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Friday Highlights at OAH 2024

Day two of the 2024 Annual Meeting for the Organization of American Historians brought sunny weather and another slate of great panels, presentations, and events. Participants ventured out into the beautiful French Quarter to explore local history and take advantage of the tours and offsite sessions offered by the conference. The day opened with a morning mixer in the exhibit hall, where participants enjoyed a free breakfast and each other’s company. Attendees spent the evening honoring the accomplishments and incredible work of friends and colleagues at the OAH Awards Ceremony. In between, conference-goers had the opportunity to attend a wide range of panels and roundtable discussions. The JAH staff and Editorial Assistants once again set out to bring you bite-sized summaries of the day’s events.

At a Friday morning session focused on the Native South, panelists Dixie Haggard (Valdosta State University), Denise Bates (Tufts University), and Angela Hudson (Texas A&M), alongside chair, Robert Caldwell (State University of New York) and commentator, Daniel Usner (Vanderbilt University) explored the ways in which twentieth-century Indigenous Southerners navigated the marginalization and segregation of the Jim Crow era. Research presented in “Neither the One nor the Other: The Native South in a Black and White World after 1900” emphasized the resilience of numerous Native communities (such as the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians and the Pascagoula River Tribe) through their establishment and maintenance of churches and schools, which became sites of meeting and organizing. In addition, the panel discussed the ways in which outsiders positioned members of these communities, including non-Native southerners and western Native activists. 

Participants of the “Linking Legal Pasts to Legal Presents” discussed the ways their work moves the legal history field away from studying how law has impacted marginalized communities and towards how marginalized communities construct and enact legal agency and consciousness through kinship and community networks. Panelists included Hardeep Dhillon (University of Pennsylvania), Kasha Appleton (Indiana University, Bloomington), Margaret Huettle (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh), Katrina Jagodinsky (University of Nebraska–Lincoln), Erika Pérez (University of Arizona), Honor Sachs (University of Colorado Boulder), and chair Dylan Penningroth (University of California, Berkeley). Though the panelists had very different geographic and temporal focuses, they all agreed that there needs to be a push for a more expansive understanding of the “law” and the ways marginalized individuals make use of it. When asked “what is a legal document?” Dhillon argued that anything can be part of the legal archive and that legal documents should be an entry point to analysis and not the sole focus of legal history. Other panelists agreed that when attempting to access people on the margins of society it is important to be creative — the Archive recreates the hierarchies of white supremacy through its very ordering. The panelists also discussed how the legal past and present are in a dialectic relationship. Appleton expressed how Black women have always had an intimate understanding of how society attempts to control what they can and cannot do with their bodies. She pointed out how they have been creative in working around those restrictions to enact bodily autonomy. She called for participants to look back in order to understand how we can navigate through and respond to this current moment of legal threats to bodily autonomy. 

During the 1:30 session, attendees gathered for the Graduate Student Research Lightning Round. Chaired by Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders (University of Colorado Boulder), the panel saw six graduate students at various stages of their dissertation work sharing brief overviews of their research. Andrew Aldridge (Emory University) opened the session with his work examining Blackness and criminality through the prism of cultural products like novels, comics, music, and TV. Jameson Baudelaire (Texas Tech University) followed, speaking about her research on Black women’s motorcycle history and how considering race, gender, and sexuality can challenge the mainstream symbolism of the American motorcyclist as a fundamentally white and masculine figure. Eric Chavez (University of Texas at El Paso) turned the conversation to his work on public art, muralism, and graffiti in the borderlands region of El Paso, highlighting questions of community-based rural art production and the tensions between sanctioned and unsanctioned forms of art. Sarah Lee (University of California, Berkeley) discussed her research on the criminality and corruption of the Fresno Police Department, and how rural areas serve as laboratories for technologies of racialized space and criminality. Taneil Ruffin (Princeton University) shared her work on Black freedom seekers in the antebellum United States, discussing the tenuous and fragile legal status of freed people and the ways freedom was a constant navigation. Finally, Georga-Kay Whyte (Brown University) discussed her research on Black custodial staff at Southern universities and the ways they carved out their own spaces in predominantly white campus communities. Attendees then participated in a lively and generative Q+A session, exploring the themes of criminalization and carcerality, race and racialization, gender, and labor that arose in the panelists’ work.

The 1:30 session saw another all–graduate student panel. Chair Sara Evenson (University at Albany, State University of New York) talked with Austin Hall (University of Cincinnati), Samuel Hernandez (University of Illinois at Chicago), and Benjamin Susman (West Virginia University) about their work and experiences as graduate students in public history, broadly defined. Panelists discussed the merits and challenges of pursuing public history projects as a part of their graduate programs and dissertation projects. Susman explored how public history can be understood not just as professional historians sharing traditional historical works, but also as crafting narratives with and for the public, and crafting history within and for particular communities from the outset. Panelists stressed the importance of faculty and institutions supporting the kinds of projects graduate students want to pursue and looking for ways to develop public history education infrastructure, driving the discipline forward in new and exciting ways. 

Yevan Terrien (Visiting Instructor of History, University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and Amy Ransford (Assistant Editor, Journal of American History). Photo by Andrew Cooper. You can read Yevan Terrien’s recent JAH article here, or listen to his JAH podcast interview with Ransford here.

The final session of the day included a panel discussion called “Partnering for Queer History: Community-Based Archive/Oral History Work in LGBTQ+ History.” Participants gathered to hear from Harlan Greene (College of Charleston) and Stephanie Yuhl (Holy Cross/Worcester Historical Museum) about LGBTQ+ archive and oral history projects. Panelist Hooper Schultz (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) could not attend in person, but Yuhle read his paper out loud. All three panelists discussed the various obstacles and opportunities they’ve encountered in doing their work archiving and oral history work. They shared the limitations of archival practices, especially when it comes to collecting a diverse array of oral histories within historically white institutions. Yuhle and Greene pointed to some of the difficulties involved in community-based LGBTQ+ oral history work, including the challenges of forming community advisory boards, navigating the differences between public and private funding, how to implement collecting practices that are both ethical and accessible, and how to create sustainable rather than personality-driven projects. The highlight of the panel was the Q+A session, in which attendees shared their own experiences and questions about LGBTQ+ oral history projects. The atmosphere was collaborative and generous, as attendees and panelists alike exchanged expertise and advice.

Friday afternoon’s roundtable, “Sovereignties in the Atlantic World: Black and Indigenous Intersections,” began with the assertion that historians of early modern Indigenous peoples and the African diaspora do not, for the most part, engage with each other’s work enough, and that doing so would allow for a more robust and nuanced conversation of sovereignty and enslavement. Chair Miguel Valerio (Washington University) alongside panelists Alycia Hall (Yale), Matthew Kruer (University of Chicago), Hayley Negrin (University of Illinois at Chicago), and Shavagne Scott (Ohio State University) called on historians to consider the frameworks of sovereignty and slavery as conceptually compatible. Participants engaged in a robust dialogue about the language of sovereignty, including concepts of relational sovereignty, sovereign enactments, communal sovereignty, and territoriality. Further discussion centered on the tension between self-determination and sovereignty, as well as the variety of ways in which Indigenous and maroon communities continued to act sovereign even when land was no longer in question. 

OAH President Anthea Hartig presenting the Friend of History Award to Executive Director of National History Day Cathy Gorn. Photo by Andrew Cooper.

Friday evening, conference attendees honored the best in American history at the OAH Awards Ceremony. Honorees included Earl Lewis, recipient of the Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award for his dedication to the OAH and service in the field of history more broadly, and National History Day, recipient of the Friend of History Award. Executive Director of National History Day Cathy Gorn accepted the award, and emphasized the importance of protecting the ability to teach “unvarnished history,” and shared the wide reach of National History Day programming – former National History Day students include National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to celebrity chef Guy Fieri. A full list of 2024 award recipients is available here.

Staff Spotlight:

We’re highlighting various members of the OAH and JAH team. We’ve asked them to provide a short bio and to tell us what panels or events they’re most excited for this weekend–if you see them around, come say hi!

Andrew Cooper, production editor for the Journal of American History.


Andrew Cooper, Production Editor, Journal of American History

I’m Andrew Cooper, and I’m the production editor for the Journal and help out with Process and the JAH Podcast. While I wear many hats, my primary role is to ensure that production of the Journal and our other publications runs smoothly. I’m mostly looking forward to all the exhibitors in the exhibit hall. I love seeing all the new exciting work coming out from different presses and talking to different organizations that partner with the OAH. It’s a great networking opportunity, especially for graduate students and those looking to pitch their work to a publisher!