From the President's column in the April 1998 Perspectives

Belonging Together

Joseph C. Miller, April 1998

In this space last month you may have read my personal reflections on why I, a historian of Africa, supported the American Historical Association through more than a few years—even at a time when Africa was more peripheral to the majority of my historical colleagues focused on Europe and the United States than it has since become and when the AHA took up my area centered day-to-day teaching and research a good deal less than it represented my disciplinary professional and scholarly interests. I concluded the column on a note of the satisfaction I derived from enriching my participation in my interdisciplinary regional studies association by my experiences with the discipline of history here in the AHA; it has been no less satisfying to turn right around to offer my historical colleagues in the AHA some of the lessons my Africanist colleagues have learned from studying the past of Africa. Last month I implied an invitation to my counterparts in other historical scholarly societies—particularly those formally affiliated with the AHA—to join in exploring the ways in which we can collaborate to mutual advantage. I now make that invitation more explicit. I, with the support of the AHA Council, am eager to work during my year as president of our Association to see how we thus belong together.

One initiative that we are now developing along these lines grows out of the meeting that Robert Darnton, our president-elect; Sandria Freitag, executive director of the Association; and I held recently in Seattle with a small, but loyal, group of representatives of the AHA's affiliated societies. We heard some promising suggestions of ways in which we and they might combine our respective strengths. I will be contacting them and the officers of other affiliates not present that afternoon to confirm the declared mutual good intentions and see where the concrete payoffs may lie. We talked about the program and other ways we interact at the Association's (and many affiliates') annual meetings, with the guidance of John Volz, co-chair of the current Program Committee.

Michael Grossberg, editor of the American Historical Review, emphasized the value of multiplicity and diversity in historical journals publication, and we wondered about ways to foster the scholarly publications of the affiliated societies under the AHA umbrella. During the next few years, electronic formats will clearly change all of our lives in ways we can't yet see very clearly. We speculated about how we can share the benefits in support of each other. But the officers of the AHA and the other societies can't manage much by themselves along these lines. We and they need you.

Of late, organizations affiliated with the AHA have interacted with the Association more in terms of formalities than through sharing of our complementing substantive strengths. Most of the affiliates are comprised of historians grouped around the subject or methodological or theoretical interests and skills that they share. They apply for affiliated status through a committee of the AHA Council, which—upon confirmation of the professional objectives and standards, and the substantiality of the organization—recommends establishment of the formal tie by a vote of Council. Subsequent communications keep the AHA apprised of the affiliates' current officers, membership, policies, and basic programs. The AHA Headquarters compiles and distributes this information to them, and to the public, in an annual Directory of Affiliated Societies, 83 pages in length in its last edition.

Currently, 104 historical groups have affiliated with the AHA. Slightly fewer than half of those mounted sessions of their own at the 1998 annual meeting, as identified separately in the Program, and about a fourth joined in sponsoring panels and other presentations among the 158 assembled by the Program Committee of the AHA itself. Some 14 affiliates, for a nominal fee, established displays adjacent to the meeting registration area. Throughout the year, others publish news of their activities and interests in the "Affiliates" column of this newsletter. The AHA web site provides links to affiliates with World Wide Web addresses. Now, there are 26 such links.

Members of affiliated societies that hold their yearly programs during the annual meeting of the AHA gain tangible benefits, beyond the opportunity to participate in sessions organized by other societies and to meet a great many colleagues with other, often related, special interests. Beyond space for public displays, affiliated societies have access to meeting rooms acquired as part of the package negotiated by the Association; in Seattle, a rough calculation places the value of the space allocated to affiliated societies at $45,000. Those who use the audiovisual services of the hotels or convention centers obtain their equipment through AHA staff, at the AHA convention rate, without labor charges for the set-up. Members qualify for the Association's discounted room rates (nearly 50 percent off in Seattle) and obtain the low airline fares available through the AHA's travel agents. The Association assumes that members of affiliates wishing to participate fully in the intellectual abundance of the full program of the annual meeting register for it, as any scholar or professional attending such a gathering is expected to do.

Of course, we also hope that the opportunities that members of our affiliates find in meeting with us—since those must constitute a large part of the reasons why they do so—will lead them to join the AHA as well. But because we are all historians, whatever our stripes, we sometimes tend to want the AHA to duplicate the specialized things we can do better through our affiliated societies, or even to expand the groups we dedicate to particular subjects and methods to comparative or professional concerns that the AHA also emphasizes. We—the AHA and our affiliates—belong together, but that's because we are different. I am writing this column to emphasize again those differences, and our consequent needs for each other. It's in that spirit that I raise the question of how the AHA as a scholarly society can work with you and our society affiliates to render membership in each more fulfilling—to make it worth all our whiles to belong to, and participate in, both.

The benefits we all reap from "belonging together," of course, will have their price: none of our associations—not the AHA, not its affiliates, not others that we might attract to affiliate themselves with us in the future—provides the services we expect of them except through what we do for ourselves, through them. That costs money. It's up to us to contribute through the annual dues we pay, the checks we write for registration fees for meetings, and the services-for-fees that we purchase, to and from both. The AHA works persistently to give good value for money, as do our other associations, both immediately in the form of publications and representation, and—more important, in my mind—by investing in the long-term integrity of the discipline, and our own fields' places in it. We and they both need you and your colleagues' participation in securing that future. My invitation, then, is to all of us to ask our closest colleagues in our special fields whether they would join us in belonging to the AHA, in support of our shared interests in our special fields. Let me know how—as members—we, as an Association, can use our distinctive strengths to better pursue our distinctive interests. Signing up, and paying up. That is the reality of how we belong together.

—Joseph C. Miller (Univ. of Virginia) is president of the AHA.