The American Historian

Under a Canopy of Blossoms: The 2020 OAH Annual Meeting, April 2-5, 2020

Hajni Selby

The coincidence of the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting, Conference on American History, being held in Washington, D.C, after a 10-year hiatus, under a canopy of cherry blossoms, during a critical election year, on the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, and the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment is hard to ignore. The intersection of these crucial points helped develop a phenomenal program filled with an abundance of scholarship, collaboration, opportunity, and engagement.
 
The theme of the conference, “(In)Equalites,” developed by program chairs Margot Canaday, Princeton University, and Craig Steven Wilder, MIT, explores how questions of “equality” and “inequality” informed American politics and culture. These questions shaped a large portion of the content, as well as helping us focus on the equitable access of the conference for attendees. In 2020, we are proud to have partnered with Aira to make the conference more accessible for blind and low-vision attendees. Aira is a service that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to connect blind and low-vision people to highly trained, remotely located agents. Additionally, this year we are exploring the use of remote CART captioning, which will allow us to caption Joanne Meyerowitz’s Presidential Address and the plenary session, “The Trouble with Voting,” which will ask panelists Carol Anderson, Geraldo Cadava, Liette Gidlow, Allan Lichtman, and chair Nancy MacLean to reflect on the troubled history of voting while marking the anniversaries of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. With the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, we were able to offer sixty travel grants and 120 $10 registrations to graduate students, independent scholars, and adjunct faculty. To further support these groups, we are providing workshops that specifically deal with the issues and skills that affect them while also having the unique opportunity to be the first in line for workshops training historians’ public voices. Further, all luncheon options provide opportunities for complimentary tickets, and the new Treat-a-Scholar program allows individuals and groups to treat attendees to tours, luncheons, and other special events.
 
The content of the program, compiled from the excellent submitted sessions and sessions solicited by OAH Committees and partners, such as the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Omohundro Institute, Agricultural History Society, and the Labor and Working-Class History Association, is rich with diverse topics and time periods. The over 200 sessions, fifteen workshops, ten chat seminars, five lunch keynotes, five new lightning rounds, State of the Fields, and one plenary session abound with the latest scholarship, trends, and perspectives, and will prompt discussions and collaboration with your peers. In addition to exploring the latest scholarship, the conference offers a full stream of sessions to hone your teaching skills including “Leveling the Playing Field? Immersive Historical Role-Playing Games in the College Classroom,” “Teaching Hard History: Preparing Students to Teach about American Slavery,” and “Planning and Facilitating Discourse in the History Classroom.” In addition to sessions, there are several workshops including the Zinn Education Project’s “Teaching People’s History” and the Library of Congress’ “Teaching about Civic Action and Social Change with Primary Sources from the Library of Congress.” Those who are looking for professional development outside the classroom will also find offerings. The OpEd Project is offering two simultaneous courses on Sunday teaching the art of OpEd writing. This course includes 6 months of individual coaching following the workshop to help get your OpEd written and published. There are also workshops for graduate students, independent scholars, and public historians. On Friday, we invite all attendees to the Exhibit Hall to take part in our Hub Fair to meet agencies, consultants, associations, institutions, and companies who work with, work as, or hire historians outside the academy. Explore the fair and learn about the various participants, such as Historical Research Associates, Naval History and Heritage Command, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, and U.S Forest Service. Learn about the types of positions that exist for historians and how one can find these opportunities.
 
One of the most frequently cited reason for historians to attend the conference is to feel part of the community. We understand that you are looking for ways to connect and collaborate with your peers, and we also understand that not everyone is comfortable simply approaching someone they may not know or only know from reputation. For this reason, we have provided several structured events to chat and connect with your peers. Attendees are invited to meet with publishers and consultants for one-on-one icebreaker conversations via the Hub (a full list of participating publishers and consultants can be found here: oah.org/oah20/hub). The Hub allows you to meet with publishers who are looking for new projects and authors, or to connect with a consultant to help guide your project path. The National Park Service invites attendees to its first “NPS Drop-In” in conjunction with its workshop “Historical Research on the National Park Service: Sources and Methodologies,” where attendees are invited to participate in small group discussions about finding and using NPS collections. Some groups will focus on particular types of primary source materials while others will discuss methodological issues such as dealing with gaps and bias in the sources. Graduate students and recent graduates can sign up to meet with a mentor at the conference. Mentors can offer advice on navigating the conference, the profession, or simply to talk about research interests (see a full list of mentors here: oah.org/oah20/mentors). Additionally, the Chat Room Seminars on Saturday brings attendees together for small group discussions about the topics that matter to you most. Lunch sessions on Friday and Saturday are also a great way to connect with new people and take in an informative keynote—look out for free lunch ticket opportunities via the meal listings!
 
For some unstructured networking, attend a nightly reception. On Thursday night use your drink ticket for a complimentary drink, maybe even a non-alcoholic specialty cocktail! Friday night offers plenty of reception options that bring people with similar interests together. Browse through the Exhibit Hall for new books to add to your personal library or learn about new teaching tools, associations, or services who employ historians such as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. While in the Exhibit Hall chat with representatives from the Humanities Truck. The truck displays “Downtown Displaced,” which seeks to spotlight solutions to homelessness and will be parked outside for you to explore during Exhibit Hall hours.
 
Finally, if the tan décor of the hotel gets too much, explore the amazing city of Washington, D.C. The city, in the prime of cherry blossom season, is rich with museums and historical sites. The Local Resource Committee, chaired by Suzanne Smith, George Mason University, and Adam Rothman, Georgetown University, have organized several tours and events to let you get out while staying within the context of the conference. On Thursday, visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the offsite session “Reconstruction and Public History” with Eric Foner, Turkiya Lowe Julia Marchesi, and Kate Masur. Following the session, visit the galleries at your leisure. For those who would like to visit the museum without attending the session, add one of the forty tickets available per day to your registration. Thursday also offers the unique opportunity to tour the National Cathedral and take part in a traditional afternoon tea in one of the Cathedral’s towers. On Friday, in conjunction with a new online/mobile walking tour for Mapping Segregation in Washington, D.C., a tour of D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood will highlight key sites along a historic racial dividing line. Others may choose to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which is offering an afternoon of activities. Sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour of two new exhibitions in 2020 as part of their American Women’s History Initiative and to celebrate the Centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment: Creating Icons: How We Remember Women’s Suffrage and Girlhood (It’s Complicated). The museum will also host an offsite session, “Because of Her Story: Women’s History and the Public at the NMAH” that brings together leading scholars, Kathleen Franz, Anthea Hartig, Linda Gordon, Catherine Ceniza Choy, Marcia Chatelain, and Lisa Tetrault to discuss how to engage the public in women’s history in ways that challenge common assumptions and create a more inclusive understanding of the diversity of women’s experience. The panel will be followed by a reception at the museum. On Saturday, attendees can visit the Kennedy Center, take a U.S. Capitol Historical Society tour of the U.S. Capitol, or visit the Congressional Cemetery’s LGBTQ section. And finally, for those with time on Sunday, visit the D.C. History Center for an offsite session “#Unmute DC History” that gathers historians and activists for a conversation about recovering and preserving D.C.’s local history and culture so that it endures as a community resource.
 
The OAH Annual Meeting, Conference on American History, offers a range of opportunities to collaborate, network, and engage in your community of like-minded U.S. historians, amass tools for the classroom, hone your professional skills, and get up to date with the scholarship and trends around the profession. We look forward to seeing you in Washington, D.C.!