Washington Notes

Samuel R. Gammon , April 1992

From the Executive Director's column in the April 1992 Perspectives


The Association lost a great friend and an important leader in the late winter with the deaths of the popular author Alex Haley and of the former executive secretary (1953–63) of the Association, Boyd C. Shafer. The obituary of Dr. Shafer will be carried in the May/June issue, but it behooves us to say a few words about nonmember Alex Haley's service to the profession. In 1982, when the legislative oversight hearings on the National Archives were planned, which led directly to the liberation of the Archives from the yoke of the General Services Administration, the AHA called on two famous names to help out as expert witnesses—long-time member Barbara Tuchman and popular writer Alex Haley. Drawing on a slight acquaintanceship, we tracked Haley down in Hollywood and asked him to be a congressional witness for the Archives, stating that the Archives was in trouble. His instant reply was, "I regard that as a mandate; when do you want me?" His testimony to the House Committee was a ringing and emotional tribute to the Archives as a national treasure, staffed by knowledgeable and helpful experts, and it held the House Committee spellbound. Together with Ms. Tuchman's equally eloquent presentation, it started the Committee down the road to legislating the independent National Archives and Records Administration.

The AHA's Committee on Minority Historians met symbolically on Leap Year Day, indicating its interest in moving the profession a great leap forward in its awareness of and attention to minority histories and historians. It received reports on the progress of its series of pamphlets on ethnic communities' histories and discussed possible authors for the third and subsequent pamphlets, as well as funding for the series. The committee opted for flexibility in content and format for the individual booklets rather than a rigid approach. Individual Committee members briefed the group on the progress of the American Indian Museum, planned by the Smithsonian, and on a National African-American Museum also to be a Smithsonian project for the Mall.

The Committee welcomed the Council's decision to endorse the creation of a book award on the African diaspora to be named for Charles Wesley and Rayford Logan and the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History's willingness to collaborate in its development. Plans were developed for a vigorous fundraising effort for a prize endowment.

The Professional Division met in Washington on March 6. As has become its practice in recent years, it devoted much of its time to the review of cases involving allegations of nonconformity to the AHA's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. The Division decided to subject the wording of the Statement to a careful review at its fall meeting. In the meantime, it settled no less than five cases involving allegations of plagiarism, flawed university procedures on employment, interference with teachers' classroom operations, improper withholding of documents, and unacknowledged quotation of sources. Other cases were held over for later action pending completion of documentation. (See page 6 for resumes of three earlier Professional Division cases.)

Other actions by the Division included approval in principle of a new pamphlet on publication for historians in the age of desktop publishing and rapid international communications, planning for Professional Division–sponsored sessions at the December 1992 and subsequent annual meetings, and recommendation to the Council for testing a special membership recruitment appeal in area studies associations. Division member Anand Yang agreed to serve as the Professional Division's consulting editor and liaison with Perspectives.

The regular spring meeting of the Committee on Women Historians of the AHA took place on March 7. Much of its business concerned ongoing efforts in support of professional activities of women historians. Noting the success of the Professional Division's annual meeting workshop on job interviewing last December, the CWH welcomed this continuing series of annual meeting sessions, expressing the hope that future sessions could also be directed to improvement of interviewers' techniques. CWH plans for sessions at the AHA's annual meetings and at those of the Berkshire and OAH annual meetings were made. The Committee endorsed the AHA's continuing effort to raise consciousness on the value of gender-integrated annual meeting sessions. It also made plans for the collection of data on the need for child-care facilities at such meetings, which might assist possible subsidization of these facilities. The CWH also expressed interest in and support for the Committee on Minority Historians' planned pamphlet series on ethnic and gender minority communities.

On March 8–9, the Research Division held its spring meeting in Washington with a lengthy agenda of activities. Spending half a day on careful consideration of ninety-eight proposals for small research grants from AHA restricted endowment fund income, the Division approved a total of thirty grants (eighteen Beveridge, nine Littleton-Griswold, and three Kraus) totalling $14,200. The AHA's small research grants program began in 1980 with the Beveridge program and has cumulatively awarded 361 grants totalling over $210,000.

The Division gave instructions for a revision of the AHA's basic guidelines for the establishment and operation of book prizes and for an updating of the 1975 AHA document on committee structure and responsibilities, in conjunction with the other two divisions. Concerning the annual meetings of the AHA, the Research Division discussed possible future Program Committee chair candidacies and made plans for its own sponsored sessions at the next two annual meetings. It also unanimously endorsed legislative plans to deal with the threatening issue of fair use of unpublished source material by authors, which recent court decisions have created.