Executive Director's Report 2003

By Arnita A. Jones

From the vantage point of many nonprofit organizations in the city of Washington, or elsewhere for that matter, the American Historical Association would appear to be the essence of stability. In fact, the appearance is not misleading. We have operated for more than four decades out of facilities at 400 A Street that we own and that are valued at $1.5 to $2 million; our membership is stable and we had a healthy budget surplus last year. (See Attachment for details.) Our decision to “grace” library subscribers to the AHR who were victims of the RoweCom bankruptcy seems not to have done any great harm to our income and has garnered us substantial good will in the library community. Finally, AHA’s current staff is a good mix of recent graduates and veterans, several of whom have logged more than fifteen years with the Association.

The reality, however, is that change and transition have become almost routine here. We continue to provide all the traditional services to our individual and institutional members that we always have but expectations grow, technologies change, and the environments in which we do our work is increasingly altered. We have managed to do this without growing either the permanent or regular part-time staff. However, we are increasingly contracting out some of our newer activities as well as work which has formerly been done at our headquarters office in Washington. For example, we have this year outsourced some technical and design work for a badly needed renovation of our website as well as design for marketing materials targeted to the eight thousand or so historians in higher education institution who are not presently members of the Association. Instead of hiring temporary help as we have done for several years in the past we made the decision this year to begin using a lockbox arrangement for the processing of incoming checks and credit card charges. We have also chosen to expand our existing arrangements with the company that has provided various convention services to us for several years so that they now include pre-registration. These decisions have in turn made possible the reorganization of two positions in the business office and freed up time in the publications division, which is also finding that freelance editors are a better fit with pamphlet publishing deadlines.

A new AHA Council and Committee Directory will be available early in 2004 but for now a current staff directory is appended to this memo. It reflects the departure of Cristina Marshall and Elizabeth Russell in the business office and part-timers Frances Clark and Cele Dadian in the publications department. Marshall’s slot is being filled by a temporary employee now; Kelly Elmore, a recent graduate of James Madison University, is the new advertising coordinator and business office assistant. Elizabeth Fairhead, who is finishing a doctorate at Michigan State University, is Robert Townsend’s assistant on the Gutenberg-e project while Meriam Belli, a Georgetown University doctoral student, is aiding in the staffing of the Research Division. We have also worked this year with History Associates, an historical and archival consulting company in the Washington area, to develop procedures and guidelines for preserving the Association’s permanent records, which are archived at the Library of Congress.

Perhaps one of the most important ways in which the AHA confronts change is in its role of providing professional leadership. Two major reports have been completed within the last year: The Committee on Graduate Education’s study on doctoral education which was endorsed by the Council early in 2003 and has now been published as The Education of Historians for the Twenty-first Century. The report of the Task Force on Public History, “Public History, Public Historians, and the American Historical Association,” is offered for consideration by the Council at its January 2004 meeting. In addition the Council has adopted a set of recommendations from the Joint AHA-OAH Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment about the appropriate mix of full and part-time faculty in higher education institutions.

These important efforts provide a framework for addressing the needs of the current generation of historians, who will have to practice their profession in an increasingly complex and probably less hospitable environment. Implementation of the recommendations of these reports will require careful consideration and judicious use of resources but the moment is propitious since we are not alone in our efforts to improve graduate education. We are discovering that the Association is held in high regard nationally among those interested in planning and policy information about history and higher education generally. Our regular annual department and job surveys provide a rich database on the profession dating back into the 1970s. In 2003, we augmented these with surveys of tenure practices in higher education departments and of scholarly publishing in history. Perspectives regularly tracks and provides regular reports on new information published by the United States Department of Education and other higher education research organizations. We are also collaborating with researchers at the University of Washington, who are preparing a detailed survey of historians five years after they received the PhD, and working with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to develop a standard set of questions that can generate improved cross-disciplinary information in the various humanities fields. Our work on the doctorate in history has been used by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching which now sponsors the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, a multi-year research and action project to support departments’ efforts to more purposefully structure their doctoral programs. (I will attend a meeting of the history departments involved in this project in January of 2004.) Phil Katz, research director for the graduate education projects, and I have also advised the Council of Graduate Schools in their project on the professional master’s in the social sciences and humanities.

The Professional Division’s transition from case work and adjudication to development of educational materials and activities will also make claims on staff time and organizational resources, even as the division provides staff guidance in developing and fleshing out the specific recommendations of the special committees. We look forward, in particular, to strengthening our relationship with history departments. The pre-conference workshop we have scheduled on graduate training at the Washington Annual Meeting is a model of the sort of program we might provide for department chairs on a regular basis; we are presently considering the cost and market for this kind of programming and so far are optimistic that this is a service we could regularly provide. In January 2003, I represented the Association in a pre-conference workshop, hosted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and co-sponsored by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, that may also serve as a model for professional training and development that the AHA could offer. With our colleagues in CAW we are weighing whether to reprise the Coalition on the Academic Workforce study of part-time faculty, which generated some of the most detailed information on the use (and exploitation) of contingent labor in higher education. I have also begun a conversation with Richard Ekman, President of the Council of Independent Colleges about cooperative project to provide professional development seminars for history department chairs.

AHA’s publications are a key source of professional information for our members, with employment advertising in Perspectives and on the Association’s web site attracting perhaps the greatest interest. This year we also published the Directory of History Departments and Organizations in the United States and Canada, now in its twenty-ninth edition; the annual Directory of Affiliated Societies; the seventh edition of the Directory of Federal Historical Programs and Activities, (published in conjunction with the Society for History in the Federal Government); the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct; and a new revised edition of Becoming a Historian: A Survival Manual by Melanie S. Gustafson. The Education of Historians for the Twenty-First Century was published for the AHA by the University of Illinois Press; under a special arrangement with UIP we have been able to distribute copies of the book to all eight hundred plus institutional services subscribers. Our co-sponsored series with the Society for the History of Technology remains popular with two new books published this year: Technology and Society in the Medieval Centuries: Byzantium, Islam, and the West, 500–1300 by Pamela O. Long and Technology, Transport, and Travel in American History by Robert C. Post.

As the range of our electronic services continues to increase and become more complex we have engaged the services of a consulting company—KSA Plus Communications of Arlington Virginia—to help us provide a more accessible format and better search capability on our website. They have conducted research on the use of our website through focus groups and other means and have designed a new template which will be implemented early in 2004; a preview is available at the AHA booth at the Annual Meeting. Starting in 2004 we will also change to a new domain name: “historians.org,”

which we think will be less confusing to many students, members of the press, and the general public who are interested in information about our programs and policy statements.

Electronic publication is a growing focus. Through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Gutenberg-e program now in its 5th year, as well as our participation in the History Cooperative, we have gained considerable experience in this area. Judges for the competition Gutenberg-e competition tell us that they are reviewing a large number of excellent submissions while completed electronic books have begun to be reviewed favorably by scholarly journals in the field. The challenge now before us is to build on this success and find ways to increase cooperation among all the electronic publishing efforts in which the Association has been involved&#821 Association has been involved—the History Cooperative, the ACLS History-E books, and JSTOR, in addition to the Gutenberg-e project and continue to encourage excellence and innovative thinking in these projects. Conversations about cooperation among these groups have now been going on for several months. The workshop scheduled for January 7 prior to the opening of this year’s Annual Meeting on “Entering the Second Stage of Online History Scholarship” is a beginning effort to stimulate a wider conversation about the implications of electronic scholarship for the discipline as a whole. I continue to serve on the board of the Council for Library Resources, which I find to be a very useful source of information about the impact of electronic technologies on scholarly societies’ journal publishing.

AHA participates in several advocacy organizations: the National Coalition for History, the National Humanities Alliance and the Consortium of Social Science Associations. Together these groups offer the Association a cost effective way to keep its members informed about a wide array of issues, from federal regulation of institutional research review boards in higher education and other organizations to support for the National Archives, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a number of other federal agencies and programs. The last year, however, has seen an unprecedented focus on federal funding targeted to history. Not only are the Teaching American History grants becoming institutionalized as a $100 million plus program in the Department of Education, there is now a growing interest in history in higher education. While the AHA cannot determine the outcome of these initiatives, I believe that we have had and can continue to have some impact in shaping them to better represent scholarship in the field and promote more effective teaching of history.

The Association was one of thirty-two sponsors for the third annual Humanities Advocacy Day held in February of 2003, and organized by the National Humanities Alliance. Association President James McPherson was the featured speaker; a number of the several hundred participants who made congressional visits were AHA members. Many observers believe this effort was critical to the success of NEH’s new “We the People” initiative, which provides an additional $10 million in funding for the agency, much of it focused on historical research and programming. The Humanities Alliance is also part of a coalition that is monitoring the reauthorization process of Title VI of the Higher Education Act which is would create advisory boards which many feel would lead to the politicization of foreign language and area studies programs in colleges and universities.

The National Coalition for History played a key role in persuading Congress to increase funding for the electronic records initiative of the National Archives and Records Administration. The total NARA budget was increased by $8.4 million while the National Historical Publications and Records Commission was funded at its full authorized amount of $10. The Coalition was also successful in persuading the Congress to provide for an historical office in the new Homeland Security agency, the first ever established by legislative mandate. AHA also participates in the Consortium of Social Science Associations, an advocacy group for social science funding in the federal budget and monitors regulations and other policies which impact the social sciences. The National Science Foundation budget will grow by five per cent in FY 2004, with the social science share of that amount increasing to $203.8 million.

In addition to sustained efforts to maintain a productive relationship with government policy makers, we have engaged in cooperative efforts with the Organization of American Historians, the National Council on Social Studies, and others to inform and interest our members about these developments. With these partners we held a conference held in June of last year on “Innovations in Collaboration,” which attracted more than three hundred participants from precollegiate institutions, colleges and universities, historical societies, and governments at all levels. The conference not only provided encouragement for history teachers at all levels but offered models of successful projects and created a new community for those engaged in such efforts. Also in cooperation with OAH and NCSS we undertook at fifty state survey of requirements for teacher certification as well as state-based standards and assessments for teachers and students of history. Preliminary findings from the study were presented at several conferences in 2003; we expect publication of the full study early in 2004 and will continue our efforts to interest the Department of Education in maintaining this important information on an ongoing basis.

With support from the Ford Foundation the AHA has also been able to continue its work on graduate education. Building on the work done on doctoral education in history published in 2003, this effort takes a careful look at graduate education for the master’s degree and the employment opportunities associate with this training. While we know that graduate training at the master’s level has played a role in the preparation of public historians and the enhancement of credential of K-12 teachers, our understanding of the intellectual content, curriculum, and standards of mastery with respect to history education at this level is limited. Research Director Philip Katz has completed a preliminary report of the first stage of this project which is now being considered by the project’s advisory committee and which will soon be available to members. We hope to find support for further efforts relating to the master’s degree which will develop not only a deeper understanding of the role of the master’s degree in history but also models which can be helpful to the three hundred forty or so higher education institutions which offer training at this level.

Changes in the way we organize the Annual Meeting have been well received. The 2003 meeting in Chicago was the first to integrate sessions and events sponsored by AHA’s affiliated societies into the format of the Annual Meeting Program. It was also the first to include six sessions organized by the Association’s president and these have proven to be particularly popular. The 2004 Annual Meeting continues these changes and we expect they will continue to be well received, as have been the open forums focused on various divisions, committees and special initiatives. We look forward to other ways of expanding both the format and content of the event. The Annual Meeting continues to serve as the major locus of screening interviews for employment; however, we note that more and more institutions are opting to make interview arrangements prior to the meeting, thus disappointing job seekers attending our meeting and hoping to connect with potential employers searching the c.v. data base.

In addition to special initiatives noted above the AHA continues its Ford Foundation supported work growing out of the foundation’s “crossing borders” initiative. In February of 2003 we held, in cooperation with several area studies groups and the Library of congress, an international conference on “Seascapes, Littoral Cultures, and Trans-Oceanic Exchanges.” That was followed in July by a seminar on the same theme which brought twenty community college faculty to the Library to work with specialists in their field, create new courses and development new public programming and professional development programs for their campuses. A committee is at work to develop one or more proposals to continue this effort in future years with a focus on “Global America.” The aim is to develop a series of seminars for teachers examining the fundamental political, economic, and social processes that have connected American to the larger world over time. Under the leadership of the American Anthropological Association the AHA is also a participant, with several other science and social science scholarly societies, in a multi-year project to develop a conference and museum exhibit, focused on “Understanding Race and Human Variation.” We also continue as a sponsor of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, a congressionally mandated effort to create and preserve the record of the military service of 20th century veterans.

Arnita A. Jones
Executive Director
January 2004