Manan Ahmed: AHA approves panel after he includes a woman

Historians in the News

The proposed panel seemed like a perfect pitch at a time when scholars in many fields are studying postcolonial identity and diaspora communities. The idea was to have scholars who study different regions and time periods examine issues of collective memory and identity in post-World War II Germany, modern Pakistan, and Japanese diaspora communities.

The program committee for the next annual meeting for the American Historical Association liked the idea, too. There was just one little problem: The scholars involved are all men. “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,” said the notification the panel organizer received. Unless an acceptable additional participant is added, “we will be forced to reject your panel.”

The response stunned Manan Ahmed, the organizer, who is preparing for his dissertation defense at the University of Chicago. After venting via e-mail with colleagues and joking about proposing that the panelists all appear in drag, he decided to go public with concerns about the AHA’s policy and blogged about it on Cliopatria. In his post, he said that he didn’t know what to do because he thought it would be insulting to ask a woman to join the panel just because she is a woman.

Ahmed and his fellow panelists have been rescued. Rebecca A. Goetz, an assistant professor of history at Rice University, is a specialist on early North American history. She wouldn’t normally have put herself forward for the panel, but since it appeared that there was only one relevant qualification (in the eyes of the AHA), and she admires the work of the scholars who might otherwise be shut out of the meeting, she has become the chair of the panel.

Ahmed said that he’s a fan of Goetz’s work, too, and has no doubt that she’ll offer some great insights, but when he sent in her name to the AHA, he just gave her name and institutional affiliation — not including any explanation of how her work would fit into the theme of the panel (the kind of explanation provided about the other panelists). No matter — the name “Rebecca” did the trick and the panel was immediately approved, no questions asked....

[AHA President Barbara Weinstein told Inside Higher Ed that it's"healthy" to require women on panels.]

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