This year’s AHA was the best I’ve ever attended, primarily because it’s the first I’ve attended without interviewing for a job but also because of the great weather.
Our panel went well, despite only eleven people in the audience. (One member of our audience, Nick Cox, blogged about our panel.) Natalie and Ken gave great papers. Lorri Glover was complimentary, yet challenging, in her comments. She noted the similarity between Andrew Jackson, Jr., and Payne Todd, the stepson of President James Madison. Both men were ne’er-do-wells who accumulated significant debt and lost their paternal estate. Glover observed that the important historiographical question that I raised in my paper centered on the “lost generation” of the 1830s and 1840s. What were the defining characteristics of that “lost generation?” Was it different enough to warrant that name? A related point that she made was, if I used Jackson’s family as a case study for the “lost generation,” what would my comparison points be in terms of socioeconomic class and geography? Finally, Glover also recognized that there is a bigger story with the Jackson family post-1845. I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment and have already started researching that story.
Two points Glover raised for all three of us also stood out. One was the role of religion in the kinship networks. I briefly raised this issue in relation to Jackson, but she’s right: religion often formed an important connection for kin, but it’s often overlooked. The second point she raised was accounting for the failure of kinship networks. Historians focus on kinship networks expecting to find success, Glover noted, but how do we identify when those networks fail to achieve what their members expect?
The audience, though small, offered several important observations and questions. Nick Cox wondered if Jackson, as president, hid his slave purchases and sales to protect his public image, something that James K. Polk did a decade later. I had never thought of that connection, but with the attacks on Jackson’s slave trading and treatment of slaves in the 1828 campaign, that certainly is possible and warrants further investigation. Another audience member, whose name I did not catch, asked if the generic advice Jackson gave to his wards was intended to achieve a specific action on their part. In other words, did Jackson use the advice to lay the groundwork for a future conversation about a particular issue of concern? I didn’t (and still don’t) have an answer, but the thought is intriguing. Finally, an audience member, Kate Jewell (Fitchburg State), identified her family and research connections to both Lebanon and Cumberland University. She, Natalie, and I had a good time after the panel talking about the connections that we shared.
During the conference, I also had the opportunity to speak with a publisher about a book proposal I sent in November. No definitive word yet, but prospects look very promising. (How’s that for a horoscope prognostication?) When I know something, you’ll know something.
While I didn’t make it on HistoriansTV or even get to pitch my idea for a Reality TV show on history departments (a mixture of Survivor meets The Amazing Race, with the historiographical battles of the consensus, sociocultural, and postmodern schools thrown in), I still consider the 2012 AHA a personal success.