As an experiment, at the 2020 American Historical Association (AHA) Annual Meeting, January 3-6 in New York, Radical HistoryReview (RHR) used its AHA affiliate status, and, with the support of Historians for Peace and Democracy (H-PAD), organize eleven sessions. Other AHA-affiliated organizations also organize such sessions, some, like the Conference of Latin American Historians, in rather large numbers (over eighty in 2020).
While our sessions were more modest in number, they were, we feel, quite effective in offering politically inflected scholarship, stimulating radical historical and political discussion, addressing organizing opportunities and imperatives for historians in the current crisis, and raising the scholarly and political profiles of both RHR and H-PAD. Our eleven sessions emphasized both topics of political-historical scholarship, and those dealing with historians’ role in political organizing. One was a strategy session—the largest of the eleven—which featured a broad, lively discussion of the roles of historians and historically-oriented intellectuals during the current social crisis. A full list of our sessions and panelists is available at https://www.historiansforpeace.org/aha2020/sessions/.
Approximately fifty-three individuals were presenters, panelists, or commentators on our eleven sessions. About 2/3s of these had not previously been actively involved with either RHR or H-PAD. All the sessions attracted reasonable numbers of conference goers and some were large: three sessions involved thirty-five to forty people; four, twenty to twenty-seven; four, eleven to seventeen. By observers’ and participants’ accounts (including this writer, who attended every session) all of them were strong in content, presentation quality, political relevance, and audience engagement. To give political context to the sessions, each was introduced by a member of the RHR/H-PAD organizing group, explaining it was part of a RHR/H-PAD program of sessions and offering the rationale behind these; attendees were pointed toward our other sessions, our tables, and our resolutions at the AHA Business Meeting (to be reported on elsewhere).
We ran RHR and H-PAD tables continuously at the back of the room in which our sessions were held one after another from 1 PM on Friday to 5PM on Sunday. Having all of our sessions scheduled sequentially in the same room was an enormous advantage. The tables attracted much attention, became sites for much discussion, and provided conference–goers opportunities to become familiar with the work of both RHR and H-Pad. The RHR table had eight recent issues of the journal on display with information on how both to subscribe and to order back issues, plus informational leaflets. The H-PAD table had free copies of all ten of our Broadsides, informational leaflets on H-PAD, on the Peace History website, on the H-PAD sponsored resolutions at the AHA business meeting, and other related information. During the sessions, presenters and others asked to leave leaflets on the table for recent books and forthcoming events with which they were involved, and we readily agreed
We publicized our eleven sessions, our strategy meeting, our tables, and our business meeting resolutions extensively, both prior to and during the AHA meeting. Starting midday Friday, we began distributing program pamphlets and sheets at our tables, at plenaries and meetings, and on random to others we knew or encountered. We began the conference with 400 total copies of program pamphlets and sheets, and had less than fifty over at the end. Before the conference we used the internet and a variety of email strings and vehicles to publicize our conference efforts. Our publicity efforts appear to us to have been quite broad and effective. This publicity work was, we feel, important beyond getting folks to our sessions and activities: it raised the profile of both RHR and H-PAD as centers of radical history and politics.
Although more discussion is warranted, the organizing group believes that our sessions, tabling, publicity, and business meeting resolutions at the AHA meeting were quite worthwhile in terms of making both political and scholarly contributions. A number of colleagues proposed that we should run similar sessions again next year at the Seattle AHA—some even suggested particular sessions they would like to see or help organize. Although we haven’t fully decided on this, it seems likely we will do just that, hopefully notify those interested of our plans soon.
Basically, we feel our experiment at the 2020 AHA was a success.
Andor Skotnes for the conference working group.