Last week I attended the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. Although I’ve always thought of myself as a historian, I hadn’t been to an AHA meeting since my first year of grad school in 2004. In part, I hadn’t been going because I’m affiliated with so many disciplines that it’s difficult to keep up with all the meetings. But I also hadn’t been going because I wasn’t sure what the AHA would do for me. I won’t be interviewing there, since I’m not applying for teaching jobs, and playing the big-conference game (pretending not to notice the thousands of ways people behave disrespectfully to each other) has started to seem unnecessary to me.
I did go back, though, for a few reasons. First, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only recently come to understand how scholarly societies might be important sites of change within the academy. In my mind, AHA, MLA, SCMS, and their ilk were bureaucratic prestige-machines, awarding prizes and manning the gates for the old guard.