The Relevance of History Conference, April 13-14, 2017


We invite you to attend The Relevance of History: The Place of the Discipline in Contemporary Society, a conference that will explore the role of historians and historical thinking in the world today. Through conversations with faculty, alumni, students, and historians working in a wide range of careers, this event will reexamine the role the discipline can play in the worlds of social activism, policy-making, and digital media to propose new ways to think about the professional role of historians and to empower the next generation of scholars.
This conference is made possible by Making History Work, the American Historical Association's Career Diversity for Historians initiative in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the intiative is working to explore the culture and practice of graduate education to better prepare graduate students and early-career historians for a range of career options within and beyond the academy.

General Event Information

The Relevance of History will be held on April 13th and 14th in Room 122 of the Regenstein Library on the University of Chicago campus (1100 East 57th Street).
The conference will begin on Thursday, April 13th with the Graduate Student History Challenge and a panel discussion featuring alumni of the University of Chicago's Department of History. The second day of the conference on Friday, April 14th will feature three panels and a keynote address by John Lawrence, PhD, former chief of staff to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). 

Conference Program

Thursday, April 13th

11:30-3:00pm     Graduate Student History Challenge Introduction
Graduate students from institutions across Chicago and beyond are invited to take part in the History Challenge, a competition that will ask teams of two to three participants to use a collection of primary sources from the University of Chicago archives to develop a public history project related to the history of the Hyde Park-Kenwood community. During this session, students will be given three hours to examine the materials and to develop a three-minute, two-slide presentation directed at potential sponsors/funders for the project. The following day, Friday, April 14th, teams will make their presentations to conference attendees and a panel of judges. The judges will select a winner and provide substantive feedback to each team regarding the project and their pitch.
The members of the winning team will receive airfare, lodging, and registration to the American Historical Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., in addition to the opportunity to work with community members to realize their public history project. 
Registration for the History Challenge also includes lunch, which will be served beginning at 11:30. At noon, the challenge organizers will introduce the archival material and the general guidelines of the project. All graduate student participants are also invited to stay after the brainstorming session and attend the alumni panel and dinner beginning at 3:30pm.
3:30-5:00pm     Alumni Panel: What Does Being a Historian Mean to You?
Alumni of the University of Chicago's Department of History will discuss their career paths after they completed their PhDs, emphasizing the diverse, fulfilling professional roles historians can find within and beyond the academy.
  • Christopher Boyer, PhD '97, Professor of History and Latin American and Latino Studies, the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Andrew Janco, PhD '12, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Haverford College
  • Monica Mercado, PhD '14, Assistant Professor of History, Colgate University
  • Jessica Neptune, PhD '12, Associate Director of National Programs for the Bard Prison Initiative and Director of the Bard Prison Initiative in Chicago
  • Lauren Stokes, PhD '16, Assistant Professor of History, Northwestern University
  • Emily Swafford, PhD '14, Manager of Academic Affairs, American Historical Association
  • Moderator: Emily Lynn Osborn, Associate Professor of African History, African Studies, and the College
5:00-7:00pm     Alumni Happy Hour and Dinner

Friday, April 14th

8:30-9:00am     Breakfast and Check-In
9:00-10:15am     Being a Scholar, Being a Citizen
  • Kathleen Belew, Assistant Professor of US History and the College, University of Chicago
  • Thomas Holt, James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History and the College, University of Chicago
  • Theresa Mah, UChicago PhD '99, State Representative, Illinois 2nd House District
  • Moderator: James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association
10:45-12:00pm     Do We Need to Think Historically to Understand Contemporary Economic Issues?
  • Nils Gilman, PhD, Associate Chancellor/Chief of Staff, University of California, Berkeley
  • Kenneth Pomeranz, University Professor of Modern Chinese History and in the College
  • Leah Zell, PhD, CFA, Founder and Lead Portfolio Manager, Lizard Investors LLC
  • Moderator: Leora Auslander, Professor of European Social History, in the College, and Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor in Western Civilization
12:00-1:15pm     Lunch and History Challenge Presentations
  • Presentations for the History Challenge will begin at 12:30pm
1:30-2:45pm     Digital Scholarship and Engagement: Why Bother?
  • Seth Denbo, PhD, Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives, American Historical Association
  • Andrew Janco, UChicago PhD '12, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Haverford College
  • Monica Mercado, UChicago PhD '14, Assistant Professor of History, Colgate University
  • Claire Potter, Professor of History and Director of the Digital Humanities Initiative, The New School
  • Moderator: Faith Hillis, Associate Professor of Russian History and the College
3:30-5:00pm     Keynote Address by John Lawrence, PhD
After receiving a PhD in American History from the University of California-Berkeley, John Lawrence embarked on a political career that spanned four decades. He began his career as a chief of staff to Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and as staff director for two House Committees led by Miller, the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Education and Labor. In 2005, he transitioned to serve as chief of staff for House Speaker and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. He continued to serve as Pelosi's chief of staff until his retirement in 2013. Dr. Lawrence will speak about the ways his history training guided his political career and the impact historians can have beyond the academy.
5:00pm     Reception in Hutchinson Commons