Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Comments

Today I got an email asking me why I had not renewed my membership in the AHA. I got a little wordy and my high-horse carried me away:

"I only joined the horrible organization because I was on the job market. I was ashamed to be associated with the organization while I was a member. The annual meetings and publications showcase the most petty, partisan, small-minded intellectual thugs assembled in the western hemisphere. Every year I grow more embarrassed and disappointed with the AHA. I was editing a joural article for a colleague a few months back, taking out all of the new jargon. He wrote me back saying that if he didn't include that buzz-word language that the article would never be published. It was published--with the buzz-word jargon, of course. History has never been more popular with the public, but any history-lover would consider it punishment to watch any panel at the AHA meeting. Most troubling though, is how dissenters are treated by people who claim to be open minded. None of these complaints are new, of course, but I had to hold my tongue until I got a job, lest I be marked a troublemaker in a hypercompetitive job market. I'll leave you alone to publish a journal that nobody reads and hold a meeting once a year to ratify the fact that you all still agree with one another. And why not pass some meaningless resolutions for good measure. Have fun with that."

If I thought twice I would have probably been more restrained.

5 comments:

Jeff said...

I completely agree--place my signagture on your letter. The AHA has become nothing more than a sham money-making organization. To charge grad students and underemployed job candidates 100 bucks to interview is ridiculous bordering on the obscene. I loathe the AHA.

Stephen said...

Harumph!

dcat said...

Gentlemen --
I let my AHA membership elapse for about two years and just rejpoined mostly out of a sense of professional obligation, and on the outside chance that I might win or be nominated for one of the book awards, as you must be a member to win. I agree with many of Steve's sentiments. The journal is practically irrelevant (I honestly cannot remember the last time I read anything other than a book review in it).
I would like to point out that the AHA is the largest historical organization, and that is part of its problem -- its bigness fuels its impersonalness, but also in a sense its parochialness, because at the AHA one wanders around ina stupor because even the most well read historian won't know, and therefore won't care about, what is going on in other aspects of the discipline.
But the good thing is that there really is still a lot of good within the profession. Lots of good, well-written books, lots of good, well-written articles, even if not in the AHR. I'm not certain what journal your friend was publishing in, but if he kept the jargon in despite not wanting to, why not look at another journal? That seems to be his fault more than anyone else's.
I still know lots of good historians who keep their AHA membership in order. I think most who do keep paying the exorbitant membership fee do so out of a sense of professional obligation -- of course you're supposed to be a member of the AHA. (Cost probably pisses me off more than anything -- a huge membership fee, and then another huge fee to attend the annual meeting if one must. Even with a job, I have begun to feel priced out of the market -- I can tell you from personal experience that woe be unto the person whose work crosses disciplinary or subdisciplinary boundaries. Engage in transnational or comparative work and try to keep on top of all of the memberships. One can easily spend a thousand dollars just in memberships without stepping foot at one of the annual meetings.)
You should find a reason to join the Southern. It's the best. Inexpensive, manageable meetings usually in good places, with lots of conviviality, a fine journal, and far fewer of the headaches you mention in your diatribe against the AHA. I plan to attend the Southern every year just to see people, to socialize, and actually to enjoy a conference.

dcat

Stephen said...

I'm still a member of the OAH... for now.

dcat said...

Steve --
Me too. In fact just reupped with them also. I think OAH brings more concrete advantages than AHA. It has some of the same issues. Of course one aspect of this that is not AHA's fault, per se, as the job market aspect of the AHA every year is so miserable.
I think bigness is also a problem. The African Studies Association is equally problematic. But smaller organizations counter all that, even if members of the smaller groups are also members of the larger ones.

dcat