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AHA 2014: You’ve been to Washington before, but…

AHA 2014

The American Historical Association’s 128th Annual Meeting is being held in Washington, D.C., 2-5 January 2014. For those of you attending, we’ve gathered advice about what to see and do in the Capital from author and DC resident Don Ritchie as well as members of Oxford University Press staff. And be sure to stop by Oxford’s booth #901-907 for a discount on all of our new and notable books, to browse through and pick up complementary copies of Oxford’s history journals, for a personal demonstration of Oxford’s online resource tools, or just to say hi to the Oxford history team. To get you started, here’s a preview of some of the exciting books, resources, and journals that we’re bringing with us to D.C.

By Don Ritchie

From 2-5 January 2014, the American Historical Association will return to Washington for its 128th annual meeting, as it does about every half dozen years. For historians who have traveled to Washington many times for previous conferences or to research at the Library of Congress and National Archives, the capital may have begun to feel old hat. What’s new and worth historians seeing?

You’ve been to the Lincoln Memorial, but have you gone to the Lincoln Summer Cottage

Lincoln Cottage at the United States Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in Washington, DC. The building is dedicated as "President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home National Monument", April 2009. Photo by Hal Jespersen. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Lincoln Cottage at the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, DC. The building is dedicated as “President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home National Monument”, April 2009. Photo by Hal Jespersen. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lincoln spent a good part of his presidency commuting to the Summer Cottage, located on the grounds of Washington’s Soldiers Home. Since 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been offering thoughtful tours of the building. And in case you’re thinking about writing a new book on Lincoln, you might stop at the new Lincoln Museum, across the street from Ford’s Theater, to contemplate its four-story tall Lincoln Book Tower–every book ever written about the sixteenth president–at its Center for Education and Leadership:

You’ve visited Arlington National Cemetery, but have you seen the Congressional Cemetery

Congressional Cemetery
Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., 14 November 2009. Photo by Sarah Stierch. CC 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Established in 1807 and handsomely restored for its bicentennial in 2007, the cemetery stands at the back end of Capitol Hill.  Early members of Congress rest alongside the likes of Elbridge Gerry (of Gerrymandering fame), Mathew Brady, John Philip Sousa, Belva Lockwood (the first woman to run for president), J. Edgar Hoover (with his mother and Clyde Tolson), and Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, whose tombstone reads: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Stop at the gatehouse for historically-oriented walking maps.

You’ve toured the Capitol, but have you explored the Capitol Visitor Center, which opened in 2008? 

Capitol Visitor Center
Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center, 27 October 2008. Photo by Architect of the Capitol. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

You don’t need a ticket to enter from the street or through a tunnel from the Library of Congress.  Its expansive, underground Emancipation Hall features some of the latest statutes contributed by the states that have diversified the collection with images ranging from Frederick Douglass and Helen Keller to Sakakawea and Astronaut Jack Swigert.  It also offers an exhibit hall dedicated to the history of the Capitol and the Congress, with films on the Senate and House of Representatives.

You’ve walked around the Capitol grounds, but have you ever stopped at the Botanical Gardens, at its base?

United States Botanic Garden
United States Botanic Garden, 31 July 2013. Photo by Ingfbruno. CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Congress established it in 1820, expeditions began collecting botanical specimens in the 1830s, the first greenhouse was erected in 1843, and the current structure was remodeled and reopened in 2001. Visitors and winter-weary Washingtonians go there to enjoy tropical rain forests and desert heat in January.

You’ve made the trek to the Jefferson, Lincoln, and Vietnam Memorials, but have you circled the Tidal Basin to visit the FDR Memorial (opened in 1997) and nearby Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (opened in 2011)? 

MLK Jr. Memorial
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., 15 July 2012. Photo by Another Believer. CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Both memorials feature extensive quotations reflecting their historical message–although King’s has recently undergone some sand-blasted editing. Each Memorial has its own subject-related book store, convenient for browsing and a warm break on a cold winter’s day.

You’ve climbed to the top of the Washington Monument, which has been closed for repairs to earthquake damage, but have you taken in the spectacular view from the balcony of the Newseum?

Newseum, Washington, D.C., 26 April 2013. Photo by Another Believer. CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Newseum opened at its Pennsylvania Avenue location in 2008, and offers an extensive multimedia collection on the history of news reporting.

You’ve seen every Smithsonian Museum up and down the Mall, but have you walked a few blocks off the Mall to the National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian
National Portrait Gallery, 29 July 2011. Photo by Billy Hathorn. CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It shares quarters with the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in a building that once housed the Patent Office, served as a Civil War hospital where Clara Barton and Walt Whitman worked as nurses, and hosted Lincoln’s second inaugural ball. The museums reopened in 2006 after a major renovation. In addition to their free admission, the museums stay open to 7 p.m., and their domed atrium offers a comfortable place to rest between touring and going to dinner.

You might have picketed the South African Embassy along with one of the many groups that protested there in the Apartheid era, but have you been back to see the statue of Nelson Mandela that was just installed at its front steps? 

The Embassy of the Republic of South Africa to the United States
The Embassy of the Republic of South Africa to the United States, located at 3051 Massachusetts Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., 7 May 2005. Photo by Gyrofrog. CC 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The nine-foot bronze Mandela walks forward with his clenched fist raised in salute, just as he emerged from his 27-year imprisonment. The statue serves as South Africa’s response to the British embassy, across Massachusetts Avenue, where a statue of Winston Churchill gives his familiar V for Victory sign.

Finally, you may remember–or at least heard of–the Washington riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, but have you seen the revival of the old riot corridors along 14th Street NW, and H Street NE

The intersection of 14th & H Streets, NW
The intersection of 14th & H Streets, NW in Washington, D.C., 8 January 2009. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid. CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

After languishing for the last four decades, both streets are booming with new apartments, restaurants, theaters, and galleries.

As a bonus, if you want to know where all the cool people are going to be after conference hours (besides Oxford’s annual AHA fete on Saturday, January 4th from 5:30-7:30, which you’re all invited to), we asked OUP Staffers about their favorite places to go in D.C.

Niko Pfund, President and Publisher of Oxford University Press:

“My favorite thing to do in Washington, DC is spend a few hours in Politics and Prose.”

Sarah Szatkowski, Journals History Marketing:

“One of my favorite restaurants is Peking Gourmet. This is a Chinese restaurant in Bailey’s Crossroads.  It’s really good.”

Elyse Turr, Academic/Trade History Marketing:

“My sister and I attend the National Book Festival every Fall –so for the festivals and activities there, the National Mall is my favorite place to go.”

Stuart Roberts, Academic/Trade Religion Editorial:

“Whenever I’m in D.C. I do my best to spend an afternoon at The Phillips Collection. Housed in the collector’s old brownstone, it’s one of the country’s best collections of impressionist art. Come nightfall I enjoy Black Cat—a storied venue with a full schedule of regional bands.”

Rebecca Hecht, Academic/Trade History Editorial:

“I haven’t spent too much time in D.C., but I once went on a trip to the Holocaust Museum, which is one of the more famous Holocaust museums in the world.”

Kate Pais, Academic/Trade History Marketing:

“The one time I went to D.C., I really enjoyed walking everywhere. The rivers and streams cutting through the city are beautiful, and while it’s chilly now, I’m sure snowy Woodley Park is stunning.”

Donald A. Ritchie is historian of the US Senate, where he conducts an oral history program. A past president of the Oral History Association, he has also served on the councils of the International Oral History Association and the American Historical Association. He is the author of many books, including Doing Oral History: A Practical GuideReporting from Washington, and The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction. He is also the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Oral History.

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