Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mary Sanders on What It's Like to be ABD at the AHA

Veteran correspondent Mary Sanders, a doctoral candidate in American history at Oklahoma State University, weighs in on her AHA experience.  --JF

I have to confess, this year’s AHA trip has been much different than my two previous trips.  This year I limited the number of panels I attended and prioritized instead meeting with colleagues, mentors, and former students.  I’m at a different place at this year’s AHA—for the first time, I’m ABD, can see the light at the end of the graduate school tunnel, and am thinking seriously about my next steps.  One purpose of any conference trip is to talk with people who you don’t normally get to see, who can make a difference in your career, or who you can talk to about your program, your job applications, and your work.  That’s what I’ve spent most of my trip here doing, and I have to admit I’ve had a wonderful time.

I did attend three panels, though.  Yesterday, I spent the morning at the very well-attended panel on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism in Modern Britain.  Kelly Elliot, of Abilene Christian University, Thomas Kidd, of Baylor University, and Amanda Porterfield, of Florida State University, all responded to Bebbington’s well-known quadrilateral thesis: that evangelicalism is defined by the four central characteristics of activism, crucicentrism, biblicism, and conversionism.  Elliot explored the expansion of the quadrilateral into the British Empire, arguing that it translates well in the imperial context, but not wholesale and not uncontested.  Kidd discussed the role of the Holy Spirit in the quadrilateral, using George Whitefield’s life as an example.  Porterfield looked at the relationship between belief and practice, and at the applicability of the quadrilateral for those who study lived religion.  I thoroughly enjoyed this panel—I found it to be among the best examples I’ve ever seen of gracious, thoughtful dialogue between scholars.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a panel on “America’sWars,” which actually ended up being a panel on World War I, due to the absence of several members because of the weather.  Cara Burnidge, a recent PhD graduate of Florida State University and now a lecturer there, discussed the peace movement, arguing that, while churches were united in the face of war, they were divided in terms of peace.  Paul Kemeny, of Grove City College, discussed Protestant moral reform, using the example of the New England Watch and Ward Society’s attempt to eliminate prostitution during World War I.

I spent Saturday with the members of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH).  My involvement with this organization began in 2006, when my undergraduate alma mater hosted the CFH biennial conference.  Since that time, I have come to think of the CFH as my professional home—the organization in which I feel the most comfortable, which is having the conversations I most want to participate in, and the senior members of which I count as mentors.  (Sidenote: I’m currently the graduate student representative to the executive board for the CFH—if any grad students are interested in knowing more about the organization, please contact me!)   

The CFH sponsors a breakfast and a panel at the AHA every year, which John has already mentioned in a previousblog post.  As usual, I found the panel to be thought-provoking and inspiring.  Tracy McKenzie’s discussion of writing reminded me that, as I work on my dissertation, I have a responsibility to tell a story while I remain faithful to the conventions of the historical discipline.  And Glenn Sanders’s (yes, we’re related) discussion of his use of Christian practices in teaching and the pastoral role of the professor reminded me that the reason I’ve chosen this life is because I feel called to do it—and to use all the resources I have available, including my Christian faith, to do it well.  (Also, it made me inordinately proud to be his daughter.  I know that sometimes we talk about “academic genealogy”—who studied with whom, etc.  I’m fortunate enough to share a career with my actual father, and, when the first book is finished, he will deserve an entire paragraph in my acknowledgements.)

I closed out my day by having coffee with a former student, who is now in graduate school herself.  I’m having a hard time believing that I’ve been active in this profession long enough to have former students in graduate school, but if it means that we can have wide-ranging conversations covering everything from definitions of fundamentalism to our love for our mutual alma mater, I’ll get used to it.

My only plans for Sunday?  The book exhibit.  I hereby declare AHA 2014 a success.