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From the AHA Activities column in the November 2000 Perspectives

The Social Science Research Council: A Report

Iris Berger, November 2000

Editor's Note: In our occasional series of reports on organizations to which AHA sends delegates, we bring you this report (written in January 2000) by AHA's delegate to the SSRC.

The past 18 months have been another period of transition for the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), since Ken Prewitt resigned as president to become director of the U.S. census. Sociologist Orville Brim replaced him for a year as interim president; last summer Craig Calhoun, professor of sociology and history at New York University and chair of the sociology department, became the new president of the council. During the interim period, ongoing SSRC programs continued, but major new initiatives were put on hold. The appointment of Calhoun, who has a wide range of research experience, reaffirms the council's focus on international social sciences. He has taught and conducted research in Europe, Africa, and East Asia, particularly China. The council's newsletter, Items and Issues, describes him as "especially concerned with bridging gaps between historical and cultural research and social science explanations."

Along with the trend towards internationalization of many programs (often dependent on the requirements of funders), the SSRC also maintains its commitment to fostering interdisciplinary work on a wide variety of topics. Historical work is included in most of the individual competitions for funding, although with greater success in some programs than in others. In the International Predissertation Fellowship Program, between 1991 and 1999, 8 percent of fellowships awarded were in history, after political science, sociology, anthropology, and economics. In the newly instituted program on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, however, history had the largest percentage of applications (19.1 percent) and made up 25.6 percent of those selected for the final screening. Historians also have done extremely well in the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program, forming a large percentage of both total applicants and successful applicants for both the dissertation and postdoctoral fellowship programs. In the 1999 dissertation fellowship competition, 5 of 10 awards went to historians; in 1998, 5 of 7 postoctoral fellows were historians.

In outlining his goals to the board, the new president noted five areas of emphasis for the council in the future, some of them continuing older directions, some forging new areas of interest or grouping older programs in new ways. In all these areas, he emphasized the mission of the SSRC to create and define new fields within the social sciences and to create human capital in these fields through training programs. Many of these initiatives and programs have components that involve historical understanding, whether addressing transitions to democracy, nationalism and ethnic conflict, new challenges for global peace and security, the social production of memory following periods of political repression, or ethnic customs and American law. Thus, although some programs might pay more attention to history than they do, historical understanding continues to be a critical component of most council activities.

—Iris Berger (SUNY at Albany) is the AHA delegate to the SSRC.