Over the past year or so I’ve written several posts about the future of the American Historical Association. In yesterday’s AHA Today blog, Rob Townsend offers up a concise review of how the reforms of the annual meeting initiated by Roy Rosenzweig have (or have not) taken hold at the meeting.
Roy’s hope was that it would be possible to get away from the tried and true and almost universally boring format of several people reading papers at the audience by offering participants new formats for their sessions. Rob’s piece makes it clear that despite the fact that attendance at those sessions organized in new formats is strong and growing, the vast majority of AHA members still prefer the traditional format.
Can you think of a reason why this would be so?
I’ve been attending the AHA for more than a dozen years (I didn’t make it this year for the first time in ten — budget cuts, don’t you know) and I have yet to attend a session in which more than one of the papers read at me by the panel was so energizing that I felt pleased that I had been there just to hear it. Mostly, I’ve wished that I could have read the paper in advance so that the author could have presented one or two of her main points for discussion, and then we all could have had a discussion about the issues she raised.
I suppose my colleagues — at least those in the vast majority that prefer having papers read at them — find that passive learning is more congenial. I wonder how many of those same historians teach in a lecture only format? Given what I know about college history teachers, I know that it can’t be the same vast majority. Too many historians utilize all sorts of interesting and engaging pedagogial practices in their own classrooms.
So why do they want to be the types of students they lament — the ones who just want to sit back and listen?