2021 ANNUAL MEETING CANCELEDHistorians in the News
tags: AHA, American Historical Association, conferences
After careful deliberation, the American Historical Association has determined that it will be impossible to hold the annual meeting in Seattle from January 7 to 10, 2021, as originally planned. The best available information—from public health authorities and medical experts, including the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and state and local authorities—suggests that the global health crisis will not be sufficiently resolved by January to convene a national, or even regional, conference. Travel restrictions will probably remain in place, and a large gathering of people from around the country and the world would pose a health risk.
When the AHA announced this decision in July, we received many emails, all supportive, and a striking proportion noted how difficult the decision must have been. Actually, the decision wasn’t difficult at all. By July it was clear there would not be a widely available vaccine for the novel coronavirus by January. We couldn’t imagine asking AHA staff to travel across the country; nor could we in good conscience even suggest to our colleagues that it might be a good idea to gather in closed rooms, given the current state of knowledge about COVID-19 contagion.
That this decision was obvious did not make it any less disappointing. The AHA considers the cultivation of communities among historians to be one of its primary functions. One of the authors of this essay has dedicated much of her professional life to building and enhancing the experiences of these communities, at our annual meetings and elsewhere. The other author spends much of his work time learning from and enjoying collegial interaction with these communities. Our mantra, as many readers know, is “How can we help?” It’s easiest to ask that question in person, and in the context of the energy of the annual meeting.
Perhaps even more important, thousands of AHA members rely on the opportunity to meet in person to build professional relationships, share their scholarship, and engage in professional development. These functions of the meeting, therefore, have shaped our thinking about what to do instead. While we will not be able to connect in person, the AHA staff is preparing a variety of web-based programming over the next 10 months to continue to bring together our communities of historians with these activities in mind. This approach, rather than a virtual annual meeting taking place on only four days in January, seems more likely to address the needs of our members while also providing opportunities for innovation.
The AHA staff is in the early stages of working out the details of the web-based programming, which will be called Virtual AHA. This new series of video and online content will incorporate the AHA Colloquium, our name for content drawn from the canceled 2021 annual meeting. It will also include online teaching forums, career development workshops, a series of webinars called History Behind the Headlines, National History Center programming, and more.