The 2024 AASLH Annual Conference in Mobile, Alabama, aims to bring together our national history community to explore the vital work of history practitioners with the theme Doing History, which inspires attendees to acknowledge a holistic view of the past, making space for diverse interpretations, and striving toward a future where everyone feels like they belong to something larger than themselves. This conference takes it theme directly from AASLH’s Making History at 250: The Field Guide for the Semiquincentennial, which encourages pulling back the curtain on “Doing History” as we move towards our nation’s semiquincentennial.
Our conference theme seeks to inspire new ideas for history practitioners to help audiences understand how new questions, evidence, and perspectives shape our understanding of the past and present. In Doing History we must be mindful of how our perceptions and experiences influence our understanding of the past. Therefore, history practitioners must pay close attention to what they do, how they do it, and what influences their decisions. By more transparently communicating our methods for learning about the past, we can help audiences better understand how new questions, evidence, and perspectives inform our histories, how they can better do history in their own lives, and how these histories can speak to present-day challenges.
Today, those engaged in Doing History purposefully strive to include a wide range of voices in their work. We acknowledge that the past can provide valuable insights into the present, but only if we approach its lessons honestly and responsibly. However, we must also consider how our own personal experiences and perceptions influence our understanding of the past. We also need to recognize that in doing this work we have to create a safe environment for ourselves and our colleagues.
To achieve a focused collective experience for the conference, we have adopted the following objectives to guide the issues we want to explore:
Conference participants will:
Learn how to invite public audiences to participate in the process of Doing History to help them understand what we do and why it is important.
Discover ways our work can help guide our society to become the people and communities we want to be.
Be inspired to have confidence that we’ll succeed individually and collectively.
Actively seek greater harmony to help us navigate politics and social imbalance effectively and reach a bigger audience on history’s relevance.
Mobile is the perfect location to explore these important topics. The Gulf Coast region has a rich and diverse past, including significant events often unknown outside the area. It has a robust Native American heritage, and served as a colonial capital and played an important role in the efforts of the French, British, and Spanish to establish themselves in the New World before becoming a part of the United States. It prides itself on being recognized as the birthplace of Mardi Gras in America. Some parts of its history, however, are especially difficult. The story of the Clotilda, for example, the last documented ship to illegally transport enslaved Africans into the United States, is one of several touchstones for understanding the region’s complex and often tragic past. The work done by the Mobile history community alongside the residents of Africatown to tell this story is a lesson in collaborative history for AASLH members to explore during the conference.
The Clotilda has been the best-known chapter of Mobile’s history in recent years, but it followed and prefaced many other chapters of similarly profound significance. Mobile is where the Atlantic world and the Deep South intersected for the commercial exchange of enslaved persons, cotton, timber, sugar, and manufactured goods. The Mobile Bay area was a battlefield during the Civil War and the site where one of the largest contingents of African American soldiers in any battle during the conflict helped defeat Confederate forces in the pivotal battle for control of Mobile. Later, Mobile became a shipbuilding powerhouse during World War II and a city where, in the absence of demagoguery by white local officials, civil rights leaders demonstrated that change in the traditional racial order could be achieved by people of goodwill. In recent years, it has become the centerpiece of a high-tech Gulf Coast economy engaged in aviation manufacturing and global shipping. By immersing themselves in the history of the Mobile Bay area, conference attendees will gain a fuller appreciation of how the past informs our present.
We are excited for you to join us at the 2024 AASLH Annual Conference for substantive discussions about what we can do to help communities across the country as we all wrestle with how we can be of better service to the nation at large to pave the way for healing, reconciliation, and a more equitable future.
The AASLH Annual Conference is an in-person experience that engages and connects history professionals and volunteers and inspires them in their work. We encourage every attendee’s full participation in the sessions, workshops, tours, and discussions. Each session type is categorized so that attendees can see the level of participation it involves. Before you propose a session, think carefully about how it will engage your audience.
We hope the Annual Conference becomes a transformative moment for all, a chance to go deep, to reenergize, to build professional relationships, and to focus on a sense of place and history in the host city. In formal and informal spaces, participants will work through challenging discussions and learn new practices. While there will be an emphasis on communal events to build shared experience, we will offer multiple opportunities for personalized learning, in tours, workshops, and sessions.