From the AHA Activities column of the September 2011 issue of Perspectives on History
AHA Membership on the Rise Again in 2011
Robert B. Townsend, September 2011
The Association enjoyed a modest increase in membership over the past year. The number of annual dues-paying members increased by 227, alongside the addition of four new life members. We also modestly increased the number of complimentary memberships we give out, primarily to journalists and others that we hope will engage with and share our work. As a result of these changes, we show a net increase of 250 total memberships over the previous year—an increase of 1.7 percent—to 14,196 total members.
Much of the overall gain came from graduate students and faculty at an early stage in their careers. We have seen substantial growth in the number of new and student members in recent years, and a significant number of former students are moving into the new Early Career category, which now holds almost 500 members.
Students at all levels now account for 32 percent of the Association's members. A decade ago (in 2001), they accounted for only 15 percent of the total membership. The growth in the number of younger members offers a positive indicator for the future of the Association—assuming the difficulties in the job market settle out soon.
We also saw a net decline of 392 members from the higher-level dues categories that help subsidize dues for the rest of the membership. Movement between the income-based dues categories indicates that even devoted members of the AHA are suffering from the financial hardships of the economy, as 5.9 percent of the members in the upper-income categories moved down at least one category when they renewed this past year.
Perhaps most regrettably, despite the changes implemented five years ago at the recommendation of our Task Force on Public History, the number of public historians has declined substantially in recent years—by 45 percent since 2000. The only area outside of academia showing substantial growth is in the number of self-identified "amateur”historians (up 56 percent in the past decade, to 144 members).
Currently 69.8 percent of the AHA's members are affiliated with four-year colleges and universities. This has grown substantially in recent years, due almost entirely to the increase in the proportion of student members.
Among the fields of specialization, the proportion of members indicating European history as their major field of interest continues to decline slowly, and is now selected by only 38.5 percent—down from 41.5 percent a decade ago. U.S. history specialists are now approaching parity at 36.2 percent. And for the first time, historians in Asian history have become the third largest area of specialization among AHA members (at 8.0 percent).
In another first, cultural history declined (albeit slightly, to 7.8 percent) among the self-selected topical fields of our membership. The history of religion continues its slow ascent (also at 7.8 percent), while military and diplomatic history also increased slightly (to 4.0 and 4.2 percent respectively).
More generally, the proportion of women in the membership continues to rise slowly but steadily—growing from 38.7 percent to 39.4 percent in the past year. Back in 1992, the first year for which we have data, women accounted for 32.5 percent of the membership. The membership is also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse by slow increments, though much of the growth has been in the "Other”category, which increased from 3.0 to 4.2 percent of the members responding to this question over the past 10 years.
Robert Townsend is the AHA's deputy executive director. This article appeared first as a post on the Association's blog, AHA Today, on July 19, 2011.