Executive Director's Report 2005

By Arnita A. Jones

This year I can again report that the American Historical Association is in sound condition. Our fiscal 2005–06 operating budget came out in the black by $98,796, our individual membership is stable, our property at 400 A Street continues to be an excellent investment, and our organization continues to be served by a dedicated staff in Washington, D.C., and in Bloomington, Indiana, as well as many volunteer officers, committee members, and others.

There are, however, some worrisome trends—many of which the AHA cannot control but must address. Individual membership has for long drawn significantly on tenured faculty members in higher education institutions, but the percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty has shrunk over the years, with serious implications for our membership base. We have kept up with new technological developments in publications. But our institutional subscriptions continue to erode, continuing a slow but steady process that the internet did not create but may accelerate. And our Washington headquarters building, which we carefully maintain (including the essential replacement in 2005 of the ground-level floor), is increasingly inadequate to the needs of a 21st-century workforce.

Membership by Employment

Good stewardship requires not only keeping a watchful eye on current conditions but also thinking strategically about how the AHA will be positioned in the future to carry out its long-established mission of promoting historical studies in the United States. To that end the Executive Committee of the AHA Council has proposed that we establish a Working Group on the Future of the AHA to examine trends and changes in the context in which the Association goes about its work. The Association has not undertaken such an effort for nearly twenty years; so we look forward to the formation of the working group early in 2006 and expect a report from the group in 2007.

Some changes are already in the works. Last year we made the transition to a new company, Lazard Freres Incorporated, for managing the Association’s endowment and are pleased to report that Lazard has developed a good working relationship with the AHA’s Board of Trustees, which oversees this arrangement. The Board of Trustees is chaired by D. Roger B. Liddell of Ingalls & Snyder LLC, and includes C. Evan Stewart of Winston & Strawn, LLC; Barbara H. Chacour of Brean Murray & Co., Inc.; and Fay Gambee of United States Trust Company. These individuals have volunteered their time to the AHA for many years and deserve our hearty thanks for their efforts. We also bid farewell to Michael Grossberg who completed 10 years of distinguished service as editor of the American Historical Review and welcomed his successor, Robert Schneider. Roy Rosenzweig, who led that very critical process to find a new editor, also completed this year a distinguished three-year term as vice president for research.

We began the 120th Annual Meeting with the highest ever pre-registration numbers; not surprisingly, the hotel room block set aside for the meeting—the largest ever—has been completely sold out and additional hotel rooms had to be arranged to meet the increased demand. Roy Rosenzweig’s report for the Research Division will include much information on the many changes we have begun making in the way we plan, organize, and run our annual meeting, especially in its scholarly aspects. But let me mention a few: We have, for example, increased the number of sessions, encouraged new session formats, integrated the work of the Local Arrangements Committee more closely with the Program Committee, and implemented the process of online submission of paper proposals. We are indebted to the Program and Local Arrangement Committees for both the 2006 meeting in Philadelphia and the upcoming meeting in Atlanta in 2007 for their willingness to embrace these changes and innovations. I should take this opportunity also to recognize Roy Rosenzweig’s leadership in helping us to broaden the appeal and audience of this very important part of the AHA’s services to its members.

In addition to the work of AHA’s divisions and committees, which will be described in other reports and discussed elsewhere, the Washington office also devoted time to several major projects during the year, including the 20th International Congress of Historical Sciences meeting at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The AHA is the national representative to CISH, as the organization is known by its French acronym. It was founded in Geneva in 1926 and now includes 58 countries around the world. The U.S. effort was led by Dane Kennedy of George Washington University who chairs the AHA’s Committee on International Historical Activities. We thank him and his committee for organizing American participation in what those attending thought was a very successful congress.

The International Committee has also provided both formal and informal advice on various other international initiatives undertaken by the AHA over the course of the last five years, including two international conferences supported by the Ford Foundation and an NEH seminar held in the summer of 2005. The NEH seminar, which focused on the theme of “Rethinking America in Global Context,” was designated a special “We the People” project by the NEH; it was co-sponsored by the Community College Humanities Association and the Library of Congress. Led by John Gillis and Carl Guarneri, the institute brought together teachers and experts for four weeks at the Library of Congress to explore individual research interests while also developing curricular ideas and materials that will encourage students to become better citizens of an America faced with a multitude of global challenges and opportunities.

The AHA also participated in a project to promote the internationalization of teaching and learning at colleges and universities in the United States. An initiative of the American Council on Education that is supported by the Carnegie Corporation, the project also included the Association of American Geographers, the American Political Science Association and the American Psychological Association. The project’s task force, which is led by Dane Kennedy, includes Noralee Frankel of the AHA; Kevin Gaines of the University of Michigan, John Gillis of Rutgers University, Patrick Manning of Northeastern University, Sonya Michel of the University of Maryland, Kevin Reilly of Raritan Community College, and Peter N. Stearns of George Mason University. The task force has now completed a report on the general challenge of internationalizing history survey courses and the particular challenge presented by the American history survey. The report will be available on the AHA’s web site shortly.

The AHA continues to upgrade its resources relating to graduate master’s and doctoral programs in history. The doctoral programs web site now provides basic information on 186 departments in the United States and Canada and includes a listing of dissertations completed and in progress. We expect to continue upgrading the site next year by including information on applications received, student enrollments, financial aid and attrition rates. The site should be increasingly useful both to graduate students as they look for the program which best fits their needs and interests and also to departments as they prepare for the major survey of doctoral programs which will be implemented by the National Research Council in 2006.

In June 2005 we held a conference with the theme “Competencies and Credentials in the Training of History Professionals” at Wingspread, the Johnson Foundation’s meeting center in Racine, Wisconsin. Inspired by the Committee on the Master’s Degree report, Retrieving the Master’s Degree from the Dustbin of History published in 2005, the Wingspread conference was the first time the Association had focused on history education at the master’s level, at least in recent memory. We hoped to get some sense of what the AHA can do—by itself and in concert with related professional and scholarly associations—to improve history education at this level and to link it more coherently with specific teaching outcomes and careers.

In August 2005 the AHA offered a workshop for directors of graduate study, which attracted nearly 50 participants. Designed to offer information and to provide an opportunity to discuss common problems and issues confronted by historians involved in doctoral and master’s level education, the workshop was one of several recommendations to the Association from the Committee on Graduate Education’s 2004 report, The Education of Historians for the Twenty-first Century. Because participants agreed that regular annual workshops would be helpful, the AHA has already scheduled a second program for August of 2006.

Membership Status

The American Historical Association continues to sustain several key advocacy efforts based in Washington, including the National Coalition for History, the National Humanities Alliance, and the Consortium of Social Science Associations.

The Humanities Alliance monitors legislation and appropriations at federal cultural institutions such as NEH, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian as well as the Department of Education and intellectual property and copyright issues relating to humanities scholars and teachers. COSSA focuses its efforts on the legislation and support for social science research, most importantly the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and several executive level departments.

Each of these organizations is currently undergoing a planning process to determine how best to use scarce resources in an increasingly difficult advocacy environment. The AHA’s total contribution to these efforts amounts to less than the cost of one mid-level professional based in Washington. We are getting good return on our dollars, but we also need to think of how we can increase our financial support and member participation in these very important efforts.

The National History Center, an initiative of the American Historical Association, is now a separately incorporated, nonprofit corporation, but it continues to maintain its links to the AHA. The Center will be a vehicle for taking on projects somewhat beyond the scope of a professional membership organization and for developing programs aimed at an audience that will include but will also go beyond professional historians to reach the wider public—of interested citizens and decisionmakers. This year the Center launched a Congressional Seminar Series, in cooperation with the National Coalition for History. The series has so far featured Boston University historian Julian Zelizer speaking on congressional reform; Edward Berkowitz of George Washington University and Alice Kessler Harris of Columbia University speaking on the history of the Social Security Administration; and Maris Vinovskis of the University of Michigan who spoke about the No Child Left Behind Act. Information on these presentations is widely disseminated in Washington; presentations are published on the Center’s website at www.nationalhistorycenter.org/.

In cooperation with the Newberry Library, the Organization of American Historians, the National Council of Education and the Disciplines, and the National Council for Social Studies, the National History Center has begun to sponsor and engage in informed discussion of history education policy. Because decisions on issues ranging from curriculum to professional development to assessment are being made at the federal, state, and local levels, the Center hopes to bring professional historians into a conversation with policy makers and the media on these issues. A planning conference was held in September at the Newberry Library, bringing together a small group of historians to organize a Washington conference on history education policy.

The Center is also engaged in the planning of two successive international summer seminars on the history of decolonization in the 20th century, and focusing in particular on the transitions from colonies to nations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The seminars, which the Center is conducting in active collaboration with the Library of Congress, and with the support of a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will be directed by Wm. Roger Louis.

A certain portion of Washington office staff is involved in representing the AHA and its interests at other forums and organizations. In May I finished a term on the executive committee of the American Council of Learned Societies and continue to serve as a member of the ACLS Task Force on Comprehensive Universities. I also participate in a committee on future planning for COSSA, the Executive Board of the Center for Research Libraries, the Committee on Intellectual Property for the National Humanities Alliances, the policy board of the National Coalition for History and chair the American Academy’s group working toward developing a template for departmental surveys in the humanities. Additionally I participated in the annual meetings of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (in a panel on part-time employment) and the Federation of State Humanities Councils (in a session on history education policy) and at the summer convening of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate.

Noralee Frankel, assistant director for women, minorities, and teaching, continues to represent the AHA at National History Day, which we sponsor. She also served as our liaison to Illinois University Press for our three volume “Women’s History in Global Perspective” series sponsored by the Committee on Women Historians. Debbie Ann Doyle, who staffs AHA’s part-time committee, will now replace me as the AHA’s representative to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce. Miriam Hauss represents the AHA on the Humanities Working Group as well as the Conservation and Preservation Charities of America, a part of the Combined Federal Campaign, through which AHA receives donations from federal employees.

I want to thank the Association’s staff members for their work and their support throughout the year and especially their intensive team effort in pulling together the Annual Meeting. We could, of course, also not do without the help of hundreds of volunteers who give their time to serve as officers, to participate in the work of divisions, as well as service and prize committees and who read and write for The American Historical Review, Perspectives, and our other publications. They have my gratitude as well. Finally, I must not fail to thank all the thousands of loyal members of the AHA, without whom, really, there can be no Association.

Arnita A. Jones is the executive director of the American Historical Association.