Dear WHA Members and 2021 Conference Program Participants:

The Western History Association 2021 Conference is scheduled October 27-30 in Portland, Oregon. Except for walking tours, the conference sessions and events will take place entirely at the Hilton Portland. The WHA is also hosting virtual sessions in its first-ever “Pre-Con” the week of Monday, October 18. All sessions/presenters in the Pre-Con will be online.

The ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and resurgence of positive cases due to the delta variant are of particular concern to the Western History Association staff, members, conference presenters, and elected leadership. The WHA Council met on August 27 to address concerns regarding the 2021 conference. After a careful and thorough discussion about the precautions the WHA can take to reduce COVID-19 risk at an in-person conference and about the major financial ramifications that would result from a contract cancellation fee with the Hilton Portland, Council voted to hold an in-person annual conference in Portland October 27-30, 2021.

The 2021 Program Committee, led by Erika Bsumek, Erik Loomis, and Michael Witgen, created an exceptional program of sessions this year! We are impressed by the topics and themes covered by the panels and invite you to preview the schedule of onsite sessions and the current schedule of the Pre-Con online sessions.

The WHA Conference will meet in Portland as planned

The WHA aims to achieve the difficult balance of guarding the safety of conference attendees, maintaining conference accessibility, and protecting the WHA’s financial resources. The WHA Council, in collaboration with the WHA staff, approved a set of guidelines for participation in the 2021 conference that encompass enhanced safety precautions and expanded accessibility.

Please read the following carefully for information on how the WHA is mitigating the risks and challenges of attending and planning an in-person conference during a pandemic (including the requirement of proof of vaccination and a suggested negative Covid-19 test prior to travelling). These details also include ways for presenters who are unable to travel to Portland to remain session participants in the conference.

The conference is less than two months away, and we know that things can change quickly. President Maria Montoya, President-Elect Susan Johnson, and Executive Director Elaine Nelson will work with the WHA Council to monitor the situation in Portland and communicate timely updates. We ask that you please bookmark this page for news and updates for 2021.

After reviewing the following information, please contact our office if you have any urgent questions.


Maria Montoya, WHA President

Susan Lee Johnson, WHA President-Elect

Elaine Marie Nelson, WHA Executive Director

FAQs for 2021 Updated Conference


A. I am a conference participant. What are my first, immediate steps regardless of my travel status?

B. What do I need to know if I am unable to travel to Portland for the conference?

C. What do I need to know about traveling to Portland for the conference?

D. What is the Hilton Portland doing to provide a safe venue for the WHA?

E. Why isn't the WHA shifting online or offering hybrid options for presenters?

F. Additional Questions and Resources

G. Is the WHA monitoring the protests in Portland? What is downtown Portland like right now?

H. What are some additional resources I can access to track Covid-19 in Oregon?

A. I am a conference participant. What are my first, immediate steps regardless of my travel status?

Communicate with your session colleagues: The WHA asks that participants in EACH session immediately communicate with each other about everyone’s travel status. You will receive an email prompt from the WHA staff with the task to decide as a session if you plan to present onsite in Portland or online during the 2021 WHA Pre-Con (week of October 18).

Respectful Deliberation: We understand this will be a difficult decision for all participants. We ask session participants to be respectful of your colleagues and the challenges they face in traveling or not traveling. The important thing is to make sure all sessions come to a consensus regarding the onsite/online options and all participants appreciate the situation each session individual is facing. No one should be forced to travel, and no one should be forced to drop from the program. Everyone who chooses to do so can find a way to participate in the WHA meeting this year, and we as WHA members should value every option equally.

Your deadline for making this decision and communicating it to the WHA office by responding to your email prompt is Sunday, September 5 by midnight. 

Participation Option #1 – Everyone Onsite: If everyone on your session has committed to traveling to Portland for the onsite conference, your next step is to reconsider your AV needs. In an attempt to keep financial costs low in 2021, we ask that you reevaluate your request for a power point. Is it absolutely essential to your presentation, or can you bring pre-printed handouts with images for the audience?

Please communicate your plans for option #1 to the WHA office as soon as possible (1. confirmation of onsite panel; 2. AV needs). Then, jump below to section “C. What do I need to know about traveling to Portland for the conference?

B. What do I need to know if I am unable to travel to Portland for the conference?

Participation Option #2 – One or more participants unable to travel: If colleagues on your session decide to hold your session onsite but you are unable to travel, you have options:

2a. You may pre-record your presentation and ask one of your colleagues to play it at the conference. If you remain listed on your session for the 2021 onsite conference in Portland, you will be required to register (the fee will be reduced for pre-recorded presenters).

2b. You may withdraw your presentation from the onsite session and move it online to the Pre-Con scheduled the week of October 18 with the understanding that you will be placed on a session that combines several topics and themes. If you have pre-registered for the onsite conference, you may request a refund on your registration or reallocate it as a donation to the WHA General Fund.

2c. You may withdraw your presentation completely from the 2021 program and resubmit your work for the 2022 WHA Conference in San Antonio. It will be flagged as a 2021 accepted paper, but still subject to approval by the 2022 Program Committee. If you have pre-registered, you may request a refund on your registration or reallocate it as a donation to the WHA General Fund.

2d. You may have your presentation read by another WHA conference participant. You have two options here:

2di. Have someone from your session read your paper.

2dii. A WHA member local to Portland has volunteered to read papers in-person for those who are unable to attend the conference. Please email Kaitlin Sundberg at for more information.

2e. Why can’t I just “Zoom in”? We respectfully ask that you do not attempt this. The session rooms at the conference will not be equipped with hi-speed internet. If your session attempts to use a hot-spot Internet connection to feature virtual/online presenters, the WHA staff and Hilton AV staff will not be able to offer you any technical support.

2f. Participation and Registration: If you remain listed on your session for the 2021 onsite conference in Portland, you will be required to register (the fee will be reduced for pre-recorded presenters). If you move to the Pre-Con, you will also be required to register (but the process will be free for members).

Please communicate your plans for option #2 to the WHA office as soon as possible.

Participation Option #3 – Three or more participants unable to travel: If the majority of colleagues on your session are unable to travel, but you still wish to present/participate onsite in Portland, you have options.

3a. If your session elects to present online, you may participate in the Pre-Con with your colleagues and still travel to Portland to attend the conference. If you choose to do this, you will not be required to register for both the onsite and online conferences (only the onsite conference).

3b. If your session elects to present online but you still want to present in Portland, you may withdraw your presentation from your online session and move it onsite with the understanding that you will be placed on a session that combines several topics and themes in Portland. Members of the WHA Council and Program Committee will be in charge of placing your presentation in a session.

3c. You may withdraw your presentation completely from the 2021 program and resubmit your work for the 2022 WHA Conference in San Antonio. It will be flagged as a 2021 accepted paper, but still subject to approval by the 2022 Program Committee.

Please communicate your plans for option #3 to the WHA office as soon as possible.

C. What do I need to know about traveling to Portland for the conference?

Prepare to provide proof of vaccination: All conference attendees (regardless of vaccination status) will be required to provide proof of vaccination before October 11. (If you are exempt from the vaccination due to medical or religious reasons, you will be required to provide a Negative Covid-19 test – see below.) The WHA office will communicate how to submit your proof of vaccination.

Pre-Register ASAP: Please note that the above vaccination policy will NOT ALLOW FOR ONSITE REGISTRATION this year. All conference attendees must register and pay in advance by October 11. If you do not register, pay, upload proofs of vaccine (see above) in advance the WHA will remove you from the hotel’s reservation room list and the conference program, and place a note of your absence on the errata. The staff will take these extreme measures out of concern for the safety of all WHA conference attendees.

Prepare to take a Covid-19 test: The WHA strongly encourages all conference attendees to take a Covid-19 (PCR or rapid) test no more than three days prior to traveling to Portland. Why do you need a negative test if you are vaccinated? Recent studies have concluded new data about the Covid-19 delta variant and vaccinations, and the WHA’s goal is to make the conference space as safe as possible for all attendees. PCR (saliva) or rapid (non-painful/non-invasive swab) tests should be readily available for you at your local pharmacy. Please make an appointment now for the week of October 18 so you can make sure to get tested before you travel. Remember that PCR (saliva) tests can take up to 24-72 hours to process.

Masking: On August 13, Multnomah County (Portland) issued a mandatory mask requirement for all indoor public places. On August 27 Multnomah County issued a mandatory mask requirement for most outdoor public places where physical distancing is not possible. The Hilton Portland is actively enforcing these policies. All conference attendees must wear a mask in the Hilton while participating in program activities. The WHA will require masks at the 2021 conference even if Multnomah County drops its indoor mask policy. All masks must be worn unless an attendee is eating while seated, drinking, presenting their work, or in their guest rooms. We strongly encourage presenters to wear their mask while presenting.

Sanitizing: The WHA will have sanitizing stations near the conference registration desk and in the book exhibit hall. We recommend that all attendees bring their own sanitizer to use when needed and to wash their hands often.

Meals and Receptions: The WHA is still obligated to meet a Food and Beverage minimum of $60,000. To accomplish this, the WHA plans to hold receptions with bar-only services (no food) and alternatives to buffet lines. To make up the total, the WHA can offer grab-and-go breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.

D. What is the Hilton Portland doing to provide a safe venue for the WHA?

Hilton Vaccination Policy: The Hilton Portland has not released specific details about its vaccination requirements for staff or guests. While vaccination is not yet required for staff, the Hilton has persistently asked all staff to upload their proof of vaccination. The WHA’s event manager from the Hilton offered this to us: The Hilton has “a higher percentage [of vaccination] than the national average—while also enforcing our mask policy to all employees and guests. While we cannot disclose the number rest assured—our team has exceeded the state [of Oregon’s vaccination] goal.”

Staff Engagement with WHA: The WHA will request that *only* vaccinated staff from the hotel interact with the WHA’s conference attendees, but the organization cannot guarantee that the Hilton will comply with this request.

Masking and Sanitizing: Hilton staff is required to wear masks. The Hilton has extra masks at the front desks and sanitizing stations at the main entrances, elevators, and at banquet events. The Hilton is enforcing the masking policy by asking that the only time someone removes their mask is to eat while seated, drinking, presenting their work, or in their own guest room.

Room Capacity: The Hilton has not changed any room capacity requirements and does not plan to unless mandated. However, they have rearranged session room seating and setup to allow for more distancing. The WHA will work with the Hilton to space seating and tables for sessions and meals. The WHA asks that session audiences and presenters do their best to social distance themselves as space allows.

Hilton Event Space: Currently, the WHA is the only group using the Hilton events and meeting space during the conference dates (10/27-10/30). One group ends their conference 10/25 while another group begins theirs on 11/1.

Hilton Guest Rooms: The Hilton was completely shut down from May 2020 until July 1, 2021. At that time the hotel opened on a smaller scale with plans to open as a full-service hotel in September. The Hilton still plans to open as a full-service hotel in September while maintaining strict public health protocols. The WHA has 350 rooms in its room block on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, which is 75% of the Hiltons total rooms (455). As of August 27, 2021, the WHA had booked 55% of its room block. We ask that all WHA conference attendees book their stay in Oregon in the Hilton Portland room block so the organization can avoid financial penalty for not meeting its room reservation requirement.

Hilton Filtration System: The Hilton engineering department provided us with the following specifics about the hotel’s filtration system: All Hilton filters were changed in August 2021; the Hilton uses pleated MERV 8 (rating) filters; the Hilton uses a commercial source/company that is local (located in the Eastside of Portland).

E. Why isn't the WHA shifting online or offering hybrid options for presenters?

Challenges of Pivoting Online: If the WHA cancelled its in-person, onsite conference with the Hilton Portland the organization would be financially penalized according to its contractual obligations. In 2020 the WHA had the opportunity to invoke the force majeure clause of its contract with the hotel and convention center in Albuquerque to avoid these penalties because New Mexico’s restrictions on indoor gatherings prevented these businesses from performing their contractual duties for the conference. In 2021, there are no restrictions on indoor gatherings in the state of Oregon or city of Portland, so these conditions no longer present options for the WHA conference this year. Contract cancellation with the hotel would result in an estimated loss of $190,000-$300,000 for the organization. A smaller onsite conference, with fewer participants that expected, will also drain WHA resources, but the impact will be far smaller, somewhere in the $40,000 range, depending on many factors, including how many ultimately attend the onsite conference. The WHA can recover from a smaller loss, but not from a larger one.

Why won’t the WHA offer hybrid options so I can present remotely? A hybrid option presents multiple challenges to the WHA. The first challenge is the financial cost of providing the audiovisual (AV) equipment for a hybrid session (approximately $5600 per session room per day) and managing a platform for the livestream (low estimate of $5000-$7000). The WHA also cannot offer adequate staff support to all of these at the same time: onsite sessions and presenters, online sessions and presenters, registration desk responsibilities, fielding last-minute questions from attendees, managing crowds and ticketed events, remaining accessible on WHA communications, and facilitating the online platform software needs.                                                                 

Why is the Pre-Con scheduled for the week of October 18? The bulk of the WHA office’s supplies will be picked up and shipped to Portland two weeks before the conference. After this shipment leaves Kansas for Oregon, the staff will have some limited time the week of October 18 to focus 100% on the needs of the presenters whose sessions are online. The WHA created the “Pre-Con” ahead of the 2021 Call for Papers deadline in December 2020 to ensure that the 2021 conference could be as accessible and affordable as possible for the organization and its members. The Pre-Con is free for all current WHA members to attend and present their work, and the office will heavily advertise the online sessions to make sure their audiences are engaged in their important conversations about cutting-edge research, teaching, and professional trends in the field of western history. (Similar to 2020, WHA non-members will be required to pay a discounted registration fee for presenting on or viewing the online sessions.)

What content will be available online, if any? The WHA is pleased to announce that the 2021 Presidential Plenary will be available online! The office also plans to offer pre-recorded content that includes the 2021 Presidential Address by WHA President Maria Montoya, and the 2021 Awards Ceremony and Presidential induction of President-Elect Susan Lee Johnson. The WHA is also creating an online exhibit space where Pre-Con registrants will be able to access publisher discounts and learn about opportunities to connect with editors. Additional information will be posted as it becomes available.

Will my WHA Committee meet online? WHA Committees will have physical space in the Hilton to meet during their scheduled times. With the exception of the rooms reserved for the 2022 Program Committee and the WHA Council, these rooms will not have hi-speed internet. If Committees wish to meet online to expand the number of committee members who can attend, we ask that they contact the WHA with this request and the staff will walk them through their options. Based on best practices and guidelines adopted from past conferences, the WHA budget already included hi-speed internet coverage for the 2022 Program Committee meeting and the 2022 Council meeting.

What will the 2021 Book Exhibit Hall look like and what should Exhibitors know? So far, the WHA has only had one book exhibitor cancel their onsite reservation in the exhibit hall. They did this because their organization is preventing travel at this time, but they generously diverted their booth registration toward a sponsorship and increased their contribution by reserving additional online advertisement space. The WHA knows exhibitors will face challenging travel restrictions and ask that they communicate their needs to the staff as soon as possible.

F. Additional Questions

If you have registered and no longer plan to attend the onsite conference in Portland, you may request a full refund up to October 1. Alternatively, you may ask the staff to reallocate your registration fee as a donation to the WHA General Fund. Please remember, if you do plan to travel to Portland, pre-registration is your only option. There will not be any onsite registration options at the 2021 conference.

G. Is the WHA monitoring the protests in Portland? What is downtown Portland like right now?

Yes! The WHA has been actively monitoring the demonstrations and protests in Portland. Many businesses in downtown Portland remain boarded up but are often still open for visitors. Travel Portland also provides information regarding the protests and current reforms on their website: 

H. What are some additional resources I can access to track Covid-19 in Oregon?

Travel Portland:

There are several online resources to track Covid-19 in Oregon. Travel Portland, a private not for profit Destination Marketing and Management Organization, receives its information directly from city officials, including the current governor:

Oregon Vaccination Metrics:

71.7% of 18+ Vaccinated in Oregon (66% have completed the series)

77% of 18+ Vaccinated in Multnomah County (the county has 20,075 more people to reach 80%)

Oregon Masking:

Indoor mask mandate (regardless of vaccination status) for all public places went into effect on August 13. Outdoor mask mandate (regardless of vaccination status) for most public places (where physical distancing is not possible) went into effect on August 27.

Oregon’s Covid-19 Update:

Oregon Covid-19 Trends and Projections Report:

Oregon and Multnomah County Rt Covid Reproduction Site:

(If the “Rt” is above 1.0, Covid-19 cases will increase in the near future. If it’s below 1.0, Covid-19 cases will decrease in the near future. Oregon is currently 1.01; Multnomah County has been steadily decreasing and is currently 1.06.)

Oregon Covid-19 Weekly Report:

Multnomah County Covid-19 Situation Reports:

Oregon Covid-19 Spike (News):









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2021 President: Maria E. Montoya

Maria E. Montoya is the Dean of Arts and Sciences at NYU Shanghai and an Associate Professor of History at NYU New York. She teaches History of the American West, the U.S. History survey, Labor History in the United States, and the History of Water. Maria was born in Albuquerque, NM and grew up in Arvada, CO, a suburb of Denver. She earned her BA, MA and PhD degrees at Yale University, and in between spent a couple of years at the University of New Mexico working on a master’s degree. Prior to teaching at NYU, Maria taught for twelve years at the University of Michigan, where she was the Director of the Latina/o Studies Program, and at the University of Colorado.

She has authored articles on the History of the American West, Environmental, Labor and Latina/o history and of the book, Translating Property: The Maxwell Land Grant and the Conflict over Land in the American West, 1840-1900.  She is the lead author on the U.S. History textbook, Global Americans: A Social and Global History of the United States (Cengage, 2018). She is finishing up a manuscript, Rockefeller and Roache: Progressives Managing Workers, 1900-1940, which focuses on John D. Rockefeller and Josephine Roche, and their roles in defining the spheres of work and home life during the early twentieth century. She is also working on two other manuscripts: A Chicana in China, which is a memoir inspired by an earlier work of Rudolfo Anaya, and a book project about the scarcity of water in the American Southwest, and the Rio Grande in particular. She is currently the PI for Zaanheh: A Natural History of Shanghai, an interdisciplinary team based research project at NYU Shanghai, which works in collaboration with Eric Sanderson’s Mannahatta Project.

Maria attended her first WHA meeting in 1988 in Wichita, KS and has rarely missed a meeting since then. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the John and Laree Caughey Foundation. Her service to the WHA includes: Chair of the Membership Committee, the Board of Editors of the Western Historical Quarterly, the Steering Committee for the Coalition of Western Women’s History (CWWH), Chair of the first Jensen Miller Prize, member of the Hal Rothman Prize, and the WHA Council.  She was also one of the founding members of the Committee on Race in the American West (CRAW). Maria writes: “From the first moment I stepped into Howard Lamar’s class as an undergraduate and found out that I could spend my time learning about the place I came from, I was hooked on the History of the American West. Since then, my intellectual journey and my relationship with this organization has led me on a most rewarding career of writing, teaching, and speaking about the place I call home, the American West. This organization has fostered a deep relationship with scholars and life-long friends who share the same passion. I am deeply honored to be chosen as the President-elect of the WHA and I look forward to serving the organization with pride, dedication, and passion for an organization that has been my intellectual home for decades.”

The WHA is located in the Department of History at the University of Kansas.

The WHA is grateful to KU's History Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for their generous support!

Western History Association

University of Kansas | History Department

1445 Jayhawk Blvd. | 3650 Wescoe Hall

Lawrence, KS 66045 | 785-864-0860