Saturday, January 9, 2010

Wolfe's Tone on Day 2 at the AHA: Part One

The Wolfe's Tone is enjoying his temp job as "The Way of Improvement Leads Home" correspondent at the American Historical Association annual meeting in San Diego. His "Day Two" report is so long and thorough that we need to split into two parts (maybe three--stay tuned). In Part One, Mr. Tone discusses the gay marriage protests taking place this weekend.

As for me, I am off to coach a bunch of fired-up 3rd grade girls in their first basketball game of the season! --JF

Enjoy part one of today's report:

Today venerable historians gathered for their second day of the AHA to wow one another with their respective credentials, findings, and marketable skills. The mass of ego that accompanies this event leaves one sure that across America communities are wondering where their historians went. If we are all this important, surely someone (other than our spouses) must know we are missing, right?

San Diego, Day 2:

As an east coast resident by birth and choice, I must admit that I have quickly become enamored with San Diego. I say this in the sense that any person glad to be in a new place means such things, that is, I have no idea what living here would mean. However I have traveled to many cities whose downtown district was not nearly as pleasant and diverse as this place. I enjoy looking out my hotel window at the bay, the ships, and the Gaslight District (gentrified shopping and eating). If a college in San Diego posted a job, I would definitely apply. Then again, so would the other 200 hungry, ravenous newly minted Ph.D.s, doctoral candidates, and independent scholars who huddle around the job center like paparazzi outside of the Spears' home. Check that, perhaps I will just bring my spouse back for a good vacation, especially since the proclivities of C. Vann Winchell's neighbors are not on my radar screen.

So the town is excellent, with several great points of interest for maritime historians especially. Hispanic culture is also noteworthy in San Diego, located a few scant miles from the Mexican border. Today at a lovely little sandwich shop some friends and I were serenaded by a mariachi band. Their music was quite lovely and worthy of a hearty clapping of hands from the gathered brain trust sitting on the restaurant's porch. But it is still the left coast, and one's conception's of distinct cultures as set apart from one another fail in the light of the multicultural dynamics of this diverse society. As we finished lunch, the mariachi band began playing "Dust in the Wind", by Kansas. 1977. Classic.

The (non) Controversy: As you know (if you don't know, pretend you do) the AHA agreed to hold the conference at the Manchester Grand Hyatt years in advance. Mr. Manchester subsequently put a good deal of money behind Prop 8 to deny the right of homosexuals to experience wedded bliss under the law. Historians, of course, are sympathetic to this cause (as I am) and many wanted to move the AHA site. However in true "Christmas Story" fashion, such a move created a slight breach of etiquette (and contractual law) and would have left the AHA short $750,000.

I find this intriguing. Many historians, myself included, spend much of their time evaluating moments of human struggle against oppression, tyranny, and civil injustice. We glorify the risk takers and reward them with the fame the Roman's considered to be true immortality- to be remembered. It calls to mind the centennial celebration of the battle of Ft. Sumter (I think- someone check my facts) where a member of the committee of historians charged by the federal government with Civil War commemoration was denied a room at the conference hotel in Charleston. The hullabaloo that ensued moved the conference to a different hotel and opened a dialogue about race, America, and the war's legacy. The AHA has accomplished at least the second half of this, with conference panels in each time slot devoted to the history of the family in specifically gay and lesbian contexts. Overall, the leadership seems to have made the most they could out of such a tricky issue. Take a stand, but don't go bankrupt in the process. Perhaps that is too glib. A better point may be to use the weapons you have- and in this case, raising awareness of misconceptions is what historians do best- to do that. Still, all issues are more tricky to live than to research.

But the irony is palpable. Outside 3 protesters loudly beat a drum, actually 2 drums, and yell out "don't cross the picket line" (another dispute with Mr. Manchester centers on his anti-labor stance). You have to pass them to get to the job center in the neighboring hotel. We who judge the heroes and villains of the past walk by them with only a slight sense of awkwardness. After all, there is a conference on minorities in labor unions, and we need to get to it.