Surprised that the hipsters haven't tried to revive this bourbon label
A former student of mine who is now working on her PhD posted an article to Facebook about the "signature cocktails" this year at the annual American Historical Association conference in Atlanta. These will be served at the various conference hotels, with cute in-joke names like "The Bourbon Restoration."
The article made me chuckle, and not just because of the cocktail names. When I went to the AHA, I did my fair share of drinking, but very rarely in the overpriced hotel bars. I was either a broke-ass graduate student or a barely less poor junior scholar, already having to foot the bill for plane tickets and expensive hotel rooms. For that reason, my signature AHA cocktail was Evan Williams from a bottle bought across the street at a liquor store mixed with warm coke, usually served in a plastic hotel room cup and consumed with other similarly situated friends. Evan Williams is indeed some cheap, rotgut stuff, but it is the king of cheap rotgut bourbon. Why? Because while alone it burns without any smooth bourbon sweetness, mixed with the sugar of the coke it becomes the best twelve dollars ever spent.
I still remember my last night at the DC AHA in 2008, exhausted and punchy hanging out with friends in our room above its legal occupancy to save money, turn of the century tenement style, downing this concoction while speculating if any of our interviews were going to lead to a future job. (They didn't, but that's another story.) Unlike those other signature cocktails, it doesn't have a name, but what it lacks in panache it more than makes up for in affordability.
That drink is a reminder of how the AHA's annual conference, perhaps more than anything else, highlights the division between the haves and the have nots among professional historians. Job seekers are the ones who most desperately need to go to the conference, since their livelihoods depend upon it. However, they are more likely to be required to pay their own way, despite being the group who can least afford to go. Those who have secure positions in the professoriate usually have institutions paying their way, which leaves a lot of surplus dough for downing cocktails in the hotel lounge.
I went to the 2015 conference because it was being held in New York and I would get to see a lot of my friends. It was a wonderful experience. I took in some cool panels, scouted some good books, and caught up with old grad school chums. It was entirely liberating to be there because I wanted to, and to have enough money that I wasn't in a constant state of anxiety over what things were costing me. All I had to do to have a pleasant AHA was to quit the profession.