A Zoom call in process on a computer screen.

By John Dichtl, AASLH President & CEO

When COVID came, the idea of an onsite 2020 conference had to go away. AASLH postponed its planned gathering in Las Vegas to 2023 and set about creating a virtual meeting. Staff and the Program Committee moved quickly in the spring to make this possible.

We also knew the meeting could be more affordable by being online, having far fewer expenses to cover. We were committed to having a low registration fee ($55 for members) with even a free option for limited access. Historical societies, history museums, and historic sites across the country are struggling financially, and many of our colleagues are furloughed or laid off.

In a time of economic and social crisis, a difference that AASLH could make would be to offer the strong content, personal connection, and professional development of a national conference, online, at a rate that served the majority of the field.

As of September 10, more than 1,100 people have registered. About three quarters of these are members and one quarter are nonmembers. An average AASLH Annual Meeting in the past has attracted 1,000 participants. We are hoping the conference this month reaches hundreds of history practitioners, and even curious onlookers, who have never before come to an AASLH conference. Additionally, this is an opportunity to reach AASLH members, brand new and longtime, who have not yet been to one of our onsite meetings, or who haven’t been in a long while. Frankly, it has been exciting to think about reaching new audiences and old audiences in this new way.

One early challenge we considered morphed into a different kind. First we were worried about ease of use and how complicated the technological interface might have to be. Pretty quickly, however, we saw virtual meetings becoming ubiquitous in work and personal lives and knew people would quickly figure out how to use whatever we created. Staff and Program Committee then realized we could not and probably should not try to replicate the condensed intensity of an onsite, in-person conference; better to spread the meeting out and, through technology, allow people to build their own conference experience. We extended a four-day experience into live, keynote, and pre-recorded sessions and events across seven days, September 24-30. We are hoping that it is easier this way to dip a toe in to test the water.

You can catch some events live, watch others on your own schedule, and craft a conference to suit your own pace.

Everyone who registers for the full conference will have six weeks of access to the meeting’s content. We will be recording all the live sessions and featured keynote events. Any buzz generated during and after the conference can point registrants to the sessions and events they missed or should watch again.

All six of the featured keynote events are free to anyone (with the Limited Access registration), as are the Exhibit Hall and the networking Happy Hours. In these days of pandemic and economic crisis, it is more vital than ever that we stick together. Whether your institution is closed or recovering, and no matter your employment or volunteer status, we invite you to stay in the conversation. Register today at https://aaslh.org/2020annualmeeting/.