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What’s New at the Organization of American Historians (OAH)

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) held its annual conference earlier this month. The OAH was founded in 1907and is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. It represents more than 7,800 historians working in the U.S. and abroad. Its members include college and university professors, precollegiate teachers, archivists, museum curators, public historians, students, and a variety of scholars employed in government and the private sector. Its mission is to promote excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and to encourage wide discussion of historical questions and the equitable treatment of all practitioners of history.

This blog represents another in a series reporting on the sessions at history-related conferences. Sometimes I am able to attend such conferences, sometimes I am not. This one I did not attend. Unfortunately the online program does not include abstracts as the National Council on Public History (see conference report). It would be nice if all conference abstracts were posted online.

This conference report will be divided into two parts. The first, below, covers content sessions. The second encompasses outreach and education by history organizations. Once again, these sessions provide an example of what is being discussed and may offer suggestions for sessions at local, state, and regional conferences.

Many of these content sessions are on early American history. That may be a reflection of my own personal interests. If you are interested in reviewing all the sessions at the conference go to

I start with some general discussion sessions such as on a new book or about a big theme. These sessions are better served by a YouTube video than an abstract for people who were not present. Nonetheless, they reveal the types of discussions the historians are having.

Considering Synthesis and Narrative: Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of
the United States Solicited by the Society for Historians of the Early Republic (SHEAR)

Jill Lepore’s These Truths is the first major narrative history of the United States to be published in recent years. It is also the first of its kind authored by a woman and by a person of Lepore’s generation. Lepore has written extensively on the problems of narrative and interpretation facing U.S. historians, and she has also written successfully for a very broad audience in both her books and in essays for the New Yorker. This session brings together scholars with very different specialties and interests to reflect on Lepore’s approach and her achievement.

Chair: David Waldstreicher, City University of New York
Commentator and Panelist: Jill Lepore, Harvard University

Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School
David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley
Malinda Lowery, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Jeff Pasley, University of Missouri
Claire Potter, The New School

Rethinking Early America: New Perspectives and Enduring Questions
Solicited by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

The recent publication of John Murrin’s Rethinking America: From Empire to Republic (Oxford, 2018), which brings together essays written over four decades, affords an opportunity to take stock of some of the central categories that structure our understanding of vast early America: empire, the Atlantic world, politics, and Anglicization. Participants will offer a series of brief paired remarks (Fred Anderson and Elizabeth Ellis on empire; Alison Games and Max Mishler on the Atlantic world; Caitlin Fitz and Daniel Richter on politics; Andrew Shankman and Kariann Yokota on Anglicization) to highlight the multiple perspectives on key categories.

Chair and Commentator: Jane Kamensky, Harvard University

Fred Anderson, University of Colorado Boulder
Elizabeth Ellis, New York University
Caitlin Fitz, Northwestern University
Alison Games, Georgetown University
Max Mishler, University of Toronto
Daniel Richter, University of Pennsylvania
Andrew Shankman, Rutgers University–Camden
Kariann Yokota, University of Colorado, Denver

State of the Field: Early America in Broad Perspective

Each scholar in this session, focusing on a different region and, to some degree, topic within the history of early North America, ponders the relationship of a wide geographical frame and its capacity to illuminate structures and systems to methodological challenges. From ethical approaches to the far-reaching archives of slavery and ongoing concern with generating a textured social history of enslaved people, to the ways analyses of culture, gender, and region fit within global interpretations of colonialism and the continuing struggle to integrate the northern regions of New Spain into early America, the panel evaluates the balance between early America and the intimate histories of colonial places and processes.


Marisa Fuentes, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Susanah Romney, New York University
Brett Rushforth, University of Oregon
Steven Hackel, University of California, Riverside

This next session is the type of session I enjoy. It address how we remember people and events in history and how those memories help construct and define our identities as Americans. This is a session where it would be very useful to have the abstracts to get some idea of what each presenter said.

Taking Liberties: Memory, Myth, and Identity in Early America
Endorsed by the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH), the Western History Association, and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)

Chair: Rosemarie Zagarri, George Mason University
Commentator: Michael Hattem, New York Historical Society
“Tortured for no other crime than their knowledge”: Public Memory of Puritan Persecution in New England Congregationalist Political Culture during the Imperial Crisis J. Patrick Mullins, History Department, Marquette University
Contested Memory: Fashioning History in Early America Amanda Rumba, Purdue University / Ivy Tech Community College
Obnoxious and Disliked: How John Adams Constructed His Own Historical Narrative
Marianne Holdzkom, Kennesaw State University
Clamoring for a National Eschatology: Cultivating Visions of the Future Surrounding the War of 1812 Eran Zelnik, California State University, Chico

These next two sessions cover two sacred settings in American history – the Civil War and baseball stadiums. In both cases it would be useful to have the abstracts of the presentations. The baseball session is the type of session where people relax and have some fun; the Civil War session likely was more serious in tone.

Holy Grounds: Religion and the Meaning of the American Founding in the Civil War Era
Solicited by the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH)

Chair and Commentator: Emily Conroy-Krutz, Michigan State University
Higher Principles, Common Law, and the Constitution: Transcendentalism’s Evolving Democratic Theory Benjamin Park, Sam Houston State University
The Foreign Roots of American Spiritual Exceptionalism Joel Iliff, Baylor University
“That Thy way may be known upon earth”: Appropriating Covenant Theology for a Confederate Republic Pearl Young, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Stadium Wars: Sports Venue Construction, Urban Politics, and Social Change in the 1960s
and 1970s

Chair and Commentator: Bruce Kuklick, University of Pennsylvania
Does Downtown Matter? Dodger Stadium and the Battle for Modern Los Angeles
Jerald Podair, Lawrence University
The Astrodome and the Promise of an Integrated Houston Seth S. Tannenbaum, Temple University
Building Stadiums to Become Big League in Kansas City and Oakland
Matthew Ehrlich, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The final session here was based on the commercial movie The Green Book but as a documentary on the conditions at the time the Green Book was published. The Green Book was included in two previous blogs:  Negroes and the American Dream: Hidden Figures, Open Dreams (3/11/18) and Fifty Years an African-American: Is It Time for a Change? (4/3/18).

The Challenges of Driving While Black: The Green Book and Other Coping Mechanisms

The panel will include a new National Endowment for the Humanities–funded film on the Green Book Travel Guide for African American drivers in the 1940s and 1950s. They hope the film will be a catalyst for discussions about race and law enforcement, since the idea of driving, vacationing, and taking to the road generally seem to resonate with a wide spectrum of Americans—not just with people of color. The panel will expand the discussion beyond the green book to other challenges facing African American travelers in the twentieth century and more recently.

Commentators and Panelists: Craig Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Thomas Sugrue, New York University

Gretchen Sorin, Cooperstown Graduate Program
Ric Burns, Steeplechase Films, Inc.

In a conference the size of the OAH, any selection will inevitably reflect the interests of the one selecting. These sessions alone are not sufficient in number or time to justify the expense and travel to attend a conference in a distant location. In the second conference blog, I will turn to a different type of presentation that speaks more to the history organizations than to the history scholar.