AJHA President's Column


Turn your convention energy into action

Posted October 29, 2014

A few weeks ago, more than 150 journalism historians converged upon St. Paul, Minn., to share their research and network with like-minded individuals. Like a holiday or family reunion, the annual American Journalism Historians Association national convention ranks among my favorite times of year.

Of course, AJHA offers an opportunity for people to formally present their research, field questions and comments, and glean new insights and angles they may not have thought of themselves. Hearing others express how relevant and interesting your research is can be invigorating, and I personally left my paper session eager to not only massage my paper into a journal article but also pursue the line of research toward other papers.

AJHA also provides a venue for people to make connections with others who share the same interests. Often historians think of themselves as academic loners, but as a panel assembled by Jane Marcellus demonstrated, collaborations can be beneficial to the historical researcher. During one paper session, I witnessed two scholars who represent universities from different countries exchange contact information after realizing how much their work overlaps. Others left the convention with ideas for panels that may allow them to generate discussion on their shared interests at future conventions.

Erika J. Pribanic-Smith
University of Texas-Arlington
AJHA President, 2014-2015

Occasionally, attending the panels and paper sessions at AJHA makes people think about history in a new way. At the gala dinner to close the convention, as we cruised down the Mississippi River on a sternwheeler, one conference-goer expressed how the American Journalism panel on materiality reshaped how he thought about journalism history. Another expressed an interest in pursuing research on how weather has affected historical events, inspired by an anecdote in then-President Amy Lauters’ welcome address on storytelling.

Witnessing the excitement with which scholars discuss their work also can serve as an inspiration. Those who attended the Watergate panel assembled by Mark Feldstein were awestruck by the passion that Tim Neftali, head of the NYU Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, demonstrated while talking about the need to protect and provide access to archival documents. I received emails after the convention from several people who attended that panel and the President’s Panel on archival practices, urging AJHA to be a vanguard in the movement to rescue the vanishing archive.

Even informal conversations between sessions and at the many special events can stir the convention attendee. During a conversation with David Sloan, he expressed how nice it was to just sit and talk about history. At our own universities, few of us encounter kindred spirits who get excited about the personalities, practices, events, and institutions of bygone eras. Those conversations at AJHA can be energizing for all involved.

For these reasons and many others, AJHA provides a place for journalism history scholars to call home. Three different graduate students whose first AJHA convention was in St. Paul emailed me afterwards to thank me for the experience and express that they felt like they’d found a family. Best of all, they so enjoyed their time at the convention that they want to get involved.

I hope that everyone left St. Paul invigorated, both for their research and for AJHA. If you did, please consider putting your energy to work on one of our committees. Every one of them could use motivated individuals who care about history and our organization; the other officers and I would be pleased to find a committee where your particular talents and interests can best be utilized. You also can peruse our list of committees and directly contact the chair of whichever one interests you.

At the very least, please help us spread the word—especially to your graduate students—about what a nurturing, supportive, and energizing experience AJHA can be. Encourage historians you know who aren’t members to join and to submit papers for our next convention in Oklahoma City.

A common wall in the city; a common wall in research

Posted April 2, 2014

By Amy Mattson Lauters,
AJHA President
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Walking briskly through the neighborhood surrounding the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, just following the joint AJHA/AEJMC History Division conference March 8, I had a bit of an epiphany.

I’ll admit it’s probably an epiphany only someone who’d never been to New York before could have had. It was my first trip there, and my time beyond my day at the conference was limited, so I spent what extra time I had wandering through the city, soaking up the theater of life on the city’s streets and subways. I’ve lived in big cities before, but I was raised a small-town girl, and the very idea of being in New York was both terrifying and exhilarating.

My first stop off of the subway from LaGuardia was the block surrounding Chelsea Market, off 9th Avenue at 14th and 15th streets in the old Nabisco building. Foodies will also know it as the birthplace of the Oreo cookie and the home of the Food Network.

I came up from the subway on the northwest corner of the block opposite Chelsea--facing the wrong direction entirely, though I didn’t know it. I had to walk around the very-long block, ducking under scaffolding, avoiding potholes, and peering at brass plates along brownstone homes before I spotted the big black painted cow on the side of the red brick building that was designated “Chelsea Market.” In passing, I recognized sites from some of the Food Network programming, including a small neighborhood school, tucked right into the middle of the block I was walking.

I shifted my bag more closely to my shoulder and set off for the market, following a crowd of people, all speaking different languages, into the ground floor entrance of the multi-story building. The place, crowded with people, revealed restaurants, bakeries, shops, and kiosks patronized by an eclectic mix of locals and tourists. I stopped at Cucina Italia for a takeaway slice of quiche and a bottled water, and I started taking pictures as I wandered through the space.

When I left, I walked around the other side of the block to get back to the subway, and I observed, again, the very different kinds of buildings standing with common walls at each block. I’d have thought that it was a feature of the neighborhood, except that when I made it to the area in which my hotel was located, near Times Square, I saw the same thing.

And when I left the Carter Journalism Institute on Saturday, after a full day of listening to a wide range of research in media history, I noticed the same thing about the neighborhood surrounding NYU. And I realized that this concept of the common wall runs rampant throughout the city.

Each building stands adjoining another, and each houses a different kind of content. More than once I saw a church sharing walls with a shop on one side and a home on the other. Each block, a cohesive whole, shared space with hotels, restaurants, residences, markets, shelters and places of worship. One block might have a high-rise one one corner and a small chapel on the opposite corner. Each of these spaces was locked together and yet somehow separated by use and architecture.

It struck me, thinking about the experience of walking through the city, just how much such a collection of seemingly disparate buildings working together resembles the content of any one of the AJHA conference programs--including the one that day in New York.

The research all stands together, but each individual piece houses different content. We all, however, share a common wall.


* Plans proceed on pace for our gathering in St. Paul, Minn., in October. As someone who was raised within an hour of St. Paul, I feel obligated to tell you that St. Paul is very different from its twin sister, Minneapolis. St. Paul is a town rich in its history, steeped in multi-culturalism, and haunted by ghosts of traders and gangsters. I think you’ll enjoy the city as much as I do.

* Plans also are coming into place to have the registration process for the conference take place online for attendees. We hope this will help streamline the process for both attendees and organizers.

* Committees are working on a number of items this year, including searching for a new editor for American Journalism and finding new ways to raise funds for graduate students. If you’re interested in contributing to any of our committees, please contact the chair of the committee you’re interested in. These folks are listed on the AJHA web site.

* Finally, a reminder: The deadline for submitting papers, panel proposals, and research-in-progress presentations is May 15.