David Austin Walsh is editor of the History News Network.
The Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association can be pretty overwhelming even for (well-)seasoned attendees, let alone first-timers. Here's a survival guide to the AHA 2013 in New Orleans, formatted in a handy bullet-point list.
Download the AHA app for your mobile device. For the first time ever, the AHA annual meeting has its own dedicated app, which condenses the several-hundred-page program into an interactive format complete with alerts and personal schedule. Download it here.
Subscribe to #AHA2013 and/or #AHA13 on Twitter. If you're not on Twitter, get on Twitter, especially if you have a mobile device. It will transform the way you approach the AHA by giving you the raw feed from a dozen different panels all at once. Another useful hashtag: #twitterstorians. (And make sure to follow @AHAhistorians, the official AHA feed, and, of course, @myHNN!) For those who don't have enough on their plates already, the Modern Language Association is also hosting its big meeting this weekend in Boston -- you can follow updates from there via #MLA13.
Plan out your schedule! There will be so many interesting sessions, both directly relevant to your research/teaching/interests and not-so-relevant-but-still-important-and-fascinating, that you'll need to weigh which ones you'll have time for. It'll help to plan things out in advance!
If you're presenting for the first time, follow this advice from the great Linda Kerber. Remember, everyone in your audience will have gone through exactly what you're going through once upon a time. If you've gotten this far, you already have a firm grasp of your subject -- the critical thing will be communicating that expertise with poise and responding to unexpected pressure gracefully. And don't be intimidated during the Q & A, either! Most questioners have the tendency to go on, and you'll know within the first five seconds whether or not you're facing a hostile questioner, an interested questioner, or a pontificating questioner, and you can plan your response accordingly.
Go to at least one plenary. Yes, the AHA is in New Orleans this year, and yes, that entails a lot of good food, good drink, and ... plenty of opportunities for, uh, vibrant nightlife, but still, try to make it to at least one plenary or evening session: Thursday night will feature a conversation led by outgoing AHA president William Cronon on public history in the digital age; Friday will feature Cronon's keynote address and the presentation of the various AHA prizes; and Saturday night will see both the George C. Marshall Lecture on Military History and the plenary session featuring director John Sayles. And, while we're on the subject...
See at least one John Sayles film. This year's meeting will feature screenings of the legendary indie filmmaker's most acclaimed historical dramas. (For a full listing, check out the AHA website.) Sayles himself will participate in discussions moderated by scholars in the subjects his films -- Eight Men Out, Amigo, and Matewan, among others to be shown this weekend -- portray.
Go to at least one affiliated society session. An AHA meeting is more than just the AHA. There are literally dozens of affiliated societies -- from the Conference on Latin American History to the American Catholic Historical Association to the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History -- who are hosting their own sessions. Again, for a full list, visit the AHA website.
Talk to at least one "unimportant" person. Hat tip to Lincoln Mullen via John Fea via Twitter for this one (if you're not on Twitter, get on Twitter): especially if this is
Go on at least one tour. AHA guides will be hosting a number of local history tours, ranging from cemetery tours to jazz history to local archives to the National WWII Museum. Most tours are priced at $30 for members, $35 for non-members, but verify before you buy!
Talk to local AHA volunteers about local history. Every year the AHA volunteer staff draws from undergrads and grad students from local universities -- this year, look out for Tulane, UNO, and LSU. The odds are good that they'll either be studying, or at least know a lot about, New Orleans and Louisiana history. (And also, they'll probably have been through Katrina.)
Make sure to (responsibly) drink a historian cocktail. Especially if you're interviewing -- if it went well, treat your friends and colleagues; if if it didn't, well, have them treat you. The AHA, in conjunction with the hotel bars at the Sheraton, Marriott, and Roosevelt Hotels, has arranged for three different historian-themed cocktails to be served during the annual meeting. The names of the cocktails will be drawn from the AHA's Twitter followers (if you're not on Twitter, GET ON TWITTER!) and will be announced sometime on Thursday.