Lisa Schnirel earned her undergraduate degree in Social Studies Teaching and her Master’s in History from CSU. She is a social studies teacher at STEM School and Academy in Denver. She attended the American Historical Association’s annual conference in Denver.
It has almost been two years since I graduated with my master’s degree in history from CSU and started my career in secondary education. In that time, I have witnessed my relationship with academia change quicker than I would have previously imagined. When I first started teaching high school history, I felt relevant. I was fresh out of school, equipped with the most recent scholarship in the field, and ready to teach my new students all about the historical profession. More than a year and a half into my teaching career, however, I started to feel far less relevant than I had when I first graduated, as I had barely read any new scholarly material during this time. Just as I was feeling like I needed an update on my field, I learned that the annual American Historical Association conference was going to be held in Denver in January. I jumped at the chance to revisit the academic world for a weekend.
The AHA conference—held on probably the coldest weekend of the year—was unlike any other conference I have ever attended. While most education conferences are loud and often overwhelming, the annual AHA meeting appeared calm and quiet at first. When I entered the Convention Center for the first time, I actually questioned for a moment if I was in the correct place because I did not hear anyone talking, but I soon learned that while the hallways were quiet, the actual sessions were not. The sessions included several passionate, and sometimes even heated, debates among the presenting historians and audience members. This made me nostalgic for my own grad school days, but more importantly, these discussions provided me with a new window into the ever-changing world of the historical profession. Attending this conference has since inspired me to incorporate more debates of secondary sources into my own classroom in order to help my students—and me—stay up to date on the latest research.
The best part of the entire event, however, was the book exhibit hall. While having an entire room dedicated to promoting products is not out of the ordinary for a conference, this also felt different. I strolled around the enormous room for several minutes before I realized that no one had tried to hand me a company pen or sell me anything. In fact, the only real “swag” I saw was a pile of magnets sitting on a table with a handwritten note next to them that said, “take some swag.” I appreciated being left alone to explore the latest scholarship, and I am proud to say that I purchased the first monograph I have read in full since graduating: Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.
The AHA conference was a rewarding weekend. I learned how to stay up to date on my field and became inspired to incorporate more of what I love about the profession into my own classroom. Next week when I start prohibition in my AP U.S. History class, I know I will be providing my students with the most recent scholarship on that topic, and that alone was worth nearly freezing to death on the way to the 2017 AHA conference.