AHA Day One: books and jobs
I split my time on the first day of the conference between blogs and books. After working my way through about half of the book room, I ran into Rebunk/Big Tent bloggers Tom Bruscino and Stephen Tootle, and ended up having dinner with them and a half-dozen other friends and acquaintances of theirs. As so often happens when bloggers get together, we didn't actually talk about blogging much; mostly we talked about hiring, interviews, historians we know and admire (which does include a few bloggers), books, jobs, places we've lived.... historians' lives.
There's a lot of memories at a conference. My most unexpected meeting today was with a woman who was my host when I went up to visit grad school. It was a day trip, so I didn't get to see what grad students do at night until I was one, but I got to meet with a few faculty and have lunch with a bunch of grad students. I didn't know what questions to ask, to be honest, but I had the sense that they were working hard and enjoying themselves. So I went.
My guess is that well over half of the people who come to this conference are here because of jobs: interviewing or being interviewed. Most of the rest are presenting papers or selling books. I've been interviewed a few times and I've been on what seems like a lot of hiring committees (about one a year, not all in History, since I started full-time work), so I feel as though I should have some insight into the process. Perhaps if I thought about it more I would, but the one thing which sticks out most when someone asks me"anything I should know" and I have to come up with something that not every other"Getting a Job in the Academy" seminar covers is this: answer the question. Whether its in a cover letter or in an interview, make sure you understand what's being asked and answer it. Sure, you can hedge and digress and talk about what you want to talk about, but if you want to get the job, make sure that you've answered the question. One of the worst things that can happen after an interview is for interviewers to look at each other and say"did you get an answer to that question?" You can't be sure that your answer is what they're looking for, but at least if they don't pick you, it's because they don't want you rather than because they don't understand you. You can't control the agendas and issues the interviewers bring to the table, but you can be clear.
Not to be discouraging to my interviewing friends, but I've never had an AHA interview pan out in the end: both of my jobs started as phone interviews (on the other hand, every job I didn't get went to someone). One was actually a whole series of phone interviews, instead of a conference call: In the end I talked to someone on the phone every day for a week (two of them were conversations arranging phone calls for the following day) before they invited me out for the campus visit. The interviews I've conducted have all been phone interviews as well, so I have no basis for comparison from that side. The stakes are the same: a short interview for screening out purposes, but I've always felt much less tense about presenting myself by phone. It would be very interesting (and very difficult) to do a study about the relative success of hires done by phone v. conference interview.
The book exhibits were, as usual, rich and varied. Reading over the ads in the conference program and wandering through the exhibits I was reminded of just how rich a field we work in. Most intriguing book out of my field title for the day probably has to go to"Corrupt History" which is actually not about our current scandals or even about corrupt historians, but is an attempt at a comparative and theoretical history of official corruption. The historiographical challenges boggle the imagination. Book I will almost certainly end up buying award goes to Daniel Botsman's study of 19th century Japanese penology, which combines legal and social history in some really interesting ways. Ask and ye shall recieve (eventually) award goes to Houghton Mifflin, which has finally assembled a new team of scholars to produce an entirely new comprehensive textbook for East Asian History, replacing the venerable... very venerable... the first edition was in the 1950s... East Asia: Tradition and Transformation by Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig. I've had this conversation with HM reps at every AHA and AAS I've been to for years: the old book is well-written and sound, but age does show after a while, and it can't be revised much, now that two of the authors are deceased. The new team -- Walthall, Embry and Palais -- are first-rate scholars and writers, and the new book has a great deal more Korean history and more of the interactions within East Asia, both of which were shortages of the older book. However HM is not planning to produce a stand-alone Korean history text from this, to go along with the China and Japan texts, and I really want a good basic Korean history text in the market.
I'm not looking for textbooks at the moment, except for my upcoming Historiography course; I did pick up a few books in that vein, including the very intriguing"Historians on History" anthology edited by John Tosh. (At the very least that'll be good for pithy quotations about the work we do) I also put in for an exam copy of an essay collection called (I think)"What is History NOW?" which includes essays on the state of a variety of subfields and issues. I was thinking that, as an exercise, I would have students read through the book review section of AHR for at least one area and talk about what that tells us (and what it doesn't) about the issues and methods and state of the field.
OK, it's been long enough since the beer, and the coffee is running through my veins again. Time to get back to my paper.
Update: For other perspectives on the Conference, see Another Damned Medievalist and HNN's Rick Shenkman. No overlap today between any of us. If anyone else is liveblogging the conference, let me know and I'll add links.
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