Professional Division 2008

by David J. Weber

Three of the Professional Division’s members are new this year; but the continuing members of the division, Jane Hathaway (Ohio State University) and Leisa Meyer (William and Mary College), together with the AHA’s extraordinary staff, have assured continuity as the division carries out its mission as defined by its predecessors.

Three members rotated off the Professional Division in 2007: Vice President Anthony Grafton, Spencer Crew, and Art Gómez. They were replaced by David J. Weber (Southern Methodist), Kristin L. Ahlberg (U.S. Department of State), and Trudy Peterson (consulting archivist).

The mission of the Professional Division had changed substantially in 2003 when the AHA ended 15 years of adjudication of allegations of misconduct in the historical profession. A new mission statement, approved by the AHA Council in 2003 and augmented on January 3, 2008, requires the Professional Division to articulate “ethical standards and best practices in the historical profession,” and to develop “advisory materials to assist historians in navigating the professional opportunities, challenges, and dilemmas they encounter in their work.”

Toward that end, the division sponsored the preparation of documents that spell out best practices or offer advisory opinions. The most comprehensive of these documents is the Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, which has gone through various iterations, the latest of which was approved by the Council in January 2005. This document continues to inform the division as it initiates or revises advisory documents, such as “Running a Job Search: Some Practical Suggestions,” by Jane Hathaway, which appeared in the October 2008 issue of Perspectives on History, “Recommendations for Review, Promotion, and Tenure,” by Leisa Meyer, and “Guidelines for the Hiring Process” (updated July 2008). Other advisory documents are still in a state of preparation, including “Graduate Student Health Insurance: Summary and Recommendations,” written by Leisa Meyer.

The Statement on Standards has also guided the division as it carries out one of the most time-consuming parts of its mission: “Responding to queries about the AHA’s Statement of Standards....” Those queries, which are confidential, represent a wide range of problems and are often complex.

Another of the Professional Division’s charges is “to ensure fair treatment of all historians, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, [or] disability, in the course of their professional training and their careers in the historical profession.” The division continued to fulfill this part of its mission in the following ways:

  • The division re-published an advisory opinion regarding age discrimination (Perspectives on History, December 2008).

  • Together with the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History (an affiliated society), the division requested the AHA Council to approve creation of a Joint Task Force on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Historians.

  • The division joined with the Disability History Association to create a joint task force on historians with disabilities. The Task Force, which began its work in June 2008, is to “gather information about the concerns of historians with disabilities and propose concrete, practical solutions for as many of them as possible. One focus of attention will be the annual meetings of the AHA and the possibilities and costs of making them accessible to all members. But the task force will also attend more broadly to the special problems faced by historians with disabilities in the job market and in all stages of their careers.”

  • The division called for the submission of proposals for panels and papers on the history of disability for the 2010 meeting in San Diego.

  • The division proposed to the Council revisions to the language on disability in current AHA documents. 

The Professional Division is also charged with addressing “concerns relating to the practice of public history,” and has done so during 2008 in two ways:

  • At the urging of the Professional Division, the Council voted in June to re-create a Joint Committee on Historians and Archivists.

  • The division joined with the Organization of American Historians and the National Council on Public History to produce a 48-page preliminary report on evaluating public history scholarship. That preliminary draft was placed before the Council for its guidance. 

The division is charged with supporting “the free movement of students, scholars, and ideas into and out of the United States” and paying “special attention to the problems faced by foreign scholars... in the United States.” Former AHA president Barbara Weinstein graciously acceded to a request from the division to draft a joint statement with the American Council of Learned Societies on the free flow of scholars and scholarship across international borders.

The Professional Division is charged with “collecting and disseminating information about historical employment” and “monitoring job markets in history and overseeing AHA roles therein.” No one monitors the job market more skillfully and thoroughly than Robert Townsend, the AHA’s assistant director for research and publications, whose frequent articles on the market appear in the AHA’s Perspectives on History.

Most of the items in this report focus on the production of documents, but the division has not limited itself to the written word. At the 2009 annual meeting in New York City, the division has sponsored, or cosponsored, sessions on “Interviewing in the Job Market in the Twenty-First Century” (sess. 51), “Discrimination/Harassment on the Job” (sess. 79), “The History Job Market: Opportunities, Problems, and Fixes” (sess. 133), and an Open Forum on Disability.

David J. Weber (Southern Methodist University) is vice president of the Professional Division.