This past week, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) held its annual conference at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island from April 7-10, 2016. Its theme, “On Leadership,” was seen throughout the conference’s sessions – which ranged from panels on “Worst. President. Ever.,” to “Black Religious Leadership and Mass Media in the 20th Century,” and “Remembering Julian Bond.” Without a doubt, leadership in its many forms was present and embedded within the majority of the sessions over the four days of the conference.
I arrived Thursday night, so I missed most of that day’s panels as well as the Opening Reception. Yet, I kept a list of sessions that interacted with Borderlands history, Native history, Environmental history, and conceptual borderlands. Below is a list of some presentation sessions:
- “Organizing for Success: Political Leadership in the Northern Great Plains, 1880-1925,” chaired by Molly Rozum
- “Shaping the National with the Local: New Perspectives on State-Federal Relations in American Immigration History,” chaired by Anna Law
- “State of the Field: Urban History,” chaired by Greg Hise
- “Building Middle Ground in U.S. History Scholarship,” chaired by Masako Notoji
- “25 Years of Nature’s Metropolis,” chaired by Gabriel Rosenberg
- “Exploring the Modern Midwest: New Directions in Twentieth-Century Midwestern History,” chaired by Anthony P. Mora
- “Capturing Indigeneity through Sound and Image: New Media and American Indians, 1860-1920,” chaired by Anne Hyde (Current editor of the Western Historical Quarterly)
- “New Mexico, 1916: Villa and the Impact of the Mexican Revolution on U.S. History and Historiography,” chaired by Kelly Lytle Hernandez
- “Technologies of the Environment: Race, Waste, and Nature,” chaired by Bill Deverell
- “Native Minds, Native Leaders: The Intellectual & Political Ideas of Vine Deloria Jr., Clyde Warrior, and Jack Forbes.
- “Sexuality, Race, and Leadership amid Crisis in Twentieth-Century Urban America,” chaired by Marcia M. Gallo
The most attended panel was “Page by Page: Writing History for a Trade Audience,” in which folks spoke at length about trade presses and the politics of commercial reading markets.
As one can view, there were not too many panels directly addressing borderlands history, but there were some great sessions on intersections of borders with Urban and Metropolitan history. My own panel, “Legacies of Latina/o Sexuality as Leaders in the United States, 1500s-1980s,” was scheduled for Saturday morning at 9:00, and was heavily represented by UTEP alums, current students, and faculty: Chair – Pablo Mitchell (Oberlin), Commentator – Ernesto Chávez (UTEP), Presenter – Daniel Santana Hernandez, Presenter – myself (Michigan), and Presenter – Ana Raquel Minian (Stanford). Danny Santana Hernandez presented on sexuality in 1500s North America while Ana Minian explored sexuality, notions of transnational identity, and space for undocumented immigrants and undocuQueers in North America.
During Friday afternoon, I was able to meet up with Patty Limerick for an hour to talk Western History, Borderlands, and her experiences as both a previous OAH president and western and environmental historian. Patricia Nelson Limerick is Professor History, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She is author of several monographs, and is well known for her synthetic re-evaluation of Western history with her 1987 book, The Legacy of Conquest. We started our conversation on the topic of mentorship and professionalization. Limerick spoke at length about the ways in which the OAH and the WHA are trying to incorporate more opportunities for graduate students and faculty from different institutions to meet at conference sites. The idea is that the conferences would be utilized for mentoring sessions. When asked about the state of Borderlands and Western history, she expressed how the emergence of new frameworks and methodologies from settler colonialism and carceral studies are helping to understand the environment and its relation on people. Limerick ended our conversation back on The Legacy of Conquest, and remarked on her belief that we [historians of the profession] are due for a new synthetic interpretation of Western, Borderlands, and Environmental history.
Friday night was especially vibrant, given the scheduling of all the receptions back to back. The LGBTQ Social Hour commenced at 5:15pm, while the ALANA Wine Reception, Graduate Students Reception, and Distinguished Members and Donors Reception were scheduled for 6:00pm. Many folks were able to reconnect and chat about upcoming projects.
The next day brought the conference to its semi-end with the Presidential Address given by Jon Butler. Titled, “God, Gotham, and Modernity,” it was well attended, as Butler examined urban religious figures in Christian and Jewish East Coast communities. He asked his audience to consider the politics of secularism in urban cities and its stakes for urban history overall. He then passed the gavel to President-Elect Nancy Cott. Immediately following the address, folks congregated at the Rotunda for the subsequent Presidential Reception.
All in all, the OAH annual conference was well organized, and lively. Looking forward to attending it again in 2018.