Monday, March 30, 2009

OAH Report

Herewith, at the request of one of my grad-school friends, an update on the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), which I attended this past weekend:

The OAH met in Seattle this year, and the siting of its annual conference on the less-heavily-populated West Coast, combined with the austerities of the current recession, made for a lightly attended and somewhat bare-bones meeting. Slightly more than 1,800 people registered for the convention, down from the 2,600 who attended the 2008 meeting in New York. The book exhibit, the heart of any professional historians' convention, had 38 fewer exhibitors than last year, and those publishers who attended sold few books. The halls at the Seattle Convention and Trade Center were relatively uncrowded; one might have thought that most of the attendees were out sightseeing, were it not for the less-than-optimal weather (mid-40s, rainy) that put a damper on outdoor activities. The presidential address, by Pete Daniel, drew less than 200 people, and I heard of no panels or other conference sessions with more than 50 people in the audience.

The History News Network has further bad news on the Organization's finances, for those who are interested in such things. Not mentioned, but well-known to American historians, is the self-inflicted nature of some of the OAH's financial wounds: the Organization's officers have cancelled two contracts and moved two conventions in the last decade due to labor actions against the host hotels, at a cost to the OAH of $600,000. I don't believe the association could have acted any differently, since many members told the executive committee they wouldn't cross a picket line, but the Organization should probably have done what one of my grad school advisors suggested: take a formal vote of the membership on the issue, and then (if the members voted to move the convention) hit up the members for the associated costs.

In my next post, some thoughts on the panels I attended at this year's OAH convention.

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