The 2023 OAH Conference on American History "Confronting Crises: History for Uncertain Times"
We live in uncertain times. Authoritarian rule, border walls, immigration bans, children in cages, police killings, a global pandemic, hate crimes, and global warming are just some of the crises we’ve faced in recent years. They point to the possibility that we’re living in a state of permanent crisis as the new normal. Or, maybe constant crises have always shaped the lives of all but the fraction of people whose social status has offered them comforts and reprieve? Perhaps the only difference now is that COVID-19 has made even the privileged feel vulnerable. If or when the pandemic recedes, we’ll all re-enter a world that will be different than the one we lived in on the eve of the shutdown. It is difficult to imagine, though, that the world to come will be rid of the precarity, instability, and inequities–in short, crises–that have plagued the past.
Los Angeles, the site of the 2023 in-person conference, is the perfect setting for our conversation about crises and how we might overcome them together. A settler city, sited on Tongva territory, Los Angeles is today home to the largest urban Indian population. It is also home to some of the largest immigrant, Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in the country. The city is being devastated by climate change. Yet it is also the site of a dynamic environmental justice movement. Los Angeles has always been a key site of Black activism. Yet Los Angeles authorities have worked to impede Black social, economic, and political progress, building the largest jail system in the United States. Local activists are now engaged in one of the nation’s most active prison abolition movements. As it has been for more than a century, Los Angeles represents both the American crisis and the site of unusual creativity for people trying to create a more just and equal society.