Committee Reports 1998
The 1998 AHA annual meeting in Seattle was attended by 3,658 people, and offered a record number of official sessions. Detailed evaluations by session chairs of 76 sessions (49 percent) confirm that this was a very exciting and intellectually stimulating meeting.
The opening plenaries established two themes. Natalie Zemon Davis (Princeton University) and Stuart Schwartz (Yale University) spoke to the benefits and pleasures of doing comparative history and to the unexpected connections that crop up when one trains oneself to look for them. The second plenary on the role of national museums offered a stellar, international lineup. The presentations by Cheng Bo Feng (Nankai' University) and Alissandra Cummins (Barbados Museum and Historical Society) were powerful explorations of the kinds of public conversations—and the political constraints—that national museums address. Unfortunately, two of the panelists, John Kani (Market Theater Company, Johannesburg) and Spencer Crew (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution), were unable to come precisely because of the demands placed on their institutions.
The committee’s active effort to encourage and facilitate comparative sessions was resoundingly successful. We set out to encourage genuinely comparative panels by publishing guidelines in Perspectives and by offering assistance to people who came to us with embryonic ideas. We insisted that comparative sessions seriously engage issues of comparison and that the roles of the chair and commentator were critical to their success. As a result of these efforts, the 1998 program had an unprecedented number of comparative panels, and evaluations repeatedly noted that the sessions had been constructed thoughtfully and that the commentators effectively drew together the comparative themes suggested by the papers. Audiences clearly responded as well, engaging in active, sometimes vigorous, discussions. We conclude from this success that future program committees should continue to provide encouragement and guidelines to people interested in comparative sessions. The possibility of conversation across the boundaries of all the traditional historical fields is unique to the AHA annual meeting.
Evaluations (by session chairs to whom the forms had been mailed) were extremely positive: 31 of the 76 evaluations (or more than 40 percent) were excellent in every respect, prompting such comments as “One of the best sessions I have witnessed.” and “I have rarely enjoyed a session at the AHA as much.” Another 33 evaluations referred to very good sessions which engendered “lively discussions” despite some imperfections such as overlong papers or a presenter absent because of illness. Seven sessions appeared to have been successful but not thrilling, and only two sessions were described in language that suggested they were genuinely disappointing. In one of those cases, the papers simply did not deliver what their titles had promised, and in another a presenter failed to submit a paper or show up for the panel and gave no advance warning or excuse. Although such unprofessional behavior is distressing, it appears to have been extremely rare.
Evaluations generally praised the facilities, which were unusual. Although most sessions were well attended (attendance ranged from 5 to 150, and most sessions were between 20 and 40), those that were small generally elicited explanations focused on program time slots. In fact, every single time slot, with the exception of Friday afternoon, had disadvantages. The most serious problems, however, were on Sunday morning when there can be no doubt that there were some sessions with small turnouts because people from the East coast tended to leave early. The program committee had anticipated this somewhat by scheduling fewer sessions on Sunday than in other time periods. In the future, we would recommend that there be only one Sunday morning session—especially for meetings scheduled on the West Coast. It is important to note that the committee was cognizant of its strict instructions to place several highly popular sessions on Sunday. Indeed, we were careful not to match “popular” sessions with “popular” time slots. Our greatest concern was to avoid placing sessions on similar topics and drawing the same audience in competition with each other. Unfortunately, we have subsequently learned that despite our most careful planning, there were several cases of just this problem. This is probably insurmountable, given the crosscutting nature of intellectual interests at the annual meeting-time, geography, methodology, and subject matter. But we urge continued attention to the problem.
The AHA needs a program that speaks to the profession as a whole, drawn from our enormously varied interests and focuses. It needs regularly to present the greatest thinkers in our profession. At the same time, it should also regularly give voice to the most promising younger scholars, whose work may be shaping the historiography that is just emerging. The health of the discipline depends on our ability to keep the conversation going between newer and older fields and methods, and between historians whose priority is scholarship and those whose priority is teaching. Indeed, teaching sessions continue to be among the best attended. We must continue to balance sessions from which teachers in high schools and community colleges can benefit with sessions that pursue specific historical questions in esoteric detail.
In recent years a very large number of graduate students and brand new PhDs have been on the program. Some members of the AHA find this to be troubling. Many of the very best proposals that we received came from graduate students—in part because they were willing and eager to make the case for the importance of their work and for the conception of the panel as a whole, and in part simply because they are doing stellar work. We had fewer proposals from more senior scholars than we would have liked, no doubt in part because the career incentives for senior scholars to present papers at a meeting are much lower than they are for junior scholars. In addition, in some cases, established scholars did not articulate the coherence of panels or the arguments of papers as well as they could have, perhaps assuming that we would read between the lines and accept their papers because of work they had done in the past. We could not and did not accept panels on the basis of anything but the proposals we have in hand. The Association should continue to encourage senior scholars, as their presence is important to the conference as a whole.
Additional criticism came to the committee from people whose proposals were rejected. Understandably, many of them believed in the worthiness of their proposals. Some went further and asserted that only blind prejudice and favoritism could have resulted in a rejection. Yet as best we can tell, sessions in all fields were accepted in rough proportion to the numbers submitted. As a committee, we reminded ourselves regularly of the need to be inclusive and to pay special attention to underrepresented fields such as diplomatic and military history. We strongly urge those who have been underrepresented to submit proposals and to take an active role in the shaping of the program.
It was a humbling and gratifying experience for us to see the depth and range of our profession. The committee labored long and hard (and with good humor) to assemble a program that we, and the Association, can be proud of. We would like to close by thanking our committee—Charles Ambler (University Of Texas at El Paso), Lonnie Bunch (National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution), Joan Cadden (University of California at Davis), John Chasteen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Paula Findlen (Stanford University), Eric Rothschild (Scarsdale, N.Y., High School), Rosalyn Terborg-Perm (Morgan State University), John Voll (Georgetown University), and Eric Weitz (St. Olaf College)—and the staff of the AHA, especially Sharon K. Tune and Sandria B. Freitag.
Sara Evans and Ann Waltner
On behalf of the Nominating Committee, I am pleased to report the results of the 1998 election for AHA offices. (Elected candidates are indicated with an asterisk.) A total of 3,237 votes were cast.
President (one-year term)
*Robert Darnton, Princeton University (early modern Europe, 18th-century France, history of the book, anthropology and cultural) 2,500
President-Elect (one-year term)
*Eric Foner, Columbia University (19th-century American, American political culture; African American, American radical and reform movements) 1,839
Gordon S. Wood, Brown University (colonial/Revolutionary/early Republic America) 1,286
Vice-President, Professional Division (three-year term)
*Barbara D. Metcalf, University of California at Davis (South Asia, comparative, Islamic studies) 1,542
Peter Stansky, Stanford University (modern Britain) 1,363
Council Members (three-year term)
Robert C. Ritchie, The Huntington (early America, maritime, early modern England) 1,325
*Linda Shopes, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (late 19th- and 20th-century U.S. social and cultural, public and community, oral history) 1,468
Jean H. Quataert, State University of New York at Binghamton (German women nationalism and state building, modern global) 1,131
*Vicki L. Ruiz, Arizona State University (Chicano, U.S. women, U.S.-Mexico border, 20th-century American West/labor/immigration studies) 1,620
Professional Division (three-year term)
Gary W. Reichard, California State University at Long Beach (recent U.S., U.S. political, American immigration and ethnicity) 1,173
*Charles Anthony Zappia, San Diego Mesa College (U.S. labor, social, ethnic) 1,330
Research Division (three-year term)
*Richard L. Greaves, Florida State University (early modern England and Scotland, Restoration Ireland, world) 1,388
Robert A. Rosenstone, California Institute of Technology (cultural, modern, history in visual media) 1,276
Teaching Division (three-year term)
Bryan F. Le Beau, Creighton University (pre-Civil War American cultural and religious) 1,115
*Maxine Neustadt Lurie, Seton Hall University (colonial America, American Revolution, New Jersey) 1,392
Committee on Committees (three-year term)
Gil Joseph, Yale University (Mexico and Central America since Independence, agrarian, legal, U.S.-Latin American relations) 1,109
*William B. Taylor, University of California at Berkeley (colonial period Latin America and modern Mexico, American representations of Mexico, peasant studies, church and religion) 1,445
Nominating Committee (three-year terms)
*Allison Blakely, Howard University (modern Europe, Russia, comparative populism, African diaspora) 1,799
Maghan Keita, Villanova University (African intellectual and medieval, African American, world, medieval, historiography, cultural criticism) 738
*Donald Teruo Hata Jr., California State University at Dominguez Hills (modern Japan, Asian-Pacific American, U.S. social/cultural, history of education) 1,328
Anand A. Yang, University of Utah (South Asia, China, Asian American, comparative, social and cultural, world) 1,168
Brian P. Levack, University of Texas at Austin (early modern Britain and Europe, legal) 1,210
*Sara T. Nalle, William Paterson University (early modern Spain, early modern European cultural and religious) 1,392
The total number of ballots cast was 3,237. Forty-eight ballots arrived after the November 1 deadline and could not be counted. Survey and Ballot Systems, Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, scanned the ballots and tabulated the results. Only 27 ballots needed to be hand counted. Some voters registered their opinions about candidates, and the committee will review these criticisms and comments at its next meeting in February 1999. The committee felt strongly that the final vote should not be published in Perspectives; it will be available in the AHA’s Annual Report and reported to the Business Meeting.
The Nominating Committee met in Washington, D.C., from January 31 to February 2, 1998, This was the second year that the committee had met from Saturday to Monday. Although some telephone calls had to be made by the chair after the meeting had adjourned, the new schedule allowed us to reach nominees more easily. We elected to continue the new schedule for the 1999 meeting, which is tentatively scheduled to be held on February 6-8, 1999. The chair of the 1999 Nominating Committee will be Leo Spitzer (Dartmouth College).
Every year the Nominating Committee issues several appeals to the membership for nominees. In addition to soliciting nominees in the letter published in Perspectives, the chair solicited names directly from the present officers, who responded enthusiastically. We were very successful in having a large group of nominees and vitae provided by the membership and committee members. The committee felt strongly that AHA members should know how much it appreciates their nominations, especially self-nominations. At least three of the 1998 nominees were self-nominated. We also retained and reviewed the vitae of members whose names had been submitted to the committee in previous years, but who had not been selected to stand for office. The process of identifying nominees was also improved with the availability of the AHA membership database at our deliberations. The major impediment to the process continues to be the search for home telephone numbers, which were often missing from the vitae, nominations, and the AHA database. Perhaps most disappointing for the committee was the discovery that some of the people whom we wanted to nominate were not members of the AHA, or they had allowed their memberships to lapse.
As much as we appreciate those who sent in nominations or indicated their own desire to serve, the committee needs more nominations from the membership. While the Association tries to assure that the Nominating Committee is broadly representative of the membership, nominations from the members play a critical role as the first step in defining and implementing the AHA’s mission.
The second step in that process is the election. There was little difference in the level of participation this year (3,237 votes cast) and last year (3,292 votes cast). While the number of votes cast during the past two years represents an improvement over the number of votes cast in 1996 (2,730), the committee continues to be concerned about the low rate of participation in the election process.
The Nominating Committee had hoped that the revised layout and content of the candidate biography would invite greater participation in the election. These changes included: (1) an introductory paragraph describing the nominating process; (2) a list of members currently serving on Council, divisions, and committees and a brief description of their duties; (3) a list of the abbreviations most often used in the biographies; (4) limits placed on the number of publications and awards listed in candidate biographies so that members could identify more clearly those items that candidates deemed to be the most important in their career and most relevant to the position which they sought; and (5) more space for the candidates’ statements describing the relevance of their service and interests to the position for which they had been nominated. The candidates for president-elect were also asked to write a statement about the responsibilities, goals, and problems of the AHA and how they would use the presidency to address them. Members who wanted more details about any candidate could access the candidate’s vita on the AHA web site.
The 1999 Nominating Committee will continue to discuss ways to improve the election process, including soliciting nominations, monitoring the effectiveness of the candidate biography booklet, and increasing the number of members who vote in the election. The chair of the committee will submit to the AHA office revisions to the “Manual of Policies and Procedures.” As always, the committee welcomes members’ comments, suggestions, and nominations. These should be sent to the 1999 chair, Leo Spitzer, in care of Sharon K. Tune, Assistant Director, AHA, 400 A St. SE, Washington, DC 200033889. E-mail: Sharon Tune
In its effort to understand the needs of the AHA and how those needs change from year to year, the Nominating Committee relied on the expert counsel of the executive director, Sandria B. Freitag. Her understanding of the Association’s mission and goals brought clarity and focus to our deliberations. The Nominating Committee reports for the past several years have indicated how Sharon K. Tune has brought immaculate order to our very complex process. The 1998 committee adds its profound gratitude to her and other staff members of the AHA. I would also like to thank the eight other members of the committee and the members of the previous two Nominating Committees who gave me this opportunity to serve the profession. I am especially grateful for the spirit of congeniality that allowed us so effectively to complete the nominating process and so adeptly to respond to the challenge of improving the ballot.
Lillie Johnson Edwards (Drew University)