Manan Ahmed: Complains that AHA is apparently requiring him to have a woman on his panel

Historians in the News

It started innocently enough.

I had been mulling that blogging historians should be make a panel submission to AHA - on their actual work - and not just on 'blogging'. A comment thread sparked the idea forward into motion and soon enough, we had a full blown roundtable panel proposal submitted to the AHA. I had some other ideas of sharing some of our research and even allow comments on our working papers prior to the AHA. To basically demonstrate the amazing capabilities in this medium for scholarly collaboration.

And then ....

Dear Manan Ahmed,

After meeting this weekend to consider the proposals for the 2008 AHA, the Program Committee has decided to accept your panel,"Contested Pasts and Constructed Presents: Memory in the Local," with certain conditions.

Since the AHA has a standing commitment to gender diversity on panels, the Program Committee has decided to require you to find a female participant, perhaps to serve as chair or a second commentator for your session.

We will need a response with the name and affiliation of the new participant by May 8, 2007 in order to include your panel in this year's program. If you do not respond, we will be forced to reject your panel.


Now, I will be honest that some exclamations containing colorful punjabi phrases did escape my mouth. I had never heard of this requirement. Of course, that doesn't mean anything besides that I am un-informed. So I re-scanned the CFP to see if I had missed something. Nothing there. But, indeed, I had missed 3.2 (C) of the AHA guidelines: The AHA seeks to avoid gender-segregated sessions. The Program Committee will thus encourage participants to include members of both sexes, wherever possible. [Lets ignore, for now, that apparent slight of transgendered historians].

Well. That email does a bit more than 'encourage'.

Truth be told, the thought of going to any historian and asking him or her to be a token panelist to fulfill a quota is deeply offensive to all parties involved. And I am quite taken aback by AHA's rather ham-handed efforts at diversity. My own efforts to convince my fellow panelists to do the panel in drag have largely failed. Leaving me with no choice but a public appeal.

I am posting the panel abstract and paper titles below the fold. If any historians would kindly agree to join us as a commentator or, even a panelist, please contact me as soon as possible. The AHA is in Washington, D.C., January 3–6th. I promise that it will be an exciting panel filled with lots of jokes about gender-quotas.

Whatever happens with this panel, I hope the AHA will decide to prominently feature this requirement in the CFP - or make it a bit more explicit than"wherever possible". Or at least evoke some feedback during the submission process. It is easy enough to encourage diversity earlier in the process but not as cool after the fact. I don't have any problems with AHA's policy - at all. I am just certain that there are better, pro-active ways of going about it.

Session Title:
Contested Pasts and Constructed Presents: Memory in the Local

Historians who are, in Pierre Nora's words, "less interested in traditions than in the way in which traditions are constituted and passed on" have focused on the role of memory in the pasts generated by nations and communities. While, this approach has given multivocality and nonlinearity to the historical narratives produced, it has largely remained state-centric and top-down - with memory set in the realm of folktales, novels and bazaar-speech. This roundtable hopes to complicate the conversation on history and memory by focusing on localized narratives and realities that often exist in contradiction to the national and other hegemonic ones. The tensions between local memories and national constructs provide a rich background for an examination of the production and consumption of historical memory. The end of World War II, the emergence of the postcolonial state, the movement and migration of communities and the re-evaluation of Europe's own past are all sites of where such historical narratives were contested and resisted. We present case-studies from communities across Europe and Asia which give us a window into these contestations. Manan Ahmed shows the creation and commemoration of a national hero in the postcolonial Pakistan under the military regime of General Zia ul Haq. Nathanel Robinson looks at Konrad Adenauer's project of highlighting local and regional memories underlining German history. And Jonathan Dresner examines how nationalist narratives of diaspora create tensions between homeland and diasporic communities.

Collectively, these presentation intend on generating connections and bridges across these varied histories to highlight the resistances memory offers to history. Building on our presentations, we would open the roundtable discussions by posing three questions to the audience on the broader themes of usage of historical memory, public histories and the postcolonial urge to forget.


Jonathan Dresner, Univ. of Hawaii, Hilo. "Diaspora Memory: Selective Histories of Japanese Emigration".

Nathaneal Robinson, Brandeis University. "Adenauer’s Transient Pasts".

Manan Ahmed, University of Chicago. "The End of Muhammad ibn al-Qasim: Memory, History and the Postcolonial Urge to Forget"

Commentator: Alan Baumler, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

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More Comments:

Lisa Kazmier - 5/9/2007

This is mild, dude. Try being a woman attempting to get a tenure track job. Hundreds of applicants and I bet 8-9 of 10 jobs are granted to men who are about half of the applicants. Given your title is Contested Pasts and Constructed Presents: Memory in the Local, it seems an oversight at the very least that a woman in topic or as a panelist is missing.

Sorry, but no sympathy here. If you cannot even think of a female deserving inclusion on a panel with that title, I'd say something is wrong. Maybe it's the content omission as well as panel construction that is a problem?