From the AHA Activities column in the March 1998 Perspectives
Annual Report of the Research Division
Stanley N. Katz, February 1998
The Research Division (RD) has had an active year doing all of the sorts of things that have customarily formed the primary responsibilities of the division.
In many ways our most important responsibility is oversight of the American Historical Review. This has been a pleasure, thanks to the superb management of the journal under its editor, Michael Grossberg. The RD's task is general oversight and consultation, since the AHR has its own editorial board to deal with the substantive side of editing. The editor consults with us on appointments to the editorial board, on occasional business matters, and on anything else that relates to the journal's relationship to the Association. This year our most important discussions have concerned the possible transition to electronic publication. It is inevitable that such a transition will take place in the not-too-distant future, although none of us can imagine termination of the print version. In all likelihood there will be simultaneous electronic and print versions of the AHR. But before that can take place, Mike Grossberg (and the RD) must ponder difficult questions of technology, economics, copyright law, and scholarly impact. The first step was the conference on the electronic publication of history journals that the AHR and the Journal of American History held last summer in Bloomington—a landmark event. The RD has proposed, and the Council has accepted, that an ad hoc committee on the electronic future of the AHR should be appointed to advise the editor and the Association on this important and complicated matter.
The RD continued to supervise the advocacy activities of the Association. In doing so we worked closely, as ever, with Page Miller of the NCC. Our concerns covered such diverse agencies as the National Archives, the National Historic Records and Publications Commission, the State Department, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We see our role as acting to promote and defend the interests of historians in public institutions and public policies of concern to the profession. For instance, we supported the formulation of new standards for electronic records at the National Archives, and the establishment of new legal rules regarding historians' access to historic grand jury records. Alas, we seem to spend more time trying to assure that our interests are not harmed than in opening up new opportunities.
The RD is the division with oversight responsibility for the program of the annual meeting of the Association. We help to nominate the Program Committee chairs, and work with them to ensure competent and representative Program Committee members. We discuss with them general plans for the meetings, and serve as a listening post for the Association when members have suggestions or criticisms of the programming. It seems clear that the annual meeting program is necessarily a work in progress, and the division will devote more time next year to consideration of the broader issues regarding the nature of the program.
Finally, the RD has supervision of certain aspects of prizes and fellowships. The division has for years actually served as the selection committee for the Beveridge, Kraus, Littleton-Griswold, and Schmitt awards. My predecessor, William Rosenberg, had suggested that the RD delegate this responsibility to independent committees, and the Council accepted our recommendation to do that. This will free us to spend more time in deliberating on the issues of general research policy, which should be our dominant concern. We are also responsible for recommending general policy with respect to book prizes, and this year the Council accepted our suggestion that potential donors of new prizes consider dedicating these prizes to the subvention of publications, rather than monetary awards to individual authors. We hope that a successful program of this sort will enable the Association to be of substantial assistance in assisting the publication of worthy manuscripts.
I have made it my commitment as vice president for research to focus the energies of the division on the problems and opportunities of the impact of information technology on research in history. Clearly the potential conversion of the AHR to online electronic publication is the most important of these. But there are many related problems, such as the use of information technology in teaching history, in monograph publication, in communication among historians around the world, in access to library and archival material, and many more. But none of these problems is so urgent as the ongoing transformation of intellectual property law (primarily the law of copyright). Information technology is forcing a worldwide as well as domestic debate on the property rights of the creators of literary (and other) works, on the problems of new forms of transmission of and access to these works, and the like. The danger is that the political and economic forces driving the debate will produce international treaties and domestic legislation for the electronic era that will destroy the careful balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users (especially the concept of "fair use") that have been established in the current print environment. In my judgment, this is the most important policy issue facing us as a profession of teachers and authors, a profession responsible for the preservation of culture and the transmission of culture to democratic society. The division will continue to devote as much time as possible to these issues over the next two years, and will bring recommendations for action to the Council.
Our plate is quite full.
—Stanley N. Katz (Princeton Univ.) is the vice president of the Research Division of the AHA.