Research Division 2006
When I entered into this position a year ago, I had the hoped that the AHA Research Division would agree to pursue three rather large goals. Thanks to the enthusiastic cooperation and hard work of the Research Division members, we have now began the process of implementing these initiatives.
Our first goal was to develop a long-term collective research project that would move the discipline forward; the second was to promote greater international involvement in the work of the Association; and the third was to provide additional support for younger scholars employed at institutions that do not support research. What we have accomplished over the last twelve months is not as much as I had hoped for. Institutions move slowly and cautiously, as they should. This report summarizes what has been accomplished so far, and points to what needs to be done in the future. The suggestions, criticisms, and recommendations of the entire AHA membership are most welcome.
The first of these efforts is just getting underway. Borrowing from the French model of the Action Thématique Programme, we have, under the auspices of the AHA’s Research Division, initiated a project that will bring together a wide array of scholars and institutions, both here and abroad, around the (still tentative) broad topic of “Sites of Encounters and Cultural Production.” Unlike the typical Action, this project will focus on the real world transmission of academic research in K–16 schools and museums. We wish to organize both the research questions and the practical outcomes of these efforts: (a) by exploring a variety of geographical and chronological contexts where different peoples and cultures meet; and (b) by examining from a global comparative perspective how these encounters work out, and the cultural artifacts and products they generate. One of our aims is to test new methodological tools and examine world history as a way of knowing.
The project is currently centered on scholars and institutions in the Los Angeles area. Los Angeles is an important crossroads of global culture, has a plethora of research institutions and centers, numerous scholarly resources, distinguished scholars, and very strong links to a large and heterogeneous public school system. As of today, we have obtained support to move forward with our plans from the Autry and Huntington Museums (and their respective research centers), the Clark Library, and the Getty Research Center. Around 15 scholars, including Lynn Hunt, past president of the AHA; Karen Halttunen, incoming vice president of the AHA’s Teaching Division; Gary Nash, director of the National Center for History in the Schools; and scholars from Utrecht, Rome, UCLA, and USC are already committed to working together for the next five to seven years on specific research and pedagogical agendas. To be successful, however, the project will have to expand much more broadly. Unlike the single scholar trying to raise broad questions in her or his research, a global approach requires collaborative work. Thus, we will be looking to assemble large teams of researchers and scholarly centers, working together on a common problem from their own unique geographical and chronological strengths.
One of our first priorities will be to secure enough funding to support this project over a number of years. We will be seeking to bring together US and foreign scholars — ideally through a series of research fellowships and conferences (and this in a sense addresses our second project). Ultimately, the goal will be to produce materials that will have a substantive impact on the way history is taught at all levels, the way history is presented in museums, and on the world wide web, as well as in the more traditional forms of scholarship, such as articles and monographs.
2. AHA’s International Outreach
Alongside this broad research project, we are also looking at different ways to improve the Association’s international outreach, to draw more scholars from abroad into the Association’s activities (particularly in terms of their attendance at the annual meetings), and to attract foreign submissions to the American Historical Review. For the 2007 annual meeting at Atlanta, the Program Committee received a substantial increase in the funds available to support international scholars attending the meeting, but these funds can still support only a tiny number of foreign participants. I have been very fortunate to have the support of Linda Kerber and Barbara Weinstein in this endeavor, and encourage members to offer their advice and suggestions on how we can improve the representation of scholars to reflect the diverse topics covered by the AHA. We have already scheduled two sections for the AHA Annual meeting in Washington DC (2008), centered around the participation of four young Spanish scholars. More is needed.
3. Support for Young Scholars in Non-Research Institutions
The other project I have in mind is a project to support junior scholars in institutions that do not support research. These young historians often find themselves isolated, with heavy teaching loads, and no access to research facilities. And as recent studies from the MLA and AHA attest, many of them are now held to a similar standard of scholarly productivity as their counterparts at research universities. We are looking to create programs that will help them participate in the annual meeting, connect with senior scholars (in a mentorship system), and find research support to facilitate their continued scholarship. Obviously, the missing element here is, once again, the question of funding for this kind of initiative. That is an issue we are currently working on. To the extent we can fold this into the support for the long-term collective research project, we may be able to accomplish this in some modest fashion over the next few years. Regardless of what is accomplished in the remaining part of my tenure as Vice President for Research, the AHA should think most seriously about this initiative and make it a priority for the organization as a whole.
Beyond these rather large endeavors, the division as a whole is also working on a number of continuing projects and ongoing reforms. We have continued to follow the implementation of the annual meeting reforms initiated by my most worthy predecessor, Roy Rosenzweig. Thus far his reforms seem to be a terrific success, as this 2007 annual meeting had more sessions than any other in the AHA’s history, and they encompassed a much more diverse array of formats. We hope that you have found that these new formats provide for much more lively engagement with scholarship and the issues shaping our discipline. Certainly the Program Committees seem to be pleased to be empowered to take on more responsibility and be more proactive in shaping an engaging and vibrant meeting. Over the past year, we have discussed a variety of further reforms, such as expanding the number of sessions time slots on any given day, while eliminating the sessions on Sunday morning (since they tend to receive a much smaller attendance). We certainly welcome thoughts and suggestions from the membership about how we can continue the momentum to improve the scholarly and social quality of our annual meeting.
The Research Division, of course, spent a great deal of time on other matters. This was a particularly active year for the division’s oversight of the AHA Prizes. We were particularly pleased to support the first steps in the development of a new AHA prize in the field of African History, an effort for which we must thank Carolyn Brown’s leadership during her term on the Program Committee. The Research Division has worked out formal terms for such a prize, and the AHA Council has approved its creation, but we still need to raise $50,000 to endow the prize properly. If you are interested in adding your support to this prize, please contact the Division staff for advice on where to send donations.
We have also instituted a further change to the description of the Feis Prize. As many of you will remember, the Research Division revised the language of the prize to try to open it out to more diverse types of professional work by public historians. This year’s prize committee found it difficult to balance the books written by independent and public historians against nominations for significant work in other forms. They asked us to revise the language to further de-emphasize books in time for the next prize cycle.
Finally, the Research Division staff has dealt with an unusual number of complaints and concerns from members of the different prize committees about problems related to prize selection and conflicts of interest. We will be monitoring and addressing these matters through 2007 to ascertain whether these problems can be solved by some general changes in the instructions to committees, or if we need to make more significant revisions to the prize guidelines.
The other area of activity that consumed a good deal of the division’s attention and time was an unusual number of challenges emanating from the federal government. The list runs quite long, including the denial of visas to foreign scholars, the Smithsonian’s curious arrangements with Showtime network, the severe cutback in hours at the National Archives, and the persistent problem of institutional review board’s intruding into oral history research. Sadly, we managed to accomplish very little on any of these issues. At the end of the year, the foreign scholars we tried to help were still locked out of the country, the Smithsonian was refusing to budge on its contract (or even release the terms of the agreement), the National Archives cut the hours for research by almost a third, and review boards continue to intrude into the work of oral historians in arbitrary and often inconsistent ways. While the results so far are quite disappointing, we will continue to press them on these issues. Perhaps an addendum is in order here: There was, after all, a little movement on the Smithsonian issue this past week (early December), as the federal accountability office took them to task for the contract, and the Smithsonian leadership (since this report was first drafted changes in the Smithsonian leadership have also taken place) promised some revisions of the Showtime contract. The AHA’s objections were actually singled out in the report, so that was pretty positive. Still, the deal will stand with just a few administrative tweaks. Before I leave this subject, I should also express our immense gratitude to R. Bruce Craig, for his terrific and most valuable guidance on these always difficult and contentious issues.
In closing, I would like to particularly thank Roy Ritchie and Pamela Smith, who will be rotating off the division this year. Effusive thanks are due to Mériam Belli, the division’s research associate who has now gone on to a new phase in her academic life. They all provided invaluable service to the division, and their advice and assistance will be sorely missed. Last, but certainly not least, I could not even begin to think what I would have done without Robert Townsend’s generous support and brilliant understanding of the issues and of what needs to be done. Whatever we have accomplished this year, it has been mostly due to his contributions. He made it possible. Many thanks.
Teofilo F. Ruiz (UCLA) is vice president of the Research Division.