Research Division 2005

By Roy A. Rosenzweig

Since this is my last year as vice president of the Research Division, I thought I would take the opportunity to review briefly the main issues that have been before the RD in the past three years. I am happy to say that the division can point to four notable successes over the past three years, although we also must acknowledge an equal number of crucial areas where we have not moved as far forward as we would have hoped.

First, we carried out a long overdue reform of the Annual Meeting. We developed new guidelines for the annual meeting, including a range of new session types and behaviors we hope to encourage as well as discourage (e.g., the rote reading of papers). We have also asked the program committee and the membership to be more proactive in developing a broad and diverse range of sessions and topics for future annual meetings. We hope these reforms will result in an expansion of the size of the meeting, as well as the diversity of topics and presentation styles.

Second, we oversaw the replacement of Mike Grossberg, who retired after a decade of service as editor of the AHR. Grossberg set an extraordinarily high standard as editor of the AHR; but the search committee, the Research Division, and the AHA Council all agreed that Robert Schneider was someone who could build effectively on Grossberg’s achievements.

Third, we have opened up access to the scholarship published in the AHR to a much wider and nonprofessional community of readers. Now, anyone with a web connection can read the articles published in the AHR. In doing this, I believe we have served our largest goals of disseminating high quality historical scholarship to the widest possible audience without compromising the financial health of the organization.

Fourth, we have broadened the AHA prize program by revising the Herbert Feis award into a prize that can recognize the diverse forms of public history and implemented changes in the AHA policy on prizes to ensure that digital history works will be considered for AHA prizes. We have also begun to explore the creation of prizes in under-recognized areas such as African history.

In four other areas, however, much more remains to be done.

First and perhaps most disappointing has been our work on trying to free oral history from oversight by IRBs. At the end of my first year as vice president, I wrote that “we are happy to report progress in our longstanding efforts to exclude oral history from oversight by institutional review boards (IRBs).” Unfortunately, our celebration was premature. Almost immediately after that, we began to hear that the federal agency charged with research oversight was backing away from the exclusion that they had seemingly granted to oral history. We continue to work on the issue—and recently wrote another letter to the head of the Office of Human Research Protections on this matter—but with growing pessimism that an overall resolution can be reached.

Second, the RD has devoted considerable time and effort to trying to gauge whether there is a “crisis” confronting scholarly publishing in history. The more we have sought to investigate the matter, the less clear the situation has become. Although many continue to insist that there is a “crisis,” it is very hard to find concrete evidence, and the most recent statistics suggest that the numbers of history books being published are near record high levels. Although there is limited evidence that this is affecting historians at a direct and personal level, many of the institutions on the front lines of the issue—particularly libraries and university presses—continue to sound alarms. So I believe that it is a mistake to be too complacent. In general, historians need to pay attention to fundamental changes that are already underway in the nature of scholarly communication.

Third, the RD has spent several frustrating years trying to get Oxford University Press to move ahead on a new edition of the AHA Guide to Historical Literature that would take advantage of the Internet to make a more usable and useful publication.

Fourth, the RD has been active in resisting political interference in the production and dissemination of history scholarship. We have protested these intrusions, and by developing a formal statement on peer review, I think we made a good start on ensuring that peer review remain a basic principle of the consideration of grants and research. But that is an issue that will requires continuing attention and perhaps further action.

In closing, I want to thank the other members of the Council and RD with whom I have had the privilege to serve for their assistance to me and to the RD and for their deep engagement with the numerous different issues that come before the AHA. As with all other elected officers, I am also deeply in debt to the extraordinarily talented and dedicated staff of the Association. I hesitate to list people because my thanks really extend to the entire staff, but I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank Arnita Jones, Sharon Tune, Noralee Frankel of the AHA and Bruce Craig of the National Coalition for History. My deepest debt is, of course, to the extraordinary Robert Townsend without whom I could not have carried out my job and with whom it has been a pleasure to work. He is surely the only AHA staff member in the history of this organization (and I would venture any other professional organization) to have suffered the double jeopardy of simultaneously working with the same person as both elected officer and dissertation director. And I thank him to so graciously tolerating me in both those roles.

Roy A. Rosenzweig (George Mason University) was vice president of the Research Division 2004–06.