Blogs > Cliopatria > Regional v. National Conferences

Jan 13, 2004 4:44 am

Regional v. National Conferences

Reading the reports from the AHA, and my colleagues' musings about the value and oddities of the national meeting, I was reminded of my favorite conferences. As an Asianist, I'm a member of the Association for Asian Studies, and the national conferences are intense pleasures. Except at the biggest research institutions, there is rarely more than one Asianist per department at a college or university, and often not more than a few faculty with Asian interests. Even when there is some density of faculty, there are often institutional reasons why we don't interact more. So the AAS Annual is a blast: scholars whose work you've read and cited and who've read and cited your work; having to choose between equally compelling panels in your own field; catching up with friends... OK, so Western historians get to do that at the AHA, but it's not as easy for us Asianists. I'm going to San Diego in March, having organized a panel, and I'm pretty excited, even if I am behind on the actual paper-writing.

But the national is expensive to attend, and very particular about the panels they accept (AAS doesn't accept individual paper proposals anymore, and everyone on a panel, even your discussant, has to be unique to your panel). My favorite conferences, actually, have been the AAS regional conferences, annual events usually held in the summer. I've presented four papers at three different regionals now: New England, Western and Asian-Pacific. The discussions have been substantive, comments helpful, and even the more senior faculty at these events quite approachable and collegial. OK, it's a little harder to find people who do exactly the same work you do, but most of the papers are pretty good and people take feedback (both giving and receiving) more seriously. You get the chance to spend time with and build relationships with colleagues in your region, with much less posturing and preening than goes on at the national. There's no hiring going on, so the"stink of fear" (as one of my grad school colleagues put it) and undercurrents of competition are missing, and that's really nice. The AAS regionals are tightly integrated with the national organization, not some random outgrowth: the regional organizations send members to the AAS board, and I'm pretty sure there's a financial relationship as well.

What I'm wondering is: why aren't there regional AHA organizations? My ties to the historical profession are as strong as my ties to the Asian studies field, but local and regional historical societies seem to be very narrowly focused on US or local history. The closest thing I can find seems to be the annual Phi Alpha Theta (History honor society) gathering, but that's more an undergraduate event. Maybe I just missed it, but it'd be nice to have an institutional setting where historians can really come together and share their work and their experiences without the high-stakes atmosphere of the national meeting.

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More Comments:

Another Damned Medievalist - 1/16/2004

I've received invites to the PCB annually, as well as CFPs and ballots, since I became an AHA member. Maybe PCB is just really well orgainized?

David Salmanson - 1/14/2004

AHA-PCB is a great conference. I presented in Park City. Nice group of people, a bit dominated by American West types, but enough of a mix to make just about anybody comfortable.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2004

I suspect that the AHA-PCB isn't listed on the affiliate list to which you refer, because it is a list of historical associations which meet in conjunction with the AHA convention. So, all of those groups just met with the AHA in DC. You were looking for something other than that, I take it.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/13/2004

No I hadn't. I hadn't heard of it until today. And it isn't listed as an affiliate of the AHA (, though they do mention it on their contact page ( But it says that members in that region "automatically" become members, and I haven't seen any evidence of it. Either they're waiting for me to say something or Hawai'i isn't actually included, in spite of the conference location. I'll make some inquiries, though.

But AHA-PCB and the New England Historical Association appear to be the only groups which come close. Well kept secrets, it seems.

Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2004

Have you looked at the AHA, PCB? It last met at Honolulu in August and sounds like what you are asking about.

Oscar Chamberlain - 1/13/2004

Since I moved to Wisconsin, I've been attending the Northern Great Plains History Conference, whose membership extends (very roughly) from western Wisconsin across the Dakotas and from Nebraska north into Canada.

It is much like the other regional conferences you described. Northern Great Plains is enjoyable and offers good sessions on a wide range of topics (though there is a natural focus on the regional history and agricultural history). It also has a very relaxed atmosphere, good opportunities for contacts and, as a bonus, sessions to devoted to some very fine student research.

And it is much, much cheaper. My wife (who is also a historian) and I are still getting over a bit of sticker shock concerning the upcoming OAH in Boston. where the hotel is roughly $200 a night. I don't even want to think about the bar prices.