Notes from the Inside: AAAS and AHA

Each year I attend the conferences of the American Historical Association (in January) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (in February). HSS is officially affiliated with both groups and long-time members may recall that we used to meet with AHA and AAAS in alternate years, until the Society’s meetings became too large. Our first joint meeting with AAAS was in 1924 (the year of the Society’s founding) and our last joint meeting was in 1972 (both meetings were in Washington DC). Our association with AHA began just a year after the first meeting, in 1925 (a conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan) and our last meeting with AHA was some 20 years after our AAAS finale, in 1992, in Washington DC.

Seeing as the 2016 AAAS meeting, like the 1924 and 1972 conferences, was also in Washington, and the enthusiasm and interest in the history of science at the meeting was palpable (rooms filled to overflowing), I have been considering our roots. In re-reading I. Bernard Cohen’s article on the HSS’s early history, I was struck by his early assessment of our reception at the two conferences. At the early AHA meetings, he wrote, HSS sessions were not announced in the program and attendance was small: “The audience usually consisted of some [HSS] officers… (who had an obligation to attend), the speakers, a few local [HSS] members.., and a small number of history of science enthusiasts. The meetings with the AAAS were usually livelier and better attended…. [A]ll the sessions of the [HSS] were announced in the general program of the AAAS meeting… [and] the history of science sessions were attractive to many scientists as a refuge from the highly specialized technical reports that made up the bulk of the sessions of the AAAS…. [I]n those days many scientists had a real interest in the history of science, whereas the historians tended to consider our subject to be on the periphery.” (Catching Up with the Vision, S28f.)

What struck me is that I.B. Cohen’s remarks are as true today as they were some 80 years ago. The history of science at the 2016 AHA conference was but a whisper whereas at AAAS it was a shout. And although I will continue to push our field at the AHA by staffing our affiliate’s table (a somewhat lonesome task), by attending the affiliates’ meeting, and by encouraging our members to submit session proposals, I believe that we should focus most of our limited energy and resources on the AAAS. There is a new vitality at the Association, generated in part by its still-new leader, Rush Holt, who has now had a chance to implement some of his vision. I hope that members will submit a session proposal (deadline of 22 April, go to https://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2017/cfp.cgi) and/or plan to attend the conference, which will be held in Boston at the Hynes Convention Center, 16-20 February 2017.

A big reason I entered this field is through a love of science, and I think that the lessons we can share with (and be taught by) scientists can provide a renewed importance of our field, as it was in those halcyon days of the 1920s.

Thank you for your membership.

– Jay, Executive Director