Thursday, October 4, 2012

At the Western History Association

Today is the first day of the annual Conference of the Western History Association. This year we are in Denver. This is one of two conference I try to attend every year (the other is the National Council on Public History).

The WHA is an organization in transition. When I first attended it was a mix of academics and history buffs. Professors would present their research papers to an audience that was a mix of fellow professors and guys in cowboy hats or women in sun bonnets. The two worlds came together with the Green River Knife Ceremony--an awful, cringe-inducing production at the lunch banquet where some guy dressed up as a mountain man would talk in fake "Old Westy" dialect and even recite a fake historical poem while he handed over a ceremonial mountain man's knife ("thus h'yar knife") to the new WHA President. It was enough to hide under the table.

The Green River Knife is gone now, and the buffs have mostly left as well. So have many of the National Park Service folks who used to be here. And I think there used to be more American Indians. There are more public historians now than there used to be, and that is good, and more school teachers. But for all of the great digital history work being done in the American West, there is almost nothing of the digital turn here. The WHA headquarters are moving from University of Missouri-Saint Louis to Nome Fairbanks, Alaska. Transition.

I am on the Digital Task Force of the WHA and the Editorial Board of Montana Magazine, so I will have a few meetings but should be able to attend quite a few sessions. For the next few days I will try to find time to blog a bit of what I learn here.

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