Pausing to Refresh: This Summer at the AHA
Arnita A. Jones, May 2002
From the Executive Director's column of the May 2002 Perspectives
The May issue of Perspectives is the last one before its summer break, a tradition established during an earlier era when many academic institutions closed down from June through August, but also a recognition that most of our readers are teachers or students and often away from their normal routines during the summer. The AHA publications staff are not on vacation, however; rather, they turn to the preparation of other publications. This year, for the first time, we plan to publish a summer issue of Perspectives Online. Employment notices will continue to be published electronically during the summer as they have been for the past two years.
Another publication that is usually produced during the summer is the massive Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians in the United States and Canada, which the Association has been publishing since 1976. The Directory is now a very different publication from its original incarnation as the Guide to Departments of History. An indispensable reference tool for the field, it includes the names and institutional affiliations of more than 22,000 historians, and provides information on more than 800 different history departments and historical organizations. For AHA members (though only for those who wish), e-mail addresses and additional subject specialties are also included.
We will also complete production of Careers for Historians, a new publication on employment opportunities in the field. Aimed at undergraduate students and others considering graduate school, it was developed in cooperation with the Graduate Program in Public History at the University of South Carolina and the National Council on Public History and should be ready for distribution in mid-summer. Chapters on historians, editors, archivists, consultants, and teachers are included with profiles of individual historians who have pursued careers in these fields. We expect it should be a lively and useful publication for history teachers and students.
Concerns about history careers figure prominently in an interesting set of letters sparked by AHA President Lynn Hunt's recent Perspectives essay, "Has Professionalization Gone Too Far?" which seems to have touched a nerve. (See pages 47–52) In some sense these communications mirror AHA's dual role as both a learned society and a professional association, a duality which is not new. The AHA's Committee on Graduate Education reflects these concerns as well. Now in its second year, the committee has been working to understand both changes in intellectual currents in the discipline as well as the ways in which graduate students are prepared for the employment opportunities they will need to find if they are to pursue historical scholarship and learning. The committee will complete its schedule of site visits this month and plans to begin preparing a report on doctoral programs during the summer, with a view to circulating it in draft form next fall. It will be reviewed by the AHA's Professional, Teaching, and Research Divisions and will also be the focus of another open forum at the next annual meeting. We are hoping that these efforts lead to a constructive conversation among historians about the current state of graduate education in our discipline as well as what might be the outlook for the future.
Another effort that does not fall into the category of business as usual is the Task Force on Public History. Commissioned by the Council last year, the task force held its first in-person meeting this spring in Washington. It is developing a survey instrument to gather information from AHA's members on their concerns and interests relating to public history and will also review—at the Council's request—how professional standards and practices developed by the Association relate to individuals pursuing public history careers. The task force plans to explore how better communications with other organizations that represent public historians might be established and also to work closely with the Committee on Graduate Education as it considers how public history degree programs and public history careers fit into the larger picture of graduate education in history.
Part-time employment continues to be an issue that the Association monitors in several ways. We have now established a permanent joint committee (with the Organization of American Historians) on part-time employment. In addition the AHA has been an active member of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) since 1997 when the group sponsored a national conference on "The Growing Use of Part-time and Adjunct Faculty" and drew wider attention to the issue. The coalition subsequently conducted, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a survey of departments in several disciplines, including history, which provided information on the major role that part-time instructors play in undergraduate education. CAW organizations are currently in the planning stages of a conference scheduled for next year that we hope will include higher education administrators as well as officials of accrediting associations and focus on exploring new research on the impact of part-time teaching on student retention and learning.
Advocacy issues have also required attention over the past several months. Late last fall the AHA, together with Public Citizen, the Organization of American Historians, and historians Hugh Davis Graham and Stanley Cutler, filed a lawsuit to overturn President Bush's executive order on presidential records (see Bruce Craig's article, "Executive Orders and Executive Privileges," in the January 2002 Perspectives). After the government filed for dismissal in February, a movement was initiated in the House of Representatives to introduce legislation to "nullify" the executive order.
We have also been asked to consider joining one or more amicus briefs on the copyright extension case, Eldred v. Ashcroft, which the Supreme Court has agreed to hear. The issue for historians in this case is the degree to which extension of copyright will hamper the use of archival records of 20th-century figures.
The AHA was once again a supporter of Jefferson Day, the annual advocacy event for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Historians and other supporters of the endowment visited 126 offices on Capitol Hill representing 26 states to acquaint members of the Senate and House of Representatives with the good work that the agency supports. The event also included a reception of new NEH Chair Bruce Cole, who has announced a new initiative on American history.
Arnita Jones is executive director of the AHA.