Bonhomie and Banter Mark 127th Business Meeting
Pillarisetti Sudhir, February 2013
Business meetings are inevitably dull affairs, with long-winded reports filled with soporific statistics. AHA business meetings are mostly not very different (except on the rare occasion when some controversial issue comes up for discussion). But the 127th Business Meeting of the AHA held on Saturday, January 5, 2013, was indeed, an exception to the rule, replete as it was with bonhomie and banter (and limericks too) even as serious business was conducted as diligently as it needed to be.
The meeting did begin (at the scheduled time of 4:45 p.m.) on a somber note, because soon after declaring the meeting open, President William Cronon called for a moment's silence in memory of Gerda Lerner, the distinguished, trailblazing historian and feminist, who had passed away on Wednesday, January 2, 2013, at the age of 92.
Gerda Lerner herself might have appreciated the way in which Executive Director James Grossman lightened the mood quickly, quoting at the start of his annual report from a letter written by Henry Adams, in which Adams had referred to the nascent AHA as "this little clique" of 500 incompetent historical "cranks."
We have travelled far since then, Grossman declared, alluding in part to the much higher membership numbers the Association's rolls show—13,787, to be exact. A small drop in the number (compared to that of last year) was mostly due, he said, to graduate students taking advantage of the free access to job advertisements. On the other hand that also meant, according to Grossman, that the AHA should feel good about having provided access to that important resource, and even more, about the graduate students who enrolled as members because they wanted to join the AHA, and not for the job ads.
Nevertheless, AHA members do receive a wide array of benefits, as Grossman pointed out. Many of these are new—including access to the Oxford English Dictionary and to the listings and book reviews in Choice—and even more are on the way, Grossman indicated, and hinted that members might soon be able to access an e-book version of the American Historical Review. Many of these are also signs, Grossman added, of the AHA's persistent efforts to use digital technologies effectively, especially to foster a sense of community.
Grossman also pointed out that the Association was seriously engaged with the issue of reconceptualizing employment opportunities and said that the AHA was dealing with the related question of redefining the term "service"—one of the three factors used for evaluating teachers (in addition, that is, to publications and teaching)—by replacing it with "engagement."
In his report, Robert A. Schneider, the editor of the AHR, said that all was well at 914 Atwater, the address at which the journal is produced. He described the challenges of selecting 1,000 books for reviewing from among the 3,000 plus books that are sent to the AHR. Schneider also described the difficult but meticulously careful process for selecting articles for publishing from among the 300-plus articles they receive for consideration.
Because Page Herrlinger, the chair of the 2012 Nominating Committee, was not present, the committee's report was read on her behalf by Raúl A. Ramos. A version of the report has been published in the January 2013 issue of Perspectives Online and gives all the necessary details, both about the results and the process.
Reporting on the activities of the Teaching Division, Vice President Patricia Limerick described the various innovative projects that the division has taken up and has either launched or was in the process of getting them going. These included the Tuning project, the project in conjunction with the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, and the Turning Points in Teaching project (which will be, when set up, a community building web facility for sharing ideas on teaching).
Vice President Jacqueline Jones described the multifarious activities and responsibilities of the Professional Division, and said the division's work was facilitated to a great extent by the fine reports on the profession produced by deputy director Robert B. Townsend.
John McNeill, vice president, Research Division, said that he was pleased to report that the division received an encouraging response to its attempts to launch two new book prizes—one in the field of Latin American history in the name of Friedrich Katz and another in the field of world history in the name of Jerry Bentley. The fundraising drives for the two prizes are nearing their goals, he said. The Research Division is also on the verge of publishing an online guide to historical literature, McNeill added.
In their reports, the vice presidents, the AHR editor, the Nominating Committee chair, and the executive director all thanked the AHA staff who helped them in their work as well as their colleagues on the various divisions and committees, especially those rotating off at the end of their terms.
The meeting concluded with the symbolic transfer of the gavel from the outgoing president of the AHA, William Cronon, to the incoming president, Kenneth Pomeranz, who then declared the meeting adjourned.
Pillarisetti Sudhir recently retired from the AHA, where he was editor of Perspectives on History.
A version of this article appeared on the AHA Today blog.