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Publick Occurrences 2.0

September 21, 2009

Who Could Possibly Organize American Historians?

Filed under: American History,Ben Carp's Posts,Education,Historians,Internet — Benjamin Carp @ 9:40 pm

Larry Cebula over at Northwest History has an interesting post with some suggestions for reforming the OAH.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll boil his suggestions down to the nuggets:

  1. Make the JAH into an exclusively electronic publication
  2. Shake up the conference (he prefers discussions and e-discussions to roundtables and traditional panels)
  3. Establish an open, moderated blog (sort of like a Metafilter for historians)
  4. Reach out to people interested in American history in various local venues
  5. Provide database access to historians outside the academy
  6. Take a firm hand in wrangling grants.

I agree with point 1, I’m in sympathy with point 2, I’d skeptically welcome 3, I’d be all for 4 if it could be proved feasible, and I agree with 5 and 6 in principle, at least.

I shared Professor Cebula’s post on Facebook, and got various responses.  I’ll let Jeff weigh in himself, but my favorite comment was from another senior scholar: “The rot set in when they changed the name of the journal.  What was wrong with The Mississippi Valley Historical Review?”  (Date of name change: 1964.)

I’m an OAH member, and I feel lucky every time the annual conference is held at a nearby town (I like seeing American historians outside my subfield and hearing a few interesting papers, although they always seem to schedule all the early American history panels to run concurrently), or every time the JAH has articles that interest me.

I’m not so selfish as to demand that the organization feature more early history at the expense of, say, the twentieth century (although the twentieth century would probably win a contest for Most Depressing Century Ever), but I admit that I sometimes regard the organization with something of a shrug.  As long as early American history has its own journals and conferences, I’m prone to feel a bit complacent about what the OAH puts out.  On the other hand, not everyone has the luxury of such specialization (and I myself teach at least through 1877), and it’s good to have an organization that can take a broader view.

Anyway, I’d be intrigued to see the OAH put some of Cebula’s ideas into play.

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