Research Division 2003

The Research Division has an exceptionally broad mandate that covers oversight of the AHA’s publications, prizes, and meetings, as well as general advocacy for historical research. So a new vice president finds it difficult to know where to concentrate his efforts. But two concerns—one by choice and one by necessity—dominated my first year: reform of the AHA annual meeting and the search for a new editor for the American Historical Review (AHR).

Our efforts to reassess the form and structure of the AHA’s annual meeting struck a chord with members. My article on the subject in Perspectives drew a record number of responses, almost all of them favoring change in the format of the meeting. Members of the Research Division conducted discussions with numerous colleagues, and for the most part they heard the same message. AHA members, while often enthusiastic about particular sessions and features of the annual meeting, are critical of the format as a whole. They think that we need more variety in formats, more discussion, and less formal reading of papers. And we are not alone in these concerns. In a survey of other scholarly societies, we found that they too are rethinking the way they organize and shape their meetings.

In response to this widespread sentiment, the division is considering a range of proposals to address both the structural and cultural problems that stand in the way of a better meeting. We hope to improve the way we invite submissions, expand the mandate and opportunities given to the Program Committee, and provide pressure where needed to change the way panels are organized.

This is a formidable but exciting undertaking. A less-happy, but still necessary task has been that of finding a new editor for the AHR. Over the past eight years, Michael Grossberg has done a truly remarkable job, negotiating both intellectual and technological changes in the profession—and we are fortunate to have his services for another year. He will be greatly missed and the challenge of replacing him is a daunting one.

The division spent a great deal of time discussing how to find someone who could bring a similar range of talents to the AHR. Over the past year, working together with faculty at Indiana University, we have widely solicited nominations and applications from the field. A search committee co-chaired by David Ransel (Indiana Univ.) and me and including Lynn Struve (Indiana Univ.) and Martha Howell (Columbia Univ.) reviewed the candidatures.

In addition to these two larger issues, we have also devoted attention to three other important concerns. First, we are happy to report progress in our longstanding efforts to get oral history excluded from oversight by institutional review boards (IRBs). For years now, many oral historians have suffered under the arbitrary application of regulations originally designed for medical investigations. Thanks to the good efforts and negotiations of former division- and Council-member Linda Shopes and former Council member Donald Ritchie, the Office of Human Resource Protections—a branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which supervises the IRBs—approved new HHS guidelines that distinguish oral history from other forms of scientific research. We have been encouraging interested historians to review the amended policy and convey it to relevant Institutional Review Boards.

Second, as part of the division’s advocacy role on issues of research, we have been actively engaged in the debates about the perceived crisis in scholarly publishing, which started among the major research libraries, the university press community, and the Modern Language Association. The staff of the division surveyed available data, and conducted a survey of tenure practices in history departments. Robert Townsend has published a very revealing overview of the situation in Perspectives, which has attracted significant attention, and President James McPherson devoted a presidential column to the subject. Thus far, the evidence and the mild expressions of interest from members suggest that difficulties in publishing scholarly monographs are not having as much of an impact on historians as, say, upon literary scholars. Nevertheless, there is evidence that younger scholars in some fields (for example, Latin American history) are having difficulty getting their monographs published. In addition, a worsening of the situation of university presses, which is widely predicted, could make the problem a more general one for historians, especially since, as our tenure survey documented, book publication is a de facto requirement for tenure in most history departments. As a result, we are continuing to track the issue closely, and are now considering a more detailed survey of the profession and editors who publish in the field.

Finally, the issue of disseminating history scholarship to a wide audience has been on the division’s agenda for a couple years now. Because the AHR is now also published online, we can, in theory, offer access to its full contents to everyone without incurring any additional costs. This is an attractive possibility although some worry that “open access” will erode the Association’s revenue base. In the spring, the division submitted a proposal to the Council, which recommended opening access to online AHR articles while limiting access to reviews only to subscribers. We thought this would balance the Association’s social and professional mission—to provide wide access to a public good (research)—against the costs for producing and publishing that scholarship. The Council chose not to accept the division’s proposal—in part due to unrelated problems in the journal subscription industry. My personal hope is that a friendlier financial picture will create an opportunity to reconsider the issue in the coming year.

Let me close by expressing my thanks to the members of the Research Division for their help over the past year, especially our departing members David Harris Sacks and Louis Pérez. I am also deeply indebted to the extraordinarily talented and dedicated AHA staff, especially Assistant Director Robert Townsend—and his research associates, Deirdre Murphy and Mériam Belli—whose tireless and creative efforts have been essential to our work over the past year.

Roy Rosenzweig (George Mason Univ.) is vice president of the Research Division.