We’re excited to start a new semester here in the history department. And as I often do, I began the year by attending the American Historical Association meeting, which was in Chicago this year. This conference brings together scholars from all different geographic regions and all fields of history, from ancient Mesopotamia through the late-20th century. Those of us who attend the conference can hear historians present their latest research, attend panels on innovative ways to teach history, and get to see all the latest scholarship at a massive book exhibit. At the University of Toronto Press table, Dr. Lauren Janes and I found the textbook Dr. Heidi Kraus co-authored!
Both Dr. Janes and Dr. Wayne Tan presented papers at the conference. Dr. Janes presented a paper called “#Couscousgate in Historical Context: Food and Identity in French Politics.” She made some innovative connections between current controversies and a larger food history. She looked at recent instances over the past decade where French politicians have manufactured political scandals around food. In all of these “scandals,” French politicians reflect many of the same racialized ideas about food and French identity that they did in the period Dr. Janes discusses in Colonial Food in Interwar Paris: The Taste of Empire, the 1920s and 1930s. You can read a quick take on #couscousgate here. Dr. Tan’s paper “Larger than Life: The Legacy of Helen Keller in Japanese Disability History” explored the historical contexts of Helen Keller’s two visits to Japan before and after World War II (WWII). His presentation focused on the life, career, and networks of the blind Japanese activist Iwahashi Takeo (1898-1954), who became one of Keller’s closest allies and a champion of the blind population. Dr. Tan argued that by placing Keller in a narrative that connected her with activists like Iwahashi Takeo, the disability history of early 20th-century Japan could be told differently as a transnational history.
We were particularly pleased that three Hope history majors attended the AHA this year: Seniors Sarah Lundy and Avery Lowe, and Junior Aine O’Connor. Aine’s poster was accepted for the Undergraduate Research session. At this session, she presented the work she did on a Mellon Scholars research project directed by Dr. Tan titled “‘There Were Many Like Us’: Stories of Russian Orphanhood.” Through this project, Aine recovered the voices of children who lived in Russian orphanages in the late 19th and 20th centuries. You can read more about her research, and see a digital timeline of her work here: https://bit.ly/2JyhxdR.
The students also participated in other parts of the conference. Sarah attended a job fair for history graduate students and got information about careers at the Henry Ford Museum, the Smithsonian, the Newberry Library, and a research consulting company. Avery Lowe’s favorite session was “Telling Big Stories in History Museums: Exhibitions, Narrative, and Synthesis.” Aine liked this session too, saying that “the speakers were clearly on the cutting edge of digital humanities, from fully interactive maps of New York City to detailed, visual biographies of soldiers who lost their lives in World War II.” They also went to the book exhibit on the last day, when all the editors were getting rid of their stock, so they scored some free books. Avery summed up their experience thusly: “Overall it was cool to hear different aspects of history discussed by some really incredible scholars as well as be surrounded by people who are just as passionate about history as we are.”
Part of the fun of the AHA is getting the opportunity to get to know the host city. I enjoyed the opportunity to walk around downtown Chicago neighborhoods, and attend sessions that explored Chicago history. Dr. Janes got to meet up with Hope college history alum Katlyn Kiner. Next year the AHA will meet in New York—I hope I will be there!