From the News column of the February 2004 Perspectives
AHA Gets New-look Web Pages and a New Domain Name: www.historians.org
Vernon Horn, February 2004
The American Historical Association has started using a new, more intuitive and user-friendly Internet name, www.historians.org, and will begin to slowly cast off its rather ungainly current domain name, www.theaha.org. What's in a (domain) name? Quite a lot, really, especially when you are dealing with the complexities of telling someone else what your name is!
In 1992, way back in the early stages of the Internet era, the American Hospital Association, quicker on the draw (or perhaps naturally dwelling less in the past) snagged the obvious domain name—aha.org—that should have been adopted by the American Historical Association. At that time, however, most staff members of the American Historical Association thought that "e-mail" was a typo, and, if they knew anything at all about the Internet, they thought the Gopher system was the next big thing for historians. Even the technologically savvy amongst us were sure this World Wide Web thing was doomed for failure because the long wait for the eye-candy graphics to download just slowed things down way too much and added nothing to scholarly pursuits. Okay, so much for the power of historians to predict the future. . . .
We could still have adopted an available domain name, "aha.net"; but no, we were a "dot org," and so, we had to have a dot org address. Other possibilities, "ahanet.org" and "ahaonline.org," for instance, either never crossed our minds, or were dismissed as too techno-geeky, depending on which version of the institutional memory you have heard. As a result, we came up with what some of us now agree is the even geekier and presumptive, if not downright arrogant-sounding domain name, "theaha.org." Over the years this name has not served us particularly well. It annoyed some AHA staff and members alike—there just didn't seem to be a good way to say the name over the phone so that the hearer got the correct domain name. The definite article in the name made it all the more indefinite, so to speak, and it was an unending struggle to get the name across just right.
Fast forward to 2003. As part of a long-overdue remaking of the AHA web site into a publication as professionally done and visually attractive as Perspectives and the AHR, we hired a professional design firm, KSA-Plus of Arlington, Virginia. Part of their work entailed holding a focus group session to have an assortment of AHA members give us their feedback on various structural issues. Their study confirmed what we already suspected—that, if we could get it, historians.org would be a vastly superior name. It is both distinctive and entirely appropriate for the major professional association whose primary mission is to serve the interests of history and historians.
The historians.org domain name was held, however, by long-time AHA member Martin Sherwin and his associate Kai Bird, who head the Historians Committee for Open Debate. When contacted, they quickly and most graciously allowed us to purchase the name. Sherwin even commented that this was really the domain name that the AHA should have! In return for their willingness to transfer their domain name to us, the AHA will post a link to their new web site, HistoryHappens.net (with the proviso that the posting of the link will include a statement pointing out that the AHA and the Historians Committee for Open Debate are independent of each other and not affiliated in any way).
This transition has begun. The new historians.org web site has been unveiled and the domain name part of AHA's e-mail addresses has also changed. Thus firstname.lastname@example.org has become email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org is now email@example.com, and so on. However, all e-mail addressed to "theaha.org" will continue to be forwarded automatically to the historians.org equivalent for at least six months.
In an attempt to limit the amount of spam that we receive, we will no longer use e-mail hyperlinks on the AHA web site, or post addresses in a way that the roving spambots can easily recognize and capture in their nefarious spider webs. Instead, we will employ a web form that will allow users to contact members of the staff. After July 1, 2004, we will most likely begin to shut down theaha.org email service.
The web site currently located at www.theaha.org will also forward requests to the new domain as long as it seems necessary. Thus, a link or request for www.theaha.org/perspectives will automatically be forwarded to www.historians.org/perspectives. We do ask, however, that you update links and bookmarks to point directly to the new site.
—Vernon Horn is the AHA's Internet projects coordinator and is the supreme guru of all the AHA cyber domains. Technical questions about the AHA web site, the AHA domain names, or AHA e-mail can be addressed to him.