Lee Formwalt: Report on the 2006 OAH Annual Meeting





"Yeah, we're the gateway drug. We're the pot and you're the cocaine." I'm not sure that the couple hundred American historians at the 2006 OAH convention plenary session on presidential assassinations had ever thought of themselves as the cocaine of history. Or that the popular purveyors of history like Assassins librettist John Weidman and the quirky writer Sarah Vowell who made this crack were the gateway drug that brought readers to seriously intoxicating professional history. But the metaphor did give some of us pause. And it suggested that in many ways popular and professional historians are in the same business—bringing the past alive. We may do it in different ways and for different purposes but we are not enemies—we should at least be collaborators.

Collaboration was much in evidence at our 99th annual meeting in Washington last month. The conference was our regular quadrennial joint meeting with the National Council on Public History and public history was well integrated into a number of sessions, including the evening plenaries. The opening night featured the directors of four Smithsonian history museums, the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, and the not yet built National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Another good example of collaboration was a session on Friday on Prince Hall and African American fraternalism. This panel, according to session organizer and chair Donald Yacovone, "embodied the spirit of this year's convention and represented a number of firsts. The panel drew from public and private historical agencies, included academic, independent, and public historians, and male and female and black and white participants. . . Even the audience reflected the convention's spirit. Rather than the usual Harris tweed-bound academics, the audience included a broad range of people, Park Service employees, historians, and a large number of our friends from the Masonic community. Indeed, the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Lodge . . . in Boston, really the head of all the 47 Prince Hall Grand Lodges across the country, attended, as did the Lodge's Grand Historian and representatives of local Masonic lodges, black and white."...



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