Professional Division 2003

The Professional Division spent much of 2003 adjusting to the decision of the AHA Council to end the division’s past practice of hearing formal complaints based on the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. Because the adjudication of complaints has been the major preoccupation of the Professional Division since this practice was initiated in the late 1980s, the Council’s decision, made in a preliminary way in January 2003 and then confirmed in May 2003, basically required the division to reexamine and rethink its entire mission.

Toward that end, the division proposed and Council adopted the following mission statement for the division:

The AHA Professional Division promotes integrity, fairness, and civility in the practice of history—in educational institutions, museums and archives, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, and all other places where historians study and interpret the past. This broad mandate encompasses a wide range of activities and responsibilities, including:

  • articulating ethical standards and best practices in the historical profession;
  • responding to queries about the AHA’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct and proposing revisions to that document as needed;
  • developing additional advisory materials to assist historians in navigating the professional opportunities, challenges, and dilemmas they encounter in their work;
  • working to recruit and retain members for the AHA;
  • coordinating AHA efforts relating to the status of women and minorities in the profession;
  • addressing concerns relating to the practice of public history;
  • collecting and disseminating information about historical employment;
  • monitoring job markets in history and overseeing AHA roles therein;
  • selecting recipients of the Troyer Steele Anderson Prize and any other prizes for professional service;
  • cooperating with other AHA divisions, committees, and task forces, and with other historical organizations outside the AHA, to address ethical, occupational, and other professional concerns of historians.

As this mission statement makes clear, the Professional Division continues to have primary responsibility for addressing all forms of professional practice in the discipline of history that do not fall under the purview of the AHA Teaching and Research Divisions. Our expectation is that the end of adjudication will release considerable time and energy for initiatives that can make a greater and more public impact on the historical profession.

Unquestionably, the most important among the many documents we produce for the AHA is the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, which is regularly used by historians, journalists, lawyers, institutional employers, and members of the public to explicate normative values and ethical standards associated with the practice of history. Partly in response to concerns that the existing document sometimes focuses too narrowly on issues of interest to academic historians, the division has embarked on a thoroughgoing revision intended to make the Statement on Standards more inclusive and valuable to all historians, no matter what the setting in which they work. At the same time, we’re also trying in this revision to give the Statement, which has grown by accretion over the years, greater internal coherence and unity of voice. We hope to complete the revision by the end of 2004.

The Statement on Standards is a formal document that focuses on the broadest and most basic values and practices of the historical profession. Although it makes an indispensable contribution to the discipline, its very formality makes it inappropriate as a venue for offering more nuanced, extended, and mentorly advice about navigating sundry professional dilemmas that can arise in the course of a historical career. We are therefore launching a series of more informal documents to offer “wise counsel” on issues that we know to be a widespread concern because of the frequency with which they have come before the Professional Division in the past. These “wise counsel” documents will generally be signed statements by individual members of the profession, offering insights based on their own experiences about classic challenges and problems that arise in the practice of history. Although division members may occasionally author such documents, in general we expect to recruit other individuals to write them, with the division playing an advisory and editorial role in the development of the articles.

Perhaps inevitably, we focused our first “wise counsel” efforts in 2003 on plagiarism, with division member Peter Hoffer taking the lead in drafting a comprehensive overview of the many nuances and complexities associated with plagiarism in all of its forms. Hoffer’s two-part “Reflections on Plagiarism” appeared in the February and March issues of AHA’s Perspectives. Division member Susan Stuard took the lead in developing a fictitious example of how to demonstrate plagiarism through the use of parallel texts, mounted on the AHA web site. Finally, we also recruited Michael Rawson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin work developing a curriculum on plagiarism, complete with model assignments, to be used in history courses at the graduate, undergraduate, and high school level. We expect this model curriculum to be completed and available in 2004.

While beginning the process of developing this new series of “wise counsel” documents, the Professional Division also addressed many other issues suggested by the mission statement above. Peter Hoffer continued to represent the AHA-OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment. We continued to work very closely with Linda Shopes and the AHA Task Force on Public History, strongly agreeing with the task force that the Professional Division should play a key role in supporting the practice of public history and the interests of public historians within the committee structure of the AHA. We will work to make sure that the recommendations contained in the report of the Task Force on Public History, which affect the work of the Professional Division, are addressed in due course.

Finally, the Professional Division continued its efforts to make sure that issues in its portfolio are well represented on the program of the AHA’s annual meeting. In addition to the interview workshop that we offer every year to candidates on the job market, we were pleased to be able to repeat the follow-up session on “The Job Hunt” that division member Maureen Murphy Nutting first organized; we hope this will now become an annual event as well. Division member Denise Youngblood chaired a panel discussion on “Plagiarism in the Classroom” to address this important concern, and we also organized a panel on “State Budgets and the Crisis of Historical Infrastructure in the United States.” The presentations at this session were eventually published as a forum in the May 2004 issue of Perspectives.

William J. Cronon (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is vice president of the AHA’s Professional Division.