Smaller History Gathering

January 7, 2010

The American Historical Association kicks off its annual meeting today, in San Diego, amid signs that it will be the latest disciplinary group to see a significant drop in attendance. AHA officials stress that they get hundreds of on-site registrations most years, sometimes even 1,000. But as of Jan. 1, 3,705 people had pre-registered. That's down from 5,400 last year (a meeting held in New York City, considered a major draw, and 4,366 the year before, in Washington. Of course many believe that attendance this year is bound to be way down, given that there are far fewer jobs open and that many historians don't want to spend the money to travel this year.

Adding to concerns over the meeting is that some events will be held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, whose owner contributed heavily to the campaign in the state against gay marriage and who has clashed with local labor groups. San Diego gay and labor leaders -- as well as the executive director of the American Studies Association -- have sent a letter to all search committees interviewing at the meeting, asking them to move away from the hotel. "Nobody should have to cross a picket line to apply for a line," the letter says. The AHA made the arrangements with the hotel well before the boycott call and officials have said that the association would be endangered by the financial hit it would take if it canceled. But amid calls for the association to boycott the hotel, the historians plan numerous sessions this year on gay right issues.

Nothing Recedes Like Success, a history gossip blog, noting both the bad jobs outlook and the boycott dispute, this week predicted a "bleak, long weekend" for the meeting. "While the rich and well-funded among us will enjoy a respite in the expensive southern California city, a storm is brewing on the Pacific coast that may well wash over the nation’s most venerable historical association like a tsunami."

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