AJHA President Aimee Edmondson Outlines Goals

15 Nov 2021 5:27 PM | Erika Pribanic-Smith (Administrator)


Aimee Edmondson took the gavel and became president of AJHA at the 2021 National Conference. In this column, she outlines her goals for her term.

Goal 1: Hook ‘em young.

Those of you lucky enough to have been introduced to the AJHA as graduate students, think back to the first conference that got you hooked.

For me, the dealmaker was the 2006 conference in Wichita, Kansas, and the “party bus,” a tricked out, rolling romper room of a vehicle that hauled our group of distinguished scholars to the Saturday evening gala dinner at a nearby museum.

During the height of football season, all of the regular buses apparently had been scooped up for the “away” high school teams in that part of the state, and the AJHA conference organizers had been relegated to renting what was left over. The party bus.

This thing had a seriously loud stereo system, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling and flashing neon lights bouncing off the walls. The seats had been pulled out and bench seating installed around the sides so there was plenty of room for dancing in the middle. And on our way back from the dinner, there he was: distinguished journalism historian Dr. Dave Davies, then associate dean of the College of Arts & Letters at the University of Southern Mississippi, doing what only could be described as….the funky chicken.

Who were these people? Had I been transported to some retro rave rather than an academic conference?

My contemporary, fellow graduate student Amber Roessner, also remembers “one strange night of karaoke,” in Wichita. Her adviser, Dr. Janice Hume of the University of Georgia, told her at the time: “What happens at AJHA, stays at AJHA.”

Make no mistake, I had heard Dr. Davies discuss major trends of America’s daily newspapers (1945-1965) earlier at the conference, and I’d already read his edited volume, “The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists Confront the Movement.”

Roessner, now an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, wrote in the Intelligencer in 2011: “As a graduate student, after my initial shock of seeing singing and dancing historians, I had numerous opportunities to discuss journalism history with the best and brightest in our field.”

So, if you are like me, the annual AJHA event was the academic conference you didn’t want to miss. These days, it feels a bit challenging to keep that AJHA work-hard, play-hard spirit alive during a pandemic. Slashed university travel budgets and COVID-19 have kept us isolated – away from each other and the archives. 

We’ve had two fantastic virtual meetings, and these annual conferences have enabled us to think big in terms of speakers and sessions. We have seen some advantages of zero travel worries and therefore less of a time and financial commitment. But nothing can replace the AJHA’s in-person research sessions, robust panels, chance meet-ups with old friends and new over breakfast, often where research collaborations begin and take shape. There’s the Donna Allen luncheon, chats over coffee, and always, the Friday afternoon historic tour. The annual conference leaves me invigorated and even more enthusiastic about journalism history and this organization.

As we begin to ramp back up for in-person conferencing, among my goals as this year’s AJHA president is to refocus on expanding our membership numbers and especially to the recruitment of graduate students. The connections we make most often start at the in-person convention and keep us working together throughout the year.

Since our annual October meeting, AJHA members have remained hard at work in their service to the organization. I’ve appointed an ad-hoc committee to look for ways to encourage graduate student attendance and retention at the conference. Special thanks goes out to First VP Mike Conway and Research Chair Gerry Lanosga, both from Indiana, along with board member Michael Fuhlhage from Wayne State, and Claire Rounkles, Graduate Student Committee chair and a Missouri doctoral student. Thank you all for the generous gift of your time and talents.

I don’t want to give too much away yet, but this group will bring to the Board of Directors tangible ways to help expand conference attendance and graduate student funding. Stay tuned to the Intelligencer as more details emerge. Meanwhile, if you’d like to help get involved in this effort or have ideas for this committee, please reach out to me or Mike Conway.

Goal 2: Continue AJHA media literacy efforts

Given the urgent need for an informed populous in a functioning democracy, media literacy topped the list of AJHA officers’ goals in 2020-2021 under the leadership of Donna Lampkin Stephens of Central Arkansas. To maintain these efforts, I have continued to ask our members to help come up with ways we might combat the flood of misinformation and revisionist history narratives that remain all too common in our media ecosystem. And now we’re ready to take things a step further.

I have asked AJHA board member Jennifer Moore of the University of Minnesota Duluth to take the lead in reaching out to other organizations who are working in the area of media literacy. She is researching and gathering resources, making connections and pondering how we as journalism historians can contribute to the conversation on this vital topic. She will then work to put knowledge into action, leading discussions with AJHA members and creating an action plan on how we might help lead the broader conversations within our own communities and nationwide. We can call Jennifer the point person or our media literacy czar, but regardless of her title, I’m grateful that she has stepped into the significant service role that I expect will yield tangible results for our membership and our communities.

We took the lead in highlighting/emphasizing the importance of history in the journalism curriculum. Now is the time to make the same commitment as it relates to media literacy. We’ll talk about this issue at our conference in Memphis, Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2022. Meanwhile, if you’d like to help Jennifer or get involved in this effort, please reach out to me or her.

Goal 3: Facilitate your work where I can – and sometimes just stay out of your way!

I continue to be amazed by the energy and hard work of our members. Take the efforts of Teri Finneman of Kansas, Pamela Walck of Duquesne and Ashley Walter, a doctoral student at Penn State. These scholars have kept up their momentum from the fantastic oral history preconference event held Oct. 7. These three, along with Candi Carter Olson of Utah State, Melissa Greene-Blye of Kansas, and Will Mari of LSU, provided attendees with two hours chock full of information to advance the field of oral history. A highlighted speaker of the special event was Bonnie Brennan of Marquette, a widely noted expert in qualitative research and oral history.

The preconference oral history organizers have maintained the enthusiasm of that day, and now we are expanding the Oral History Committee by breaking its work into two parts.

Gheni Platenburg from Auburn will continue to oversee the AJHA Oral History Project and work to preserve and publicize the materials gained through the interviews in this project. Please reach out to her or me if you’d like to be part of this exciting effort. Thank you, Gheni, for your leadership in this area.

According to the AJHA Constitution and Bylaws, the second half of the Oral History Committee’s charge is this: “work to encourage the use of oral history in research by journalism historians by developing panels and convention presentations.”

As you can see, the charge of this committee big, so Teri, Pam and Ashley will proceed with some events you won’t want to miss, and that will incorporate some of Pam’s work as editor of American Journalism. They have some exciting things cooking in 2022, so stay tuned to the Intelligencer for details. Thanks again, you three, for all you do.

I see my job as helping to facilitate your work where I can – and where appropriate, just stay out of your way to let you do your jobs. So, I’m finally wrapping up my president’s column about my goals for the year, per the request of our newly-named executive director, Erika Pribanic-Smith of UT-Arlington. You’ve heard my “origin story,” and I’d sometime I’d like to hear yours. (This is what long-time AJHA member Gwyn Mellinger calls your first brush with the AJHA.) And I look forward to making more fun memories at future AJHA conferences in Memphis, then Columbus, Ohio, in 2023, and beyond.

We’ll share what we know about all things historical far and wide. But when it comes to party buses and karaoke, Janice is right: What happens at AJHA stays at AJHA.

Comments

  • 17 Nov 2021 4:17 PM | Michael Sweeney
    As always, Aimee, you come prepared. Same with the facilitators and board officers. This conference next year looks rock solid. You're right about presentation models... an in-person template gives scholars much-needed breakfast and bar (BnB) time to meet and chat with fellow historians.

    As we are journalism historians, I feel bound to point out a key missing fact about karaoke at the hotel. The goofy antics might not have happened if one professor, his friend, Kathy Bradshaw, and a handful of AJHAers, had not been there. The bar staff had invited us to do karaoke, but no one had volunteered.

    So we sat and drank. Each passing minute only added another cricket to the symphony of silence. The growing pressure finally got to me. I walked to the karaoke machine and punched some numbers. The first performance of the night was by Yrs Trly bellowing out the words to "Love Shack" by the B-52s.

    When I do karaoke, I either sing like Bob Dylan or Fred Schneider of the B-52s because they can't sing and neither can I. At the least, I figured I couldn't perform too badly. So I sang. Over the next few minutes, two Wichita State grad students joined me on the stage. They were followed by grad students and professors from several schools who created their own chorus. We camped it up. I sang my lines in Schneider's Georgia twang, and the grad students sang backup--"Bang, bang, bang on the door, baby [me] // I can't HEAR you [them]." After we finished, almost everyone put in their names for an open karaoke time slot. It was an hour until I could sing again, this time doing "Like a Rolling Stone." The academic audience loved that song even more than my opener as they contorted their faces and outdid Dylan himself in exaggerated poses and sounds.

    The party bus came and we all got on. On the way to dinner, I smiled to myself over and over as I overheard snippets of conversation that included some version of "Did you hear Sweeney tonight?"

    The next morning, when I entered the bar/breakfast room to get some eggs and potatoes, the wait staff recognized me and gave me a standing ovation.

    Those kinds of nights are extra special. Yeah, the best of times are when we're together.

    Sincerely,

    Professor Emeritus
    Michael S. Sweeney
    Ohio University
    msweeney@columbus.rr.com
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