From the February 1970 issue of the AHA Newsletter
Minutes of the Annual Business Meeting (Pages 4–15 )
December 28–29, 1969
The Annual Business Meeting of the Association was called to order by President C. Vann Woodward at 8:40 p.m. on December 28, 1969, in the Sheraton Hall of the Sheraton-Park hotel in Washington, D. C. Some 1,800 persons were in attendance. In his preliminary remarks Mr. Woodward expressed the hope that there would be full debate within reasonable limits, and announced the presence of Mr. George Demeter as parliamentarian.
The minutes of the 1968 Business Meeting were first approved by voice vote. The previously published reports of the Treasurer, Managing Editor, and Executive Secretary were next received and filed, no question concerning them being raised from the floor.
Howard Zinn then requested suspension of the rules for the sake of voting upon a resolution. Request for permission to read the resolution in question was met by objections from the floor, and the motion for suspension of the rules being put to a vote was defeated by 320 in favor to 620 opposed.
As chairman of the Nominating Committee, Charles Delzell then reported the election by mail ballot to the Council of John Hope Franklin and Donald W. Treadgold to regular terms, and Dewey W. Grantham to a 2-year term to replace David Potter because of the latter’s unopposed nomination to the vice presidency. He further announced the election to the Nominating Committee of Brison D. Gooch and Willie Lee Rose to regular terms, and James T. Liu and Geoffrey T. Blodgett for terms to expire in 1970. On behalf of his committee he next nominated David M. Potter as vice president, and Elmer Louis Kayser as treasurer, and both were elected by voice vote. Finally, he placed in nomination for the office of President both Robert R. Palmer, and, in consequence of receipt by December 7 of petitions supported by 207 signatures, Staughton C. Lynd.
The chair then briefly outlined two difficulties : one, that the requirement of 200 signatures by December 7 (adopted in December 1964 but not properly announced thereafter) had not been made known to the petitioners until only about a month remained; and two, the total of members among the signatures supporting Mr. Lynd’s nomination proved to fall 2o short of the required 200. The chair, acting on prior advice of the Council, ruled that this deficiency of signatures should be waived in view of the unusual combination of circumstances. Mr. Palmer spoke briefly from the floor in support of this ruling, and no dissent was heard. The chair then allowed, for this contested election, 1o minutes for supporting statements on behalf of each of the two candidates. Mr. Lynd accordingly spoke, outlining a resolution against the Vietnam war and domestic repression which would later be presented, urging a negative vote on the announced constitutional amendments as lacking essential elements of needed reform, and proposing the creation of a special fund amounting to not less than one-third of AHA income to support various urgent projects seeking to alter professional and social structures.
In brief further discussion, John Fairbank spoke against such measures as threatening the independence of the Association as a professional body, in the pluralistic arrangements that characterize our society and that provide a basis for academic freedom. Mr. Palmer rose to assure the assembly that he took Mr. Lynd’s arguments seriously. Eugene Genovese then pointed out that the claim of Mr. Lynd’s supporters to represent the entire Left had never been tested, and presented the argument that the adoption by the AHA of a political resolution would be an invitation to all who disagreed to resign their membership in a political purge.
The chair then announced that to save time, and with the permission of both candidates, a standing vote would be called in place of a written ballot. Robert Zangrando, from the floor, protested that the latter would better preserve the integrity of the voting, but by voice vote the ruling of the Chair was upheld. By standing vote Mr. Palmer thereupon was elected 1040 to 396.
Discussion of the announced constitutional amendments opened with consideration of the desirability of limiting debate. Mr. Fairbank’s motion that each speaker be limited to three minutes was adopted by voice vote.
Prior to this actual vote Arthur Waskow urged that in the interests of saving time the amendments all be voted upon in a single vote; voice vote proving inconclusive, vote by show of hands adopted this motion 722 to 194. Arthur Link then moved that debate be limited to 15 minutes on either side, which was amended on the initiative of Mr. Palmer to 2o minutes, and adopted thereupon by voice vote. A motion to table the proposed constitutional amendments until next year was defeated by voice vote.
Urging the amendment removing the requirement of Council approval for membership in the Association, Peter Gay pointed out the fact that in recent years there has never been any such screening, and the desirability of removing any hint of authoritarian control or political test from this part of the constitution. Norman Cantor from the floor asked whether the Council’s power to fix types of membership would exclude non-professional but interested persons, and the Chair assured him it did not. Mr. Cantor further argued briefly that the Association should not be open to being flooded with new members for political purposes.
As second speaker for the Council, Thomas Cochran spoke in favor of the amendment limiting the voting power of a past president to the single year following his term of office, as a change that would restore within the Council a majority vote to the elected part of its membership.
Mr. Palmer then spoke in favor of the changes embodied in the proposed new Article VI. These would remove finality from actions by the Business Meeting in opposition to the Council, which he argued have proved not a satisfactory way to do business. Mr. Lynd rose to insist that this change was the one most earnestly opposed by his group of historians, and recited a passage of Mr. Palmer’s own writing praising the activities of certain French revolutionary militants. Mr. Waskow then claimed time unused in discussion of other amendments and recited the difficulties he felt he had experienced in securing publication of a critique against these proposed amendments He urged again the need for a more democratically organized Council. Finally, in response to a point of information, Mr. Ward said that over 2700 members had voted in the mail ballot reported by the Nominating Committee, as against about 2200 in the similar mail ballot a year earlier.
John Snell at this point made the formal motion for adoption of the whole group of announced constitutional amendments. [The texts of these amendments, which were in members' hands in printed form during their discussion and later adoption, are given in full below as an attachment to these minutes.] He then argued for the amendments set forth in the new Article VII, as providing interested members more time to nominate by petition, and as also more liberal in requiring only too signatures. At this point Ralph Fisher, wishing to pro pose an amendment to Mr. Snell’s formal motion, was asked by the chair to wait until the presentations by Council members were concluded.
Arguing for the new Article IX, David Potter explained that it would provide fuller opportunity for members to participate in the amending process, since 100 or more members would be able to initiate action outside of the Business Meeting and apart from the Council.
Members now spoke up for and against Mr. Fisher’s earlier announced intention to amend by striking out the proposed amendment to the first sentence of Article III. Howard Adelson urged the importance of limiting membership to those who have a professional interest in history, as contrasted with political purposes, and urged that the Council’s failure to screen applicants hitherto was no reason to alter the Constitution. Mr. Waskow here objected that amendment of the proposed amendments point by point would defeat the purpose of the decision to vote for them en bloc, but the parliamentarian explained that the right to amend objectionable parts could not be abridged simply by the agreement to vote finally in a single vote.
The assembly now voted to close debate. The chair announced its ruling that the amendments if passed would take effect as of midnight December 31, on the analogy of the traditional AHA practice with respect to the succession of elected officers. Mr. Potter asked the parliamentarian whether if the amendments were adopted, the possibility of later reconsidering them might be precluded by an immediate motion to reconsider followed by defeat of this motion. The parliamentarian answered that a duly proposed constitutional amendment, once passed, could not be reconsidered. After further unsatisfactory discussion of these points of parliamentary law, there were calls for the question, and voting began on the constitutional amendments en bloc. Objection was raised that Mr. Fisher had not had a chance to put his amendment to the amendments, and the chair expressed a wish to allow this. But members from the floor insisted that debate was out of order during the voting. The vote was accordingly completed, and the constitutional amendments were adopted by a vote of 486 in the affirmative against 205 in the negative.
Mr. Fairbank now moved that the assembly adjourn in io minutes. After brief discussion this motion was replaced by Mr. Zinn’s motion to recess until the following evening at 9:30. A motion to adjourn immediately was thereupon put to voice vote and defeated. Stull Holt moved to change the time to following the end of the presidential address, and this amendment was adopted by voice vote. A vote by show of hands then adopted Mr. Zinn’s motion 547 in favor to 190 in the negative. The meeting accordingly recessed at 12:20 a.m.
Mr. Woodward re-convened the Business Meeting again at 10:00 p.m. on December 29 in the same hall, again with an attendance of about 1700. Mr. Potter moved that the assembly set a time limit of 45 minutes for old business and 45 minutes for new business. Mr. Snell moved as amendment to allow the remainder of the first 45 minutes, if any, to increase the time allotted to new business. This amendment was adopted on voice vote, and Mr. Potter’s motion as amended was adopted by show of hands.
The chair announced receipt of an interim report from the ad hoc committee to inquire into the issues raised by Francis Loewenheim in connection with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, saying that copies of this report had been distributed at the opening of the Business Meeting.
Mr. Loewenheim came forward to move the following resolution:
Because the charges made against the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library involve serious questions of public law and ethics, because a considerable amount of evidence has been collected by the Perkins and Leopold committees, and because a preliminary investigation of these charges is now under consideration by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, Be it resolved, that the Association make available to that committee copies of all the evidence it has collected or will later be collected by the Leopold committee.
In response to a request for clarification by Bradford Perkins, Mr. Loewenheim explained that the Subcommittee on Investigations of the House committee referred to has been involved in an extensive review of the matter, as witness various articles in the newspapers. Donald McCoy now spoke against the motion, expressing reluctance to see one of the AHA’s official committees become a tool for the gathering of information for a Congressional subcommittee. He urged that the ad hoc committee be allowed to continue its work pending an explicit request from the subcommittee, which has the power of subpoena. Robert Zangrando pointed to the possibility that some of the information received was privileged information.
Richard Leopold as chairman of the ad hoc committee answered that his committee had not solicited privileged information, but granted that on an issue of such importance to the profession many persons writing in response to the committee’s request probably had written for the benefit of the committee things they might not wish to become a political football for a Congressional committee. Since the House subcommittee could always subpoena the information it might want, and since the ad hoc committee was a joint committee responsible to the OAH as well as-to the AHA, he suggested that the resolution be voted down. Bell Wiley urged against the motion that the matter was primarily a professional one and as approached thus far needed to be treated differently from a public inquiry.
In reply Mr. Loewenheim agreed with earlier remarks that the charges extended far beyond his individual case, and urged that the matter be considered not a narrowly professional one but one of public law and ethics, since the officials and the documents and the publication in question all were public in character. For the profession to withhold evidence from a proper government investigation would border on arrogance.
David Cronon, speaking as one of the co-signers with Mr. Loewenheim of the letter of September 7 to the New York Times, expressed his interest in seeing a Congressional body investigate the charges but also his confidence in the integrity of the Leopold committee. He underlined his concern that no action directing release of the information be taken without concurrence of the OAH and that letters solicited and written by persons who did not have a Congressional investigation in mind not be forwarded except in response to subpoena. Mr. Perkins added that defeat of the resolution would not amount to withholding information, whereas passing the resolution would in fact be promoting a Congressional investigation by implying that the situation clearly needed such investigation. The question being called, the motion was voted down by voice vote.
As second item of old business Mr. Ward called attention to the mimeographed sheets summarizing actions by the Council on December 27, and invited any questions. Mrs. Bernice Carroll asked that the Council’s charge to the new Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession be read, since this would be useful background information for resolutions which the Women’s Caucus hoped to present later to the assembly. On word from Mr. Ward that the text desired was not at hand, since it represented action by the Council in October, Mrs. Carroll with the chair’s permission read the text from her own copy.
Under new business, Howard Zinn now moved the following resolution:
Resolved, that as citizens and historians, we recognize and find intolerable the present direction of the American government. In order to extend the modern American Empire by waging war against the people of Vietnam, the government has increasingly moved to repress political opposition at home.
Moreover, the physical and cultural destruction of the Vietnamese people reflects a much older and deeper policy of physical and cultural destruction of the Black community at home, and is now being carried into new versions of racism by the Administration in its betrayal of civil rights and its aid to counter-insurgent police forces in the great cities. The political assassination of the Black Panther Party is the most blatant example. The Justice Department is acting as the domestic Pentagon in this repression.
These murderous policies and the repression which enforces them are increasingly restricting our freedom as historians, have turned even our classrooms and gradebooks into channels of conscription and death, have affected the life of our campuses, and have deeply disturbed relations between teachers and students of history. Even more important than the damage they have done to out profession, they are undermining the possibility of self-determination and democracy in the American and world society whose history we study.
We cannot stand by in silence. To do so is to condone the abuses to which history has been subjected in the service of power, to condone a kind of intellectual pacification program. To say nothing at this point in our own history is to express our indifference to what is happening around us. The business of this convention is history. We must renew our commitment to one of the great historic tasks of independent historians in time of crisis: We
must expose to critical analysis and public attack the disastrous direction in which our government is taking us.
We therefore demand the immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Vietnam, the immediate end of all harassment of the Black Panther Party, and the release of all political prisoners such as the Chicago 8.
Stull Holt made the point of order that this motion stood in contradiction of a resolution adopted at the 1968 Annual Meeting to the effect that the Association, while recognizing the right and obligation of individual members to take public stands on current issues, ought not commit the historical profession to any position on such issues except as directly connected with the promotion of historical scholarship or necessary to preserve professional integrity. The chair responded by ruling that this earlier motion would have to be rescinded before Mr. Zinn’s resolution could be put to any vote. After debate from the floor as to the propriety of one business meeting’s binding a subsequent meeting, and argument by Mr. Waskow that advance notice should have been given of this need to rescind and that the motion explicitly bore upon preserving the integrity of the profession, a number of members discussed the difficulty of the parliamentary requirement of two-thirds majority for rescinding. Mr. Snell ended this discussion by pointing out that only a majority vote was needed to overrule the ruling of the chair. A vote by show of hands being taken, the ruling of the chair was reversed.
Arguing now for his motion, Mr. Zinn pointed out that historians rarely gathered together with any opportunity to act collectively. At a time like this, for the Association to be silent would be generally understood as a political affirmation in the negative. Being human beings more importantly than historians, those present should want to declare their strong feelings; as historians they should well know what had happened in societies which remained quiet in times of similar threats.
Speaking next for the Conference on Peace Research in History, William Neumann offered the following substitute resolution, emphasizing that it was worded as an action of individuals present at the meeting and not as a resolution committing the Association to any position:
We, historians and citizens in this meeting of the American Historical Association, deplore and condemn the war in Vietnam as ill-advised and immoral; we urge immediate withdrawal from all military involvement; and we further pledge ourselves to a fundamental reevaluation of the assumptions of American foreign policy.
Eugene Genovese spoke in reply urging that, despite the wording referred to, the resolution like Mr. Zinn’s would politicize the Association. Mr. Lynd urged the propriety of resolutions of this type by professional associations, citing resolutions adopted by the American Political Science Association, by the American Sociological Association, and on the day before by the American Philosophical Association-and even by the Senate at Harvard. Though he preferred Mr. Zinn’s resolution as acknowledging the character of the Vietnam war’s place in American policy, he himself would vote for Mr. Neumann’s resolution as more in keeping with the sense of the meeting.
Joseph Hellinger spoke in favor of Mr. Zinn’s motion on grounds that the mention of the Panthers was needed as recognition that repression abroad is no more important than repression at home. A woman member spoke on behalf of members who felt uncertain and reluctant to be forced either to resign or be polarized. Another member argued that both resolutions called for adoption of an official history dictating to the minds of members. Stuart Hughes then expressed distress that those who opposed the resolution were being put in the position of seeming to be in favor of the war, and argued that to adopt the resolutions would be to violate the ethics of historians and do what individuals should properly do instead as citizens. Joseph Huthmacher argued against the AHA’s taking a political position, as it never had before, and moved the previous question. In answer to objection, the parliamentarian ruled that this motion was proper. The vote closing the debate by show of hands was questioned and on standing vote the motion failed of a two-thirds majority, 713 for and 528 against.
The chairman, however, announced expiration of the time for debate as previously fixed, and so called for a vote. Mr. Waskow thereupon asked for a chance to move a change into Committee of the Whole for 30 minutes whereupon the vote on the resolution would be taken. With the advice of the parliamentarian, the chair suggested instead a motion to reconsider the previously set time limit and advance it another 30 minutes. Mr. Waskow moved this and the assembly adopted it by show of hands.
Resuming debate, a member urged that the Association had its own politics and that Charles Beard had proved that historians are subjective and influenced by politics in their judgments. Everett Mendelsohn, in support of the Neumann resolution, explained the issues posed by the Harvard Senate as a conflict of fundamental values, between those who felt that a university ought not take a moral stand and others who felt that the issues were of overriding magnitude and character. Edward Fox noted that historians in the past have often shown themselves ineffective politicians, and contended that the purpose of history is to contribute to the functioning of democracy by helping citizens understand better their past so as to choose better for their future. He argued that present difficulties of our country are due in part to the failure of historians to educate the citizenry in this sense.
Richard Wade then urged that since the debate showed such a deep division within the profession, a better course would be to instruct the Council to send the two resolutions to the membership by mail, following the precedent of the Moscow question, with arguments by two advocates for either side. Responding to an objection, the chair pointed out that Mr. Wade’s proposal was in order as a motion, since its intent was to refer the present question to a higher body. Against Mr. Wade’s motion, Mr. Waskow argued that in adopting it the assembly would be ducking its responsibility, much as happened in Germany three decades earlier. Richard Kagan mentioned the passing of a resolution against the Vietnam war by the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars and contended that democracy works best in a business meeting where there can be an active exchange of opinions. Hans Trefousse now urged, as someone who was in Germany in 1933, that passage of the resolutions would be a triumph of the way of repression, just as in those days. Charles Shively contended that to refrain from acting as human beings at this point would be to alienate youth and proclaim the AHA’s moral bankruptcy. Another member urged that adoption of the resolution would not be sufficient cause for the resignation of members.
Mr. Wade’s motion was now put to a show of hands, and was defeated by 511 to 705. Mr. Neumann’s motion was next put to similar vote and defeated by 611 to 647. Finally, Mr. Zinn’s motion was put similarly and failed by a vote of 493 to 822.
Adjournment was then moved and adopted by voice vote at 1:00 a.m.
Amendments Proposed by the Council
The first of the six amendments to the Constitution referred to above was to amend the first sentence of Article III to read:
Membership in the Association shall be open to any person interested in the promotion of historical studies.
A second amendment was, in Article V, Section z ©, to replace the words “for the three years” with the words “only in the year,” and to delete the final three words “and no longer.”
The third amendment was to add a new Article VI of the Constitution, as follows:
Article VI, SECTION 1. The Council shall call an Annual Business Meeting, open to all members of the Association.
SECTION 2. Although the action of the Council shall be final in matters vested in it by Article IV, Section 5, and in exercise of appointive functions under Article V, Sections 2 and 3, in all other matters any action by the Council shall be final unless the next Annual Business Meeting votes not to concur. Any action voted by the Business Meeting shall be final unless the next meeting of the Council votes not to concur. In such cases of nonconcurrence, final action shall be determined by a mail ballot to be distributed to the membership of the Association within sixty days after such act of nonconcurrence. The decision of the membership shall be final and shall be published by the Council.
SECTION 3. The Business Meeting, by a majority vote, or one hundred or more members by petition, may initiate proposals to the Council of any kind concerning the affairs of the Association. All proposals shall be considered by the Council. If any such proposal is not accepted by the Council, it shall be referred to the decision of the membership by means of a mail ballot as indicated in the preceding section.
The fourth amendment was to renumber Article VI as Article VII and to replace Section 2 with new Sections 2, 3, 4, and 5 as follows:
SECTION 2. The Nominating Committee shall nominate, by annual mail ballot, candidates for the offices of President, Vice-President, and Treasurer, the elected members of the Council, and the members of the Nominating Committee. The Committee shall invite and give due regard to suggestions from members of the Association of candidates for each of the vacancies4:’to appear on the ballot. It shall announce the nominations to the membership not less than seven months before each Annual Meeting.
SECTION 3. Nominations may also be made by petitions carrying in each case the signatures of one hundred or more members of the Association and indicating in each case the particular vacancy for which the nomination is intended. Nominations by petition must be in the hands of the Chairman of the Nominating Committee by three months before the Annual Meeting. In distributing the annual ballot by mail to the members of the Association, the Nominating Committee shall present and identify such candidates nominated by petition along with its own candidates, having first ascertained that all candidates have consented to stand for election.
SECTION 4- On the annual ballot, the Nominating Committee shall present at least one name for each of the offices of President, Vice-President, and Treasurer, and two or more names for each vacant membership on the Council and on the Nominating Committee, as well as the names of any persons nominated by petition as above specified.
SECTION 5. The annual ballot shall be mailed to the full membership of the Association at least six weeks before the Annual Meeting. No vote received after the due date specified on the ballot shall be valid. Election shall be by majority or plurality of the votes cast for each vacancy. The votes shall be counted and checked in such manner as the Nominating Committee shall prescribe and shall then be sealed in a box and deposited in the Washington office of the Association where they shall be kept for at least one year. The results of the election shall be announced at the Annual Business Meeting and in the publications of the Association. In the case of a tie vote, the choice among the tied candidates shall be made by the Annual Business Meeting.
The fifth amendment was to replace the present Article VIII with the following Article IX:
Article IX. Amendments to this Constitution may be proposed by the Council, by the Annual Business Meeting, or by petition to the Council of one hundred or more members. Amendments thus proposed shall be made known to the membership through one of the Association publications, or by other means, at least six weeks before the next Annual Business Meeting; and shall bC placed on the agenda at that meeting for discussion and possible revision. Acceptance or rejection of the amendment shall thereupon be ‘determined by mail ballot of the membership.
The sixth amendment was to make the corresponding adjustments in other parts of the Constitution, as follows:
Reduce Article IV, Section 4, to the single sentence: “The President, Vice-President, and Treasurer shall be elected as provided in Article VII.”
In Article V, Section 1 (b), remove the specification of “Section 2.”
In Article V, Section 2, preface the present text with “The first obligation of the Council shall be to promote historical scholarship. To this end,” and replace the last two sentences with the single sentence: “The Council shall report to the membership on its activities, through the publications of the Association and at the Annual Business Meeting.”
* * * * *
Pages 25 et seq.
The events which marked the Association’s recent business meeting, December 28 and 29, 1969, reflected very real and deep divisions among the members of the Association as to the nature and responsibilities of the profession. These differences went far beyond the practical and political questions on which votes were taken, and touched fundamental issues as to the nature of history and society.
Hence, a first order of business should be to ask what is it about the practice of history that has produced our divided consciousness.
The editor of the Newsletter hopes that in the coming months the profession will confront such fundamental questions in a scholarly and detached manner. To this end, the Newsletter invites informal argument from all members of the Association on these matters of vital concern to them. These communications will be carried under the heading of Professional Comment. The first such appears directly beneath and discusses the events of December 28-29 from a perspective critical of the conduct of the Association.
Radicals, Conservatives, and History: 1969
The unprecedented business meeting of the American Historical Association, held on December 28–29, 1969 should provoke a serious reevaluation of the AHA and the profession, and of both the radical impulse and the conservative defense, by radical and conservative historians alike.1 I hope these comments may contribute to such a process on all sides, as well as trying to make clear what transpired during the two sessions of December 28 and 29 for the benefit of historians who were not present in Washington.
The radical impulse made its first impact on the Convention in the “What is Radical History?” panel. Of that session I now feel thoroughly self-critical. Our fault was that we were not radical enough. It was, and as radicals we should have known it would be, impossible to have an intelligent discussion in a hall of 1,000 people—even by discarding the traditional “paper” format in favor of brief statements by a panel, followed by discussion from the floor. Perhaps we should have arranged for small discussion groups to debate within themselves the issue of radical history before proceeding to a general discussion. Each group could then have chosen its own spokesman and issues for the latter session.
It was our failure too for projecting an image of being concerned to “purge” the profession with a proposed counter-Constitution containing an ethical code and the means for enforcing it. The ethical code was a model, a goal, a proposal for a true “profession”—but it assumed and did not state that it could be enforced only when a great majority of the profession had come to believe in it. (This is in fact what the profession does now—and does not regard as a “purge”—when, for instance, it punishes plagiarism.) Many readers seem to have thought we suggested enacting ethics by bare majority and then expelling everyone who disagreed with them. We should have made our outlook clear. We recognized our failure too late when we gathered in the Radical Caucus. The decision to drop the counter-Constitution in favor of specific resolutions did not undo the harm done by our lack of clarity.
Most of the other failures at the Convention were not ours. Look first at the issue of procedural democracy. We wanted open debate on the substantive issues. But the present AHA Council first tried to stretch out debate over its own Constitutional proposals to use up time; then tried to adjourn the business meeting before any new business could be taken up; then tried to rule a resolution on Vietnam and political repression out of order; then tried to close debate on the Vietnam resolution before it had begun; then tried to refer the resolution to mail ballot instead of, rather than in addition to, voting on it; then after the vote came, adjourned the business meeting rather than allow other proposals to come before it.
All the while, the Council projected its own undemocratic intentions into paranoia about the radicals. One Council member expressed fear that we would wait until they had left the meeting and then vote to reconsider the Constitutional amendments. It was a tactic we had not bothered to consider, and laughed at when he spoke. Another Council member warned against the “old radical tactic of waiting until everyone leaves” at the same time we were trying to propose a recess until the next evening, precisely so that a fuller body could examine our proposals. Still another physically tore the microphone from Howard Zinn’s hands to win recognition from President C. Vann Woodward; won it, of course, despite Zinn’s protests; then denounced some other fantasied anti-democratic tactic the left might use!
And what were those proposals for which we never got a hearing? ® A Constitutional amendment expanding the AHA Council to 50, with 10 seats reserved for non-tenured faculty, 10 for students, 10 for elementary and secondary school teachers of history and social studies, 10 for non-professionals interested in history and so for the kind of “eminent scholars” who now make up the entire Council. (2) A Constitutional amendment to create a Special Fund using one-third of the Association’s income for help to women, Black, radical, and other historians now discriminated against; for projects in history-writing by “outsiders” like steel-workers, secretaries, and welfare mothers; and for projects in democratic as against autocratic teaching-learning. (3) A mandate to make the next Convention available to students without money for hotels, to subsidize travel, to break up huge sessions into small dialogue groups and other democratizing proposals. All were kept off the floor.
But during this debate-avoiding process we failed, too: again, we were not radical enough. We let the body laugh to scorn a hired Parliamentarian, without insisting that responsibility for biased rulings lay not on him but on the Chair and the Council. It was a conservative member of the Council who pointed out to us (privately) that an unforeseen advantage for established authority was a scorned Parliamentarian who made an excellent whipping boy, and thereby accidentally diverted animosity from the Chair.
Finally, the clear central substantive issue of the Convention and of the debate between radicals and conservatives: what is a profession? Does it have a “politics,” and should it? Conservatives argued that adopting a Vietnam resolution would “politicize” the Association, and invoked the spectre of a “purge” of those who disagreed about the war. Radicals argued that the AHA is political; that it supports, assists, and helps legitimate the American government; that it must first admit to being political and then adopt a decent politics supporting the profession’s goals of truth and reason. (Unfortunately, at Convention time radicals had not yet read the resolution passed in 1968 putting the AHA on record for the Fullbright-scholar program not on professional grounds but “in the interest of the United States’ role of leadership in the world.” If we had had the quote at our fingertips, we could have shown that even on their own terms the conservatives were being disingenuous).2
In any case, we must now pursue our thought and work on the crucial issue of the relation between politics and profession. One historian described a great urge among young members of the profession to “reunite their lives,” bringing politics and scholarship together. He is right; the urge is an overwhelmingly important effort of human beings to rebuild themselves; to reconnect body and mind, morals and information; to do that precisely in resistance to a dehumanizing social system. Thus the urge is no mere idiosyncratic hang-up: it is the.most political of events, and the radical historians, like other newly radical intellectuals, are questioning the whole bureaucratic-“rational’ assumption of the split in roles between citizen and scholar.
It was this split that the conservatives fought to preserve. Few of them argued against the text of the radical resolution on the war and repression which described the war as an attack on the Vietnamese people in an attempt to extend the modern American Empire, connected it with traditional American racism, accused the justice Department of being the “domestic Pentagon” in a campaign of repression of widespread political opposition to the war and racism, warned of damage already done to the historical profession and more threatened, and called for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, an immediate end to harassment of the Black Panther Party, and release of all political prisoners. Even fewer argued against the text of the liberal anti-war resolution which called for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and a reexamination by historians of the whole intellectual basis of American foreign policy. The conservatives’ opposition to these resolutions was couched not on the obvious issue of whether the war was good or bad, but on the deeper and indeed the more important one: were people to become whole as citizenly scholars, scholarly citizens, or remain divided? Could a professional association admit that a “political” event was deeply corrupting the practice of the profession, and then take a citizen-professional, i.e. a human position? But, of course, the conservatives did not couch the issue thus, and our own last and most unfortunate failure was that we never clearly got that issue on the table. Perhaps because we did not, the conservatives won that vote.3
But they did not win the future of the profession. Young historians watched cultural heroes demythologize themselves: watched Eugene Genovese say the AHA must “put these so-called radicals down, put them down hard, and put them down once and for all.” Watched John K. Fairbank grab the mike away from a radical and then denounce “undemocratic tactics.” Watched Stuart Hughes boast of having last been in Washington in 1965 to protest the war-but not as a professional. Watched C. Vann Woodward rule that the Vietnam resolution, with its full paragraph about the damage the war is doing to the profession, had nothing to do with the integrity of the profession or the practice of history in the United States. Watched David Potter urgently ask how to prevent a “radical trick” that no one had thought of trying, or wanted to try once he had suggested it.
Many of the men and women who watched all this happen will no longer accept being “watchers,” whether of a conservative cadre of the AHA Council members or of a radical cadre of insurgents. For it was not only conservative hypocrisy, banality, and paranoia that was being watched. Young historians also watched the leaders of the radical caucus respond to the difficulties of swift floor maneuver against the oligarchic “conservative party” by becoming oligarchic themselves. As a result, many radicals began to reject not only the Council’s leadership but the whole notion of using parliamentary insurgency to reform the AHA-a process which may necessarily reduce most of those present to “watchers.” They will insist on remaking rather than watching-remaking history-the-social-process, remaking history-the-profession, and remaking themselves. They are convinced that the AHA is not an arena in which any of those remakings can be done: only “watching” can happen there, both in the business meeting and in gigantic formal sessions.
Many such historians met on the last day of the convention to decide what to do as a consequence of the question of whether the AHA still provided a useful arena for scholarly debate. They agreed to form a Radical History Caucus of the New University Conference. In that way they can join both politically and intellectually with other academics for most of the year trying to create a new social analysis across disciplinary lines, and new political action across departmental lines; but can nevertheless preserve their identity as historians for those moments when it is important. The dual identity is not an artifact. It stems in part from the academic double hiring system in which a university is the immediate employer, hiring many kinds of academics, but in which separate national “job markets” of historians, sociologists, etc. also govern their employment. It stems also, in part, from the deeper historical contradiction between the unity of the intellectual analysis of society, on the one hand, and the specialization of effective intellect, on the other.
The Radical History Caucus of NUC will, in participatory-democratic fashion, have a number of focal points. One, in Chicago, is the office of NUC (Room 403A, 622 West Diversey Parkway). Another is a group of historians in Boston who will help prepare for serious meetings of historians during and alongside the next AHA Convention. Their efforts will center much more on creating a parallel “convention” embodying dozens of small workshops of 15 to 40 people than on reforming the AHA itself. These workshops may deal with particular research projects, with the relationship of politics and professionalism, with the nature of the present job market and a democratic alternative, with radical teaching, etc. Effective action in remaking the profession, society, and individual historians themselves will flow from these workshops. It might flow back into the regular AHA Convention, but if so in a much more participatory-democratic way. Finally, arrangements will be made to have equivalent presences at the Organization of American Historians Convention in Los Angeles, and the Southern Historical Association Convention in Louisville.4
Arthur I. Waskow
Institute for Policy Studies
1. The meeting itself was attended by some 2,000 members, while in previous years attendance rarely reached 2oo. The losing candidate for the presidency received far more votes than any previous successful candidate.
3. Even so, the liberal anti-war resolution probably would have won if it had come to the floor after the radical resolution, rather than before and as a substitute for it. A few radicals, but more than 20, voted against the liberal resolution so that the radical one could be reached. The liberal resolution failed 611–647. The radical resolution failed 493–822. On the previous night, the radical candidate for President achieved 396 votes, the conservative 1040. Radical feeling grew throughout the Convention.
4. Persons interested in contacting the Boston group with ideas for workshops should contact Marica Scott, 51 Park Drive, Apt. #21, Boston, Mass. 02215. Persons who are interested in helping to organize for the OAH meeting in Los Angeles, April 15–18, should write to Richard Robertson, University of California at Irvine, 508 Verano Place, Irvine, California 92644. For the Southern meeting contact Thomas Gardner, Box 62, Newcomb Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
Copyright © American Historical AssociationLast Updated: January 28, 2010 4:15 PM