The AHA Review Board: A Preliminary Report
5. THE DIVISIONS OF THE ASSOCIATION
In the three parts of our report presented as 5A, 5B, and 5C below, we have attempted further to spell out our views on the proposed three divisions of the association. Our aim is to give all major activities in the service of history appropriate weight and recognition, adequate staff assistance, and proper claims upon the budget. We consider these proposals among the most important we are putting forth.
Traditionally the encouragement of research and scholarship has been the major concern of the American Historical Association, and its contribution over the years to that end has been rich and distinguished. The importance of this activity and the desirability of its continuation need no elaboration or justification here.
The Review Board intends that the Research Division, through its committees, provide means to facilitate the varied research activities that concern the historical profession in the United States. It should play the critical role of establishing priorities in the association’s encouragement and support of research. It should continue to foster the well-established activities of the association, such as publication of the American Historical Review, and the annual meeting, that promote research and disseminate its results. It should continuously examine what new activities are worthy of recognition and encouragement and by what means.
Under the jurisdiction of the Research Division should fall those matters that have been the concern of the Committee on Quantitative Data in History, the Committee on East Asian Relations, and the Committee on Information Sciences, including responsibility for Writings on American History. The division should consider the updating of Writings on American History, which now covers the years 1902 to 1958. However, the Review Board believes that the series should be updated only if sufficient external funding can be found so as to prevent an unreasonable drain on the association’s resources. The division may wish to explore the feasibility of updating the series or of substituting some other form of publication, in conjunction with the Organization of American Historians, with the National Historical Publications Commission, or through some appropriate arrangements with ABC-Clio of Santa Barbara, California.
This division should be alert to new developments or needs in historical research and encourage exploration of fresh areas of investigation and the use of new and promising tools. Within the framework of this division there should be ample room to create ad hoc committees as needed to facilitate research in specialized areas (e.g., oral history, quantitative history, or histories of minorities).
Encouragement should be given to the National Endowment for the Humanities and to foundations to continue their support of historical research through fellowships and grants-in-aid to individual scholars as well as by grants to groups.
Recognizing the association’s concern with the preservation and management of private, local, state, and national archives, this division can serve as liaison with the directors of important archival collections. In cooperation with the Professional Division it should be attentive to insuring equality of opportunity for qualified historians to pursue their research in archives and to encourage timely declassification of documents.
This division should encourage the reproduction of historical documents and out-of-print materials useful to a broad spectrum of historians. It may wish to explore the use of new, less expensive methods of reproduction so that more timely, wider dissemination may be achieved.
This division should encourage the activities of responsible groups devoted to the preservation of historical monuments and artifacts and suggest objects worthy of their concern.
We also propose that this division examine opportunities to improve historians’ relations with publishers, investigate additional methods and auspices for historical publications, and discuss such questions as editorial standards and ethics. Moreover, the division should assume supervision of association activities regarding the preservation, deposit, and use of aural and visual archives.
In cooperation with the Organization of American Historians, the American Association for State and Local History, the Southern Historical Association, and the Society of American Archivists, the division should develop a set of guidelines and standards which could be used by local historical societies to improve the services they offer and the standards of their publications.
Finally, the division might consider the creation of a prize or prizes (none of which need carry a cash award) for recent, unpublished doctoral dissertations. We believe that current difficulties in obtaining publication argue for the recognition of meritorious unpublished work of younger scholars.
Though the overwhelming majority of our membership invest most of their energies in teaching history, the association has devoted comparatively little effort directly to improving the state of historical studies in the classroom.
The creation of AHA committees concerned with various aspects of teaching has had limited benefits. Without discounting the work of these committees, the context within which they labored was ill-suited to a sustained and systematic contribution to the improvement of history teaching. On the whole their work tended to support those skeptics who questioned what the AHA could do in the area of teaching. This unimaginative posture marks the low point of a trend which needs to be broken if the association is fully to promote historical scholarship.
If the membership has not been in the habit of looking to the association for aid in the teaching of history, it is because the association has had little to offer. But the association offered little because little was demanded by its membership. This situation undoubtedly reflected the professional preoccupation of the membership with scholarship. Though the nature of the profession has changed dramatically over the past three decades, the image of the association continues to discourage historians who are teachers from seeking any benefits from membership in the AHA. In the last dozen years the membership of our association doubled against a dramatic backdrop of a general expansion of mass higher education. With many of these new members came a growing concern with the teaching aspect of our profession, a concern rooted in both a philosophical re-evaluation of the state of the discipline and the conditions of employment in the 1960s. Symptoms of the problem permeate our professional experience: high school students predisposed to avoid history in college, college students indifferent to a history irrelevant to their present interests, undergraduate history enrollments declining with the liberalization of curricular requirements, and new Ph.D.’s caught in a crowded marketplace, ill-prepared to teach and hesitant to devote energy to the task in a profession that has hardly rewarded those who would communicate history to non-professionals. There is no level of the academic hierarchy which escapes the teaching dimension: teaching links secondary school teacher to the college professor, and the Ph.D. candidate-teaching assistant to the university graduate professor.
From the Review Board’s deliberations on these issues emerges the proposal for the establishment of the Teaching Division. The Teaching Division is an institutional structure parallel to those devoted to research and to the professional concerns of historians. It will have meaning only in so far as it is combined with a reorientation of the ways in which the association serves historical scholarship. That the Teaching Division is a parallel structure is meant to convey the fundamental need to invest the teaching function with a status and recognition equal to that previously reserved only for research.
In function, the Teaching Division should extend the work attended to by the existing committees which are devoted to teaching, but with certain differences. It should replace the committee structure which has made sharp distinctions between “the schools,” “undergraduate teaching,” and “Ph.D. programs” with a more unified and integrated perspective. It should absorb the work of the present Committee on Teaching in the Schools, the Advisory Committee on the History Education Project, the Committee on Undergraduate Teaching, and the Committee on Documentary and TV Films. As teaching is the common work of the historical profession, distinctions in levels of teaching should imply no distinctions in quality of scholarship. Teaching is illuminated by scholarship as scholarship is communicated by teaching and any undertaking of the division should involve historians from all levels of the academic-educational hierarchy.
The broad conception of teaching should reflect a concern for the communication of history beyond the classroom. The Teaching Division might represent the association in media productions of historical import and attempt to promote better uses of historical knowledge in popular productions.
We recognize, finally, that unlike other association functions effective projects aimed at the improvement of teaching depend heavily upon personal contact among individuals and that these contacts are not likely to be efficiently facilitated by a national office alone. It is to be expected, therefore, that the Teaching Division will be a leading agent in regionalizing association activities, an idea which has been a recurrent theme in discussions on the reform of the association.
The present operations of the association in the area of teaching may be reviewed in the light of these general considerations. Currently the picture is very unclear. The association has come to recognize a need for change but has not taken any systematic approach to achieving it.
The old Service Center for Teachers has disappeared, but there has been little attempt to evaluate its experience. The failure of this centralized attempt to deal with the problems of teaching in the schools should not preclude or prejudice future attempts of the Teaching Division, operating within the principles outlined above. The major Service Center production was a series of pamphlets for teachers of history. Though a revised “AHA Pamphlets” series in which a thematic and substantive approach replaces the bibliographic focus of the old series is now being developed, it might fall short of the wider potentialities of such an endeavor. A totally new AHA “Historical Studies Series,” as we have proposed in our section on publications of the association, should be developed under the auspices of the Teaching Division. This series would be suitable for wide public appeal and circulation.
The History Education Project (HEP), an association-sponsored umbrella organization of a wide variety of local projects aimed at the improvement of the teaching of history at all levels, has had a mixed record. Too often, it typified the association’s approach to improvement of teaching in its adoption of the hierarchical attitude that exposure to college professors would inevitably improve the school teacher’s performance. At the same time it has demonstrated that vitality in such an undertaking is thoroughly dependent upon locally generated energies. Though handicapped by assumptions of status and by the reluctance of many professors to become involved in such a low-prestige activity, the project has had sufficient local effectiveness to justify continued support and expansion. Through the leadership of the Teaching Division, the association might well broaden the conception of the HEP and reaffirm its support. Thus, the Teaching Division could provide national encouragement for HEP cooperation with other groups with similar objectives such as the various advanced standing testing programs, high school-college teacher exchanges, and local projects independently conceived.
Another noteworthy development is the proposal for a journal on history education. This journal proposes to provide a means for the exchange of ideas and experiences in the teaching of history and to respond to the central concerns outlined here. In addition, the journal proposes a scheme of regionalization that might have great significance as a vehicle for sharing information on all levels of education in history and as an experiment in the decentralization of historical studies. Because this journal could, in many ways, aid in advancing the goals of history education, the project is worthy of the support of the AHA and should be actively sponsored by the Teaching Division.
In addition to reorganizing the existing association-sponsored programs, the Teaching Division will need to initiate further activities. That we need more information about the membership of the association has been mentioned elsewhere, but we especially need more information about historical studies in the classroom. For example, the decade that followed upon the publication of Dexter Perkins and John Snell, The Education of Historians in the United States, witnessed such dynamic and dramatic change that many of their projections and directives may no longer be valid. As that study concentrated upon the graduate education of historians, so a study for the 1970s will have to focus 0n education in history below the graduate level. Accordingly, we urge the leadership of the Teaching Division to consider the initiation of such a project.
Regarding the integral relationship between teaching and the training of professional historians, the recommendations of the Perkins-Snell study on these questions which were cautiously progressive for 1962 and thoroughly protective of the values of research scholarship, were widely ignored because the 1960s was a decade of expansion of Ph.D. programs in history. Perhaps, in the coming decade of retrenchment, graduate departments of history will return to these recommendations and attempt to apply them to their graduate programs. It is a special responsibility of the graduate departments to foster excellence in teaching because it is here that desirable attitudes are formed and communicated to the colleges and schools. We hope that the Teaching Division will be able to encourage the assumption of that responsibility.
At its founding in 1984, the AHA was a scholarly association consisting of a small group of like-minded white men. Throughout this report, we have operated on the premise that today it is an organization of almost 20,000 men and women of diverse backgrounds, diverse views, and diverse historical and occupational concerns. Some will lament this. Others will applaud it. But we believe that, whatever one’s sentiments, this change must be acknowledged, its permanence must be accepted, and the structure and operations of the AHA must now be made to reflect it.
The original constitution of the association committed the AHA to “the promotion of historical studies.” During the early decades of the association’s life, the meaning of this charge was clear enough. As implemented, it entailed publishing the American Historical Review; compiling, editing, and publishing historical documents and bibliographic aids; and sponsoring annual meetings whose chief purpose was to provide for the exchange and evaluation of scholarship. These were widely considered to be the primary endeavors of the organization.
It is no indictment of the achievements of that earlier association to conclude that, even then, the AHA held to a somewhat restricted view of what might fall within the charter definition of “kindred purposes.” In part because of the size and homogeneity of the profession, in part because of the nature of historians’ student clientele and of the universities with which members were almost universally becoming identified, in part because of the canons of occupational advancement, many matters of professional import could either be ignored or assumed.
Sometimes purposefully, sometimes inadvertently, the posture of the AHA has changed dramatically in the last quarter century. It has provided employment service for historians. It has investigated allegations of deprivation of rights and defended historians from suit. It has sponsored the production of historical films. This is not the occasion to explore in detail the causes of this transformation. It has come about through changes in the American educational system, the resultant rapid increase in the size of association membership, broad cultural conditions that have simultaneously affected other professional groups, and the opportunities, challenges, and stresses peculiar to the historical enterprise in the United States today. The question before us is how the AHA is to respond to changes which have already taken place and how it is to prepare itself for whatever further demands are made upon it and the profession as a whole.
The Professional Division should have responsibility over those matters which concern the rights, privileges, and opportunities of all historians, whether members or non-members of the association.
The goal of improving and promoting historical studies involves a concern with the general conditions under which the historian pursues his work as well as with research and the development of teaching materials. Therefore, providing assistance where appropriate in gathering and disseminating information on the employment conditions of historians (including, for example, such matters as salaries, teaching loads, class size, terms of appointment, opportunity for research leaves and grants, and other institutional conditions affecting the historian) would properly fall within the activities of the Professional Division. Another function would be to recommend guidelines for the use of the employers of historians.
This division should ensure broad representation of women and minority groups in the profession. It should encourage widened participation and representation of women and minority groups in the structure and activities of the association. It should concern itself with sustained efforts to promote real access of women and minority groups to training and employment in order to ensure a truly representative profession.
The problems of the proliferation of graduate degrees in history attracted the attention of the association in 1965–66. At that time a committee was appointed to study the problem and make recommendations. Within the next few years, the initial problem of the standards for Ph.D. programs was complicated by the pressure felt on the job market where new Ph.D.’s were having an increasingly difficult time securing academic positions. It is now apparent that both these concrete problems reflect a more general agitation within the historical profession that is both philosophical and political in nature. The Review Board views this matter as a legitimate concern of the association. Recent efforts of the Committee on Ph.D. Programs, such as its statement to incoming graduate students on current employment prospects and its initiation of discussions leading to the creation of a committee of the chairmen of graduate departments, are useful.
Consistent and continuing study of changing career opportunities for historians should be undertaken to ensure employment of historians in areas other than teaching. Related to this, the Professional Division should take some initiative in exploring possible developments in graduate training that would prepare students for wider employment competence.
The Review Board, after considering the variety of complex factors beyond the association’s control, could not recommend that the AHA move toward becoming an accrediting agency. Nor should it attempt to impose rigid control on the new enrollment of graduate students, thereby arbitrarily limiting the number of new recruits to the field.
It should, however, encourage graduate departments to share information on enrollment and innovations in their programs. It should also seek to gather and disseminate accurate information on projected employment possibilities and future needs to graduate schools and prospective candidates for graduate degrees.
While broad concerns of academic freedom are no doubt directly within the purview of the AAUP, the Professional Division of the association should be willing both to receive complaints that clearly relate to the historical discipline and to assist the AAUP and other such agencies in obtaining information necessary for judicial assessment.
The AHA, however, cannot and should not be a court of the first instance in academic freedom litigation. The Professional Division may determine the need to investigate particular problems touching the welfare of the discipline and may be required to make recommendations to the association. Nevertheless, such activity should be pursued with great caution and only as an extraordinary undertaking.
The AHA’s relations with the federal government could be summarized, perhaps, as informal, ad hoc, advisory, and concerned basically with the research needs of historians. While the need to maintain a perspective of detachment on federal government intentions is crucial to the function of the historian as observer-analyst, one must also recognize the serious problems posed for the profession by some current developments. Several possibly irreversible trends raise the troubling question of whether procedures and structure based on the ideal portrait of the true historian can cope with current and projected realities of life in America.
The two trends which would seem to cause the greatest concern are: 1) the greater involvement of the federal government in education at all levels; 2) the greater involvement of business and industry in education.
It is not clear at this point how the association could effectively play a role in shaping policy, rather than simply approaching government on an ad hoc basis or taking a basically reactive stance-even if the majority of its members were inclined toward a more aggressive role. In considering the nature of the association’s relations with public agencies, the Review Board concludes that we should reject any proposal of lobbying; this would seriously endanger, under the current laws, the association’s tax status. We do recommend that the association’s officers take cognizance of any federal or state actions related to the objectives of the association and testify as concerned citizens and expert witnesses at hearings on legislation related to the objectives of the association. We also urge that the association continue its traditional avoidance of political activities.
Under the Professional Division the various relationships with the federal government (represented in such institutions as the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Department of State, the Office of Education, and the Smithsonian Institution) should be coordinated.
The division should implement AHA policy toward federal agencies and deal with them on specific issues, and it should supply pertinent information on government policies and programs, with analysis of impact, to the AHA. It might also make recommendations to the AHA on strategic points of the decision process where historians need to exert themselves.
The association must take seriously its chartered obligation to act “in the interest of American history, and of history in America.” Toward this end, this division should stimulate public interest in the whole of our national past, and encourage the communications media to draw upon the historian’s knowledge in providing information essential for an understanding of contemporary events.
The Review Board does not believe that the association, qua association, should take or state positions on broad public issues. As historians, however, we have a special expertise that can illuminate the historical basis and background for a variety of urgent public issues that are rooted in the past. The association should, through its annual program, its publications, and its research activities give room and encouragement for such analysis, inquiry, and discussion on the part of historians. Without involving moral judgments or specific policy recommendations, such activities should emphasize the diversity of understandings that prevail. They should also underscore the historical complexities underlying contemporary issues, whose existence the association cannot ignore.
The only public adversary position that the association can adopt consistent with its charter and constitution is one based upon the need to disseminate historical information more broadly and to encourage the public to become more historically minded. If we are to increase public appreciation of the utility of history, then we must serve that public more directly and visibly than the association now does.
Last Updated: July 25, 2007 10:18 AM