From the Executive Director column of the November 2007 Perspectives
Historians without Frontiers? CISH and International Congresses
Arnita A. Jones, November 2007
More than 80 years ago, an international group of historians came together in Geneva in May 1926 to establish the International Committee of Historical Sciences. CISH (as it is often known from the acronym formed from the French version of its name: Comité International des Sciences Historiques) was organized in the wake of the First World War to repair the strained relationships that limited conversation between scholars across national borders. The AHA, which from its inception had an international dimension (instituting an honorary foreign membership as early as 1885, for instance), played a crucial role in the establishment of the international committee. The AHA raised funds (persuading, inter alia, the Rockefeller Foundation to make a generous donation) and sent a representative delegation to Geneva for the first meeting of CISH.1
Indeed, it was around this time—in the 1920s—that the AHA began to crystallize its international presence, establishing special committees to deal with work relating to international congresses (such as those at Rio de Janeiro and Brussels) and then, after the formation of CISH, setting up a standing committee for representing the AHA at CISH. 2 It is from these nebulous but significant beginnings that the AHA's Committee on International Historical Activities (CIHA) emerged. The CIHA now coordinates the AHA's participation (as the national committee for the United States ) in the work of CISH.
Though interrupted by the Second World War, CISH was reconstituted and reinvigorated during the cold war. Since then, CISH has continued to facilitate and foster the work of historians and their various organizations. It does so mainly by providing a forum for the exchange of views and scholarship among historians from around the world, largely through the convening of international congresses every five years, which usually bring together more than 2,000 historians from around the globe. CISH now encompasses 53 countries and national committees—from Albania and Argentina to the Vatican City and Vietnam. For an excellent summary of the history and prospects of this worthy organization see "After 80 Years of Existence, Is the ICHS Still Relevant?" by Jean-Claude Robert of the University of Quebec at Montreal, the secretary general of CISH, online at www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2007/0711/0711int2.cfm (brief reports on the last two international congresses, in Oslo in 2000 and in Sydney in 2005, can be read online at www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2000/0011/0011int1.cfm and www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2005/0509/0509new4.cfm).
In late September this year, the chair of the CIHA (Committee on International Historical Activities), Eric Van Young (Univ. of California at San Diego), and I attended the CISH General Assembly that convened in Beijing, China, to participate in the deliberations in preparation for the next international congress (see Van Young's report on the conference).
The CISH General Assembly will meet again in three years in Amsterdam, during the August 2010 international congress; the bureau of CISH as well as the hosts in Amsterdam are making preparations for the congress. The next major step is the selection of panels for all the sessions. I urge AHA members and other historians in the United States to take the opportunity now available to submit proposals (by December 15, 2007) to the AHA's Committee on International Historical Activities. The committee will forward selected proposals to the secretariat of CISH for final action. Details about the themes selected for the congress, and the procedures for submitting proposals, are available online at www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2007/0710/0710cish.cfm.
—Arnita Jones is the executive director of the AHA.
1. This information is gleaned from the unpublished history of the AHA written by David Van Tassel, the manuscript of which is preserved in the AHA's library in the Beveridge Room of the headquarters building in Washington, D.C.
2. For a discussion of the international roles of the AHA, see Linda Kerber, "At Home in the World: The International Dimensions of the AHA," Perspectives 44:9 (December 2006), online at www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2006/0612/0612pre1.cfm.