Earlier this month, longtime UHA member Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY) raised some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. Yesterday, UHA President Richard Harris responded, and today the Program Co-chairs for UHA 2018, LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek, weigh in.
We were pleased to see discussion about the shape and ambition of the 2018 Urban History Association biennial conference emerge on The Metropole blog earlier this month. The conference is the most important event of each two-year cycle for reinforcing key trends in the field, consolidating and creating new collaborations among different subfields, and introducing new voices in urban history. We want to discuss some current considerations and lay out a vision for the 2018 version of the UHA conference.
The 2018 conference, “Cities at the Crossroads,” sits at the intersection of several important trends within the field. The study of urban history may be at its most dynamic point in years because of the new voices bringing their stories of immigration and demographic change, capitalist investment and urban development, policy debates and political resistance, cultural change, environmental questions, and new scales of perspective – from the metropolitan to the transnational — to the urban realm.
The UHA continues to expand from its traditional emphasis on 20th century U.S. cities and draws participants and ideas from ever more subfields and periods. One of the developments of the Chicago conference we are trying to maintain is the involvement of the Africanists, Europeanists, geographers, and many others who should feel at home in an organization devoted to the study of cities. The UHA and the conference planners are also making efforts to be open and welcoming to younger members, graduate students, and allied professionals who are essential to remaining a vibrant organization and forum for ideas on the study of history.
The success of the last several conferences constitutes a challenging standard to live up to. One of the ways UHA 2018 can do this is by embracing the intellectual and collegial spirit of those events without trying to match the bigness, which will be hard to do outside of those major centers. Columbia, a small southern city with a thriving tradition of public history examining its own complex racial, regional, and urban history, offers the opportunity for tours, plenary sessions, and collegiality that has long been part of UHA.
Apart from the exchanges that happen in the paper sessions, one of the wonderful features of a manageably-sized conference like the Urban History Association is the serendipitous meetings and many opportunities to make new connections between newcomers and veterans alike in this collegial organization. At one of her first visits to UHA, one of us (Elaine) serendipitously met Richard Harris, whose discussion of the definition of suburbia in Unplanned Suburbs proved essential to her own book on suburban history. This accidental meeting and the gracious exchange that followed helped create a new relationship between two scholars with shared interests, two scholars that have come together a decade later as we work on the Columbia conference. Maintaining this esprit de corps is a priority and we hope all who attend, comment, and present help bring these values to Columbia.
As Richard Harris points out, the recent survey of UHA members reveals that conferences are an opportunity to learn about new research, not only in paper sessions but also at the book exhibit and in chance encounters. At the manageable scale of the UHA, we learn with friends old and new, while exploring a city and discovering our own roles within the field of urban history.
The Call for Papers for 2018 requests “proposals for innovative workshops or non-traditional sessions,” in addition to the familiar three-paper format. We hope that historians who have an interest in promoting new lines of research and new modes of presentation and discussion will propose those ideas when they submit their paper and session proposals–-whether oral presentations or interactive workshops in lieu of research findings.
We hope you’ll join us in Columbia and contribute to this process of engagement and learning from each other.
LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnek
Co-chairs, Program Committee
UHA Conference 2018, Columbia, SC