Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blog LXIX (69): The AHA is Here: Day 2

Yesterday was an average second day at the AHA. The problem I (and many others) with the AHA is that most of the sessions seem irrelevant to my interests. History is simply too big and too diverse for there to be an organization for the entire profession.

Went to a session on publishing: “‘Beyond Chaps and Maps’: A Roundtable on Publishing International History.” Kathleen McDermott of Harvard University Press said “History is a big selling category to the outside world.” I also learned that books that cross disciplines are difficult for publishers to market and sell. They tend to like books that fit solidly in a category. Interdisciplinary work is difficult because it can often be peripheral to the main issues in several different fields. A book needs to be central to the debate or area of concern in some field. Susan Ferber of Oxford University noted that there are so many specializations in certain historical subfields, that they are splitting. In this current economic environment, that is not a wise move. The thing that impressed her the most of late was the debate that took place at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations about changing the name of the organization and journal. That organization has managed to maintain a big tent approach and is one of the most civil and collegial learned societies in the history profession. As a diplomatic historian, that made me feel good.

Spent a lot of time at the book fair, grabbing books. Ran into several old friends. Had some interesting conversations—typical AHA stuff. A friend asked about my session and then talked about an article in Inside Higher Ed that discussed academic employment. It sounds like an interesting article and I will dig it up for this blog.

Went back to my room and worked out.

Had an interesting conversation with a friend on the way to a reception. His university is doing a search for a Latin Americanist. They had 140 applicants and are interviewing 15 at the conference. I asked how did they reduce that number. He said each committee member took a third of the applicants and weeded them down. First, they would only look at people with a Ph.D. No ABDs. Second, they were looking for true Latin Americanists, not someone who did U.S.-Latin America—they have a diplomatic historian and they need a real Latin Americanist. Third, the decided that they would look only at people that had already had some type of teaching experience. The problem they were facing is that none of the candidates had given a bad interview. I include this little incident in hopes of giving readers of this blog a better idea of what happens in the interview process and how tough it is to get a job in history.

I then spent time at the reception for the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. A good group and I saw a lot of old friends. I then went to a very small reception afterwards for AHA book prize winners and the leadership of the AHA. (I was invited as the chair of an AHA book prize committee. Very good food, but the session seemed reflective of the problems with the AHA—there was little mingling. People talked to those in their little niches.

Started snowing last night.

I had dinner in Boston at Mother Anna’s, an Italian place in Boston’s North End. There were about 25 other diplomatic historians in attendance. We had a good conversation about university administration with Randall Woods, a former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Woods, myself, William Hitchcock of the University of Virginia, and Fredrik Logevall of Cornell University were at one end of a long table and our conversation also discussed publishing. Basically books are not selling that well—which is hardly surprising given the current economic environment.

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