thank you, Lonnie, Richard, and the excellent moderator, Darlene Clark Hine.”

Thanks to Jonathan Wilson of the University of Scranton @jnthnwwlsn, for live tweeting this plenary:

Check out the Storify of tweets from the plenary.

Numerous evening receptions included an unusual reception-session combo. The OAH Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories hosted a reception at the Ashé Cultural Center and Ashé Powerhouse Theatre, followed by a session, “Black New Orleans: John Blassingame’s Classic and New Directions in the City’s Early African American History.”

We’ve Storified some of the panels from Friday. Check them out below:

A few tweets from Friday that caught our eye: