Thursday, January 05, 2006

History Hollywood

I have officially become a history nerd. How do I know? Because Arnold Hirsch—acclaimed author of urban studies classic Making the Second Ghetto: Race & Housing in Chicago 1940-1960—is to me what Tom Cruise is to Ellen Degeneris. Not that I’d pass up a chance to meet Tom Cruise but I honestly can’t wait to meet the man who was the first to seriously examine a university as a player in urban development. What will he look like? And will he speak as well as he writes?

Hirsch will be moderating a panel at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, which convenes tomorrow in Philadelphia. You might call the meeting the Oscars for history professors. No awards (as far as I know)—except ironically one to Steven Spielberg for his work with the Shoah Foundation—but lots of “speeches” and an opportunity to see the Who’s Who of the profession. There may not be a line of ball gown bedecked women walking along a red carpet, but there will surely be a queue of history professors in tweed blazers and button down shirts of every possible shade waiting on an inevitably dark paisley carpet of the conference center for the opportunity to pick up a name badge and listing of events.

It’s a strange thing when you realize that you and your friends are starting to make their way into different professional niches—to learn special languages outside those universal ones you understood in college. All of a sudden “room draw,” “course shopping,” “eating clubs,” and “thesisizing” are replaced—in my case—by words like “conferences” “journals” and “job talks.” Med school friends and neighbors talk about clinics, rotations and residencies and future JDs about the importance of getting on the Law Review. But the process is also thrilling—envisioning those same friends at the top of their field—and having a sense, through regular conversations, of how they got there.

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