Research Division 2002
It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve as vice president of the Research Division over the course of the last three years. One of the striking aspects of the job is the perspective it offers on the enormous variety of matters that fall within the Association’s purview, from dealing with individual proposals and complaints to attempting to move governmental agencies in directions deemed critical for the benefit of historians and the discipline. My first comment upon looking back, therefore, is to assure the members of the association that the AHA is in wonderful hands. Arnita Jones supervises virtually every aspect of the Association’s affairs with extraordinary sensitivity to their underlying ethical implications and professional considerations of openness and fairness to the wide and increasingly complex nature of the Association’s membership.
Equally impressive is the staff that she has assembled at the Washington office of the AHA. None of us who takes on the responsibilities of the divisions for a brief period of time could do the job without the unfailingly excellent work of the AHA’s staff, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Robert Townsend in particular for his unstinting efforts in initiating me into the multiple issues to be addressed and tasks to be completed. In a very real sense, the bulk of the work that the division has accomplished over the last three years has been the result of his informed and tireless efforts.
What have we accomplished during this period?
For the Research Division, the most significant development and the one with the greatest potential impact on the profession has been the inauguration of an online version of the American Historical Review as part of the History Cooperative, the consortium of history journals that have banded together to implement and guide the production of online scholarly publishing. This was a process largely undertaken by my predecessor, Stanley Katz, under the leadership of AHR editor, Michael Grossberg. The Association has been particularly fortunate to have Grossberg at the helm as we launched this enterprise. On behalf of the Research Division, I would like to join those who have visited the History Cooperative in praising Grossberg’s effort, and the diligent work of his staff. The electronic version of the Review has maintained the same high quality online as it has in the print version and he has been incredibly sensitive to issues of electronic publication and reviewing, having devised new guidelines for reviewing electronic scholarship that are commensurate with those for print.
Questions involving the Internet and electronic publishing have absorbed a great deal of our attention over the last three years, not least because until last year the division helped to supervise the Gutenberg-e prizes and observed the progress of that initiative with care. Given that the questions facing the Association in relation to electronic publication and the Internet generally are enormously complex, we recommended that the Association appoint a task force of experts in the field to advise us as we negotiate our way through the new technology, in particular with respect to questions of copyright and intellectual property. The Task Force on Intellectual Property is now established and will review the enormously complicated legal and ethical questions that the new technologies have created and serve as a conduit for information critical to historians as they negotiate their way through the changing electronic landscape.
As part of our more routine activities we fundamentally revised the guidelines and selection process for the annual meeting program committee; inaugurated a comprehensive review (the first in 20 years) of the prizes and awards conferred by the AHA and established new guidelines for their funding and administration; have had continuous, if rather feckless, conversations with Oxford University Press concerning a new—possibly online—edition of the Guide to Historical Literature; and, under the guidance of a former member of the division, Linda Shopes, spent a good deal of time reviewing and assessing the question of historians’ exposure to Institutional Review Boards, and whether we could establish separate guidelines for those involved in nonmedical investigations. This is being debated on a national level, and is not really within our control, we should continue to push for some form of exemption from the current guidelines governing research on human subjects, because they are designed for purposes completely at odds with our own endeavors.
I could go on, but let me close instead with a final thought concerning what I see as the most serious issue facing the profession in terms of research and writing. Not to put too fine a point on it, cheating—cheating in all its forms and guises, from the kind of plagiarism that has absorbed news headlines over the last two years, to the findings of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University that fully one-third of 2,100 students surveyed admitted to serious cheating on tests and paper assignments, and to our own bitter experiences with papers downloaded from web sites or the unauthorized publication on web sites of our lecture notes. At a time when “research” on the Internet encourages cut and paste techniques, when the commercial potential of knowledge for sale requires only that students possess credit cards to act as consumers and simply purchase their products, to the pressures of greed and “fame” that seem to have gripped a notable segment of American society, leading to a carelessness over intellectual property that borders on theft, the Association must, I think, begin to take a public stand and speak out, something that its current guidelines virtually prohibit it from doing. This is an issue being thoroughly discussed in the Professional Division at the moment, and I hope that the Research Division will join in its efforts to permit the Association to assume a greater, more visible public role in articulating the problems and seeking remedies for them. We are the most visible guardians of the profession and of its professional ethics, and we need to accept the responsibilities this imposes on us to speak out against practices that, if unchecked, will surely undermine the basic postulates of our scholarly practice and pedagogy.
Gabrielle Spiegel (Johns Hopkins University) was vice president of the Research Division, 2000–2002.