Extreme Dissertations: A Weekend at AHA

Hedy Gutfreund


“Wait, you were stuck in Washington, D.C. with Ms. Hennessy?” and “Wait, why were you at a history conference?” are two of the questions I’ve been asked most since the start of the second semester. While many of my classmates froze in Chiberia from January 3 to 7, I was attending sessions on specific historical topics, frolicking around the Hirshorn Art Gallery, looking for Starbucks locations, and getting lost in a conference center hotel filled with historians from all walks of life.

The goal of the conference is for historians to share and critique each other’s research and commentary. This year, the Latin history department continued the tradition started last year of sending students to this conference: this year, an all-female group, consisting of Ms. Hennessy, Affy Koungoulos ’14, Frani O’Toole ’15, Ella Huzenis ’15, and me.

From the moment we sat down at lunch on our first day at the American Historical Association (AHA) conference, we pored over the extensive program. In every two-hour block of sessions, there were dozens of options. After considerable debate and rationalizing, we ended up going to an eclectic mix of sessions. From “Religion and the American Civil War” to “Historicizing the Queerness of Childhood,” we heard from a wide range of historians, some new and some seasoned veterans. As students, we were a minority but had the chance to interact with nuanced and niche historical material.

Less nuanced but equally niche, we soon found the theme of the (extended) weekend to be extremism. We started our weekend with a session on American Extremism throughout the twentieth century and were so inspired that we began to marathon Extreme Cheapskates and Extreme Couponing on Netflix as soon as we figured out the WiFi password. But the real extreme came with the extreme weather.

Just as the weekend drew to a close, we received word that our flight was canceled and that Chicago was reaching arctic temperatures because of a polar vortex. (As Frani wrote in our group text, “We need to talk.”) After we shared an anxiety attack over the idea of flying in a vortex—that can’t be safe, can it?—we soon discussed alternative methods to getting home, such as via Craigslist rideshare and Amtrak. When these methods failed, we decided to take advantage of Washington’s balmy 35º weather by getting some frozen yogurt, seeing Her, and visiting the Smithsonian museum complex. We also watched Downton Abbey and The Bachelor and decided Ms. Hennessy should start considering a sabbatical to take the latter by storm as a feminist.

Ultimately, we got another flight (which proceeded to get canceled) and yet another, and we finally arrived home safe, culturally and historically enriched, and tired in Chicago at 8AM two days after we planned to get home.]]>