I attended the annual AHA meeting several weeks ago in lovely San Diego and have been mulling my thoughts about it during my brief moments of down time. (I am furiously revising in the hope of finishing in March even though Advisor still wants three rounds of revisions. Sigh.)
The AHA was good overall. I ran into friends I hadn't seen in a while and met some new cool people right from the start. Also, it was sunny and warm. This was my first AHA, but veterans tell me that usually the meeting is dreary and tense. Their near-universal approval of this one seems to boil down to changes: 1) a horrible job market which kept all of the job-seekers - and their conference-infiltrating panic - away, and 2) the southern California sun. Precedent indicates that next year's conference in Boston will be much less pleasant because all Boston can offer is grey skies and snow.
The job market was, indeed, as bad as all the rumors made it out to be. I applied for 20 jobs and got one interview, which, as I discovered, was a small miracle (since I'm ABD and don't attend a top-tier school). I think this speaks to the strength of my project(s) and breadth of training (in public and world history as well as US). Anyway, the interview went fine but not well and I walked away from our very pleasant conversation know that I would not have a campus interview. I'm ok with that. I also applied for only one job through the job registry. This list was sickeningly short. There were less than twenty jobs posted and only a couple in U.S. (and these wanted someone who could teach every aspect of world and US history and supervise interns and teach public history - basically everything). I'll be heading to Boston next year, so I comment then on whether there is any improvement or not.
The boycott was... disappointing. I knew that HERE planned to coordinate a boycott long before the conference and I supported the issues that motivated it. I also thought that the AHA took appropriate steps to use the Manchester hotel as a forum to discuss LGBT issues and the controversies over same-sex marriage. The hotel is not unionized and HERE (smartly) wouldn't say that they were trying to unionize workers there (let's hope so; they deserve union representation). This is why I didn't accept the unsolicited offer by one AHA member to reschedule my session for me in a different hotel. I also didn't feel remorse when I walked past the 3-4 person picket line rallied outside the Manchester on Friday.
Boycotting the Manchester turned out to be easy. I spent some time there but no money; that hotel was way beyond the means of graduate students, new faculty, and even some tenured faculty. The rooms were over-priced and so was all the food (in table-service only restaurants). I had to walk next door to the Marriott to find food at the Starbucks, which ran out by 1 PM because 60% of attendees also went for breakfast and lunch.
What I saw of the conference sessions were predicable, some good papers, some good comments. I didn't attend many because the AHA is exhausting and I needed down time. So, this is what I got from my AHA: meet up with friends, try to attend sessions, avoid the job registry, eat good food, and remember to relax.