This month I attended the Southern Association of Women Historians (SAWH) Triennial Conference at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, June 7-10, 2018. This year’s conference theme was “Resistance, Power, and Accommodation: Women and Southern History.”

The SAWH is professional organization of historians that supports the study of women’s history and the work of women historians. Most of its members focus on the history of the American South. I was pleased to have the opportunity to attend.

Historians across the professional spectrum attended the conference—academicians and alt-acs alike. As I discussed in my essay published in Perspectives Magazine “Casting a Wider Net: History PhDs, Change Your Perspective!” historians work in and add value to all types of professional settings. Historians who serve as professors, independent scholars, editors, nonprofit administrators, and others all participated in the event.

I especially enjoyed the conference this year! It was such a pleasure to be in the company of so many dynamic women historians as well as learn about new scholarship. Below are my top 10 takeaways from the SAWH Triennial Conference 2018:


The conference opened with a roundtable discussion about the importance of women being public intellectuals. Not only is history essential to understanding a range of topics, but who tells the history is significant as well. Notably, few women are featured as experts. Panelist Nicole Hemmer of The Miller Center at the University of Virginia, stated it frankly, “Expertise is seen as white and male.” Considering this fact, there is definitely a need for more women historians in the public sphere. Women historians, therefore, must be involved not only in the writing and interpretation of history, but also in the public discourse as well. Panelist Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundro Institue of Early American History and Culture at the College of Women and Mary, introduced the initiative Women Also Know History, a resource for media outlets to connect with women historians who possess various types of expertise. No longer can journalists or publications use the excuse that they do not know or have access to women historians. We are now on full display! To all women historians, sign up and become a listed scholar. Our country and world need you, your voices and your expertise!


2 — Women historians must promote our expertise and be engaged as public scholars.

In the workshop “Making Your Mark – Getting Started as a Publicly Engaged Scholar” panelists encouraged women historians to share their knowledge and expertise with the public by publishing articles in popular media outlets.

Acknowledging the fact that most women want to be 100% ready before taking action, the panelists urged the audience to move forward despite fear. “ Realize that you don’t have to be ‘ready’ nor does your article haveto be ‘perfect’ before you submit to a media outlet. Just put yourself out there!”
The panelists also advised the audience not to be discouraged by rejection stating, “Rejection is a part of the process. Just keep writing and pitching.” Lastly, the panel shared key steps in the pitching process:* Know about the various publications and what type of articles they publish.

  • Identify and build relationships with publication editors
  • Strategically utilize social media to build your audience as well as to establish relationships with editors, journalists, other writers, and readers
  • Pitch your idea/article
  • Request assistance from librarians and the public relations division at your institution
  • Be diligent, especially considering that rejection is a part of the process.

3 — It was immensely gratifying to have a candid, intelligent and informed conversation about the history of race and race relations in America as well as to explore and celebrate the historical contributions of women to the development of the United States.

The conference featured outstanding sessions that covered a range of topics with most focusing on Southern and women’s history. Because race is fundamental to the history of this country, particularly to the American South, race stood out as a central theme in many of the session discussions. Most of the historians assertively and unapologetically delved into the issue of race, providing an avenue for a multidimensional analysis and discussion of their research. Additionally, considering that the field and subject of history is primarily dominated by and revolved around men, placing women as center by being both the narrator and narrative gave women an agency that scholars rarely see in academic settings.

4 — Black trauma is a reality.

The Opening Plenary featured François Hamlin, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Brown University, who focused her lecture on “50 Years Since Coming of Age in Mississippi: Finding Anne Moody.” Using the life of Anne Moody, Hamlin argued that African American activists, who advocate for civil and human rights, suffer immensely for their sacrifice—enduring physical, mental, emotional and psychological pain. This pain and suffering is compounded by the realities of racism, creating a unique type of trauma for black activists.

5 — Saturday morning breakfast was an absolute delight!

Every type of pastry you could imagine adorned the tables! What a spread!!! I felt like a child in a candy shop! Better yet, I felt like it was Christmas morning, awakening to all types of presents under the tree! My God! Lord, have mercy! Yes, I sinned. Believe it or not, I sampled almost everything! Hugs, kisses and much love to the University of Alabama Press! I love you!!! 

6 — The Hallowed Grounds Walking Tour of the University of Alabama added a special dimension to the conference.

Created by Dr. Hilary N. Green, Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama, the tour highlights the lives, experiences and legacy of enslaved persons as well as the contributions of African American civil rights icons to the University of Alabama. A special shout out and thank you to the SAWH tour guide Cynthia Jones, graduate student in the College of Education. She conducted an outstanding tour and educational journey through the history of the University of Alabama. This history tour is a must see for all who visit the campus.


7 — Women in the history profession shall endure sexual harassment/assault no more!!! Enter: The Cassandra Project!

Led by Catherine Clinton, Denman Endowed Professor in American History at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the conference featured a workshop on the realities of sexual harassment and assault in the history profession. During the session women and men held a candid conversation about the issue and discussed strategies for assertively addressing complaints. Time’s up!

Session: “Latinas/os, Race, and Resistance in the Nuevo South” left to right: Pamela S. Murray, Professor of History, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Perla M. Guerrero, Assistant Professor, American Studies, University of Maryland, College Park; Gwendolyn Ferreti, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Alabama; Iliana Yamileth Rodriguez, graduate student, Yale University

8 — Latina historians are placing Latinas/os as center in the history of el Nuevo South.

A noteworthy addition to this year’s conference was seeing the rise of Latina historians who study the American South. In their session entitled “Latinas/os, Race, and Resistance in the Nuevo South,” scholars shared their research on how Latina/o presence and resistance has shaped Southern life and history.


9 — Award-winning author and historian Danielle McGuire shared insight on how to write history that changes the world.

In the final plenary entitled “Writing to Change the World: Recy Taylor, Rosa Parks and Why History Matters” Danielle McGuire of Wayne State University shared her process for researching and writing about the life of Recy Taylor. Her lecture centered on how to write an engaging narrative. She shared many of her tips on writing:


left to right: Françoise Hamlin, Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies, Brown University; Sarah Case, Managing Editor, The Public Historian/Lecturer, Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara; Me!; Sonya Yvette Ramsey, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

10 — As always, it was great reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones!

I totally enjoyed the conference, especially the comrade. How affirming it was to be in the company of other women historians from all over the country, who also love history! Let’s all make an effort to stay connected!

Attending professional meetings and conferences is one of my favorite things to do! I especially enjoy those focused on history. When used strategically, history is an incredible tool for shaping the present.

Did any of my colleagues attend the conference?  If so, I would love to hear about your takeaways.  Feel free to share in the comment section below.

As a US historian focusing on American race relations, Dr. Ramona Houston’s work as a speaker and community engagement strategist centers on inspiring minds and connecting communities. Through her workshops and presentations she uses history as a means to help audiences identify and address racial biases to establish better relationships and more effective organizations. Contact her to learn how she may support you or your institution.

Categories: History Profession

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