From the AHA Activities column in the March 1997 Perspectives
Annual Report of the Vice President of the AHA Research Division
William G. Rosenberg, March 1997
It is with both pleasure and concern that I present my third and final annual report for the Research Division. My three-year tenure as vice president has been a most rewarding one. It has been a particular satisfaction to see the continued intellectual vitality of the American Historical Review as its stewardship passed from David Ransel's able hands to the editorship of Michael Grossberg, and along with other members of the division, to work with Grossberg to help assure that the Review continues to reflect the strong scholarly and research commitments of the Association. It has also been gratifying to participate in the division's review of the large number of applications for the AHA's Beveridge, Schmitt, Kraus, and Littleton-Griswold Research Fellowships. The applications have testified eloquently to the scholarly creativity of our younger members especially, and to the ways in which historical research, despite increasing pressures, controversies, and constraints, is continuing to thrive.
The constraints themselves, however, continue to pose great concern. The research climate in which many of our members work seems even more pressurized than three years ago, as additional faculty positions have been eliminated and whole programs, such as those at several Ohio State University campuses, have been eliminated. New efforts have been under way at Minnesota and elsewhere to constrain the important safeguards that tenure provides for scholarship and research; teaching responsibilities have increased in many places at the expense of research opportunities; and the climate of public suspicion generated by the Enola Gay controversy and others has not perceptibly dissipated. And despite great efforts from many quarters, relatively little progress can be reported in terms of archival access, especially access to materials regarded as politically sensitive. For example, there is still no judicially enforceable means to prevent members of the U.S. president's staff from destroying or removing their records as they leave office. These matters have preoccupied the division throughout the year.
To assure positive and constructive communication between the American Historical Review offices in Bloomington and the Association headquarters in Washington, the division had extensive discussions with Michael Grossberg at both its March and October meetings about the new AHR submission guidelines, the problems associated with reviewing textbooks, the Review's need for new computer equipment and other production matters, advertising and revenue issues, and the recurrent problem of staff support. While recognizing the obvious and important linkages between teaching and research, the division agreed that the task of reviewing textbooks was beyond the scope and scholarly concerns of the Review, and would have to be done in a way distinctly separate from the Review, even if under the purview of its editor. To help Grossberg strengthen the Review's efforts to expand thematic and geographic boundaries, the division agreed to ask Council's approval for the expansion of the journal's board of editors to 12 people. As usual, the editor's recommendations of new members for the board were reviewed and approved for submission to the Council. The division also endorsed a proposal from Grossberg to establish a graduate student essay competition, and reviewed the different procedures by which a winning essay would be chosen and then critiqued for possible publication in the Review.
The distinctiveness and centrality of the AHR was also discussed in terms of the Association's overall review of activities and priorities. While affirming the AHA's commitment to addressing the needs of a broad audience of historians across subfields, various specialties, and different professional locations, the division also strongly reaffirmed the importance to the Association of maintaining the Review's premier place as a journal of world scholarly distinction. We remain convinced that the vitality of the Review and the Association itself are inseparable.
The division also spent time working through a range of issues associated with electronic publishing, and especially the Mellon Foundation's journal storage (J-Stor) project, which has made back issues of the AHR available online. These matters were taken to the Council in June, when it was agreed that the journal's integrity had to be protected by creating a five-year "moving wall" separating current issues from back issues. Similar questions were addressed in connection with the Association's contract with University Microfilms, which is also moving into the area of electronic distribution. At the division's request, the executive director will assure that the Association is in touch with other organizations in the field so that mutual concerns and efforts can be shared and coordinated.
The constraints affecting scholarship more generally were also attended to by the division throughout the year in various ways. At our March meeting Peter Stearns, vice president of the Teaching Division, was invited to discuss the current projects of the Teaching Division and to address matters of overlapping concern. Of particular worry are the ways in which new emphases on faculty productivity for academic historians tend to pose teaching and research in opposition. Division members reviewed various current AHA projects from the standpoint of how research relates to teaching, specifically, sessions for the 1998 annual meeting and the "Globalizing Regional Histories" project created by members of the 1996 Program Committee. In an effort to continue to recognize the vital linkages between teaching and research, and as part of its oversight responsibility for the program of the annual meeting, the division agreed to encourage sessions devoted to strengthening these ties at the 1998 and subsequent meetings.
The Research Division also continued to address the complex issues of archival access and document preservation throughout the year. In the spring, members attended a meeting hosted by the Modern Language Association (MLA) on problems associated with the preservation of primary records and the issue of the artifact itself as a primary record. Decisions regarding preservation have become an urgent concern of research librarians and professional archivists across the country, and the impact of digitalization has yet to be fully understood in terms of preserving primary records and books. These matters were further discussed at the Library of Congress in the fall, as well as by the division as a whole at its meeting in October. Members agreed on the need for an ongoing task force to address the issues more systematically. Such a task force could be composed of representatives from the AHA, the MLA, the Society of American Archivists, the Association of Research Libraries, and other organizations.
As I have reported in previous years, the Research Division remains greatly concerned about problems of archival access more generally and the overall climate for historical research. The vital linkages between teaching and research require not simply attention to a broad understanding of scholarship in the processes of appointment and promotion that structure the academic careers of most historians, but also assurance that the research foundations of scholarship are fully recognized, supported, and facilitated. The Research Division and the Association as a whole will certainly continue to struggle with these matters.
In this connection, as in others, we are fortunate indeed to have such an able head for the division for the next three years in Stanley Katz. Katz's successful tenure as head of the American Council of Learned Societies and his longstanding commitment to the needs of research scholars and the importance of scholarly distinction make him an ideal leader for the Research Division in what surely will be troubled times ahead. I greatly appreciate the opportunity the members of the Association have provided me to work closely with Sandria B. Freitag, Michael Grossberg, and the able staff of the Association in addressing matters of enormous professional importance and concern. And I know that division members Donna Guy, Cheryl Martin, and Jacqueline Jones will continue to give Stan Katz the same friendship and support that made my work such a pleasure. The Research Division and the Association itself remain in very good hands.
—William G. Rosenberg (Univ. of Michigan) is the vice president of the Research Division.