Thoughts on the OAH Annual Meeting

For the first nine years of my teaching career, my teaching load centered on European history.  All of the graduate courses I’ve taken have been about some aspect of European history or the EU.  Imagine my disappointment then when my department decided to get rid of all three courses I taught concerning Europe.  What all of this means for me is that I now need to teach myself U.S. history.  Luckily, the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is held this year in Milwaukee, WI, about an hour from where I live.

I went to only one panel yesterday, “Researching Capitalism and Democracy in the American Global Twentieth Century.”  While the research of the three panelists focused on Italian immigrants, a topic unfamiliar to me, I did take away some important ideas about the field of history itself.  First was the notion of transnational collaboration.  Two of the panelists had worked together on a project and shared their experience.  Two of the benefits of such partnerships are assisting with translating sources and suggesting readings.  Additionally, transnational collaboration can be useful when dealing with issues such as immigration and labour.  Given my interest in Europe and the EU, I could definitely see the benefits of such relationships.

The second interesting theme I got out of the panel was the link between the national and transnational.  This was made evident in a presentation about the relationship between Italian immigrants in the U.S. and Italy.  Efforts to help out Italy during the First World War drew together the various ethnic communities here in the U.S. and the transnational community.  Additionally, in today’s age of globalization, we can see a very strong connection between trade and immigration.

As for my experience today, I went to an enlightening panel about the Arab Spring.  Much was said about the role of the U.S. in the revolutions as well as the foreign policy of the U.S. during the Cold War.  One statement struck me as particularly disheartening- the U.S. public does not pay too much attention to foreign affairs.  Unfortunately, I agreed.  Most of the news here focuses on local issues or sensational news (i.e. sex, violence, celebrities).  A few years ago, I actually wrote about this to the editor of my local paper, The Wisconsin State Journal, and he said that as a result of declining readership and a decrease in funding, many papers do not have full time or even part time foreign editors. Interesting that in an age of globalization, American citizens tend to look inward.

Tonight, I am on a panel for precollegiate teachers about making the most out of these large annual meetings.  Last year I took five students to the 125th annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in Boston and wrote an article about it.  My message is actually going to focus on why it is important not only for teachers to attend these meetings, but also why we should bring our students.  Not only do they get a chance to learn about history, but also the field itself (professions, historiography, etc.).

I will write more tomorrow after a full day of panels.  The first one is about blogging, so it should be interesting.




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