Research Division 2008
by Teofilo Ruiz
I have had the great honor and pleasure to serve as vice president for research under the leadership of three remarkable women presidents: Linda Kerber, Barbara Weinstein (with whom I share good friends and research interests), and, finally, the tenure of my dear friend and medieval history colleague Gabrielle Spiegel. Time, especially at my age, moves quickly. It seems to me that it was yesterday and not three years ago, when I took on these responsibilities. Over the last three years, the Research Division, like the AHA, has sought to promote new programs, to serve its constituencies, and to advocate for historians and the study of history. Some of these projects, the division inherited from my predecessor. Others are part of the division’s jurisdiction, and three other initiatives of my own are underway, though perhaps not as quickly or as fully as I would have hoped.
The two large programs on our agenda were the Sites of Encounter and Cultural Production project and an initiative to assist early career scholars employed at institutions that do not support research. The third was to attempt to have the AHA reach out to historians in other countries. As to the first two initiatives, over the past year we have held two planning meetings for the Sites of Encounter project, which has recently taken on more of a more pedagogical and public history focus. In our first session for the project at last January’s meeting, we found terrific enthusiasm for the project among K–12 teachers. And, together with the Teaching Division, we have scheduled two more sessions for the 2009 meeting. Currently project directors in the southern California area are working on a fund-raising plan, and I expect that the Teaching Division will continue to carry on the project together with the Research Division in the coming year. The Sites of Encounter project now has the support of the Long Beach Public School system, UCLA, USC, the California Social Sciences Project, History for Us All, the Autry Museum, the Huntington Library, and other educational and public institutions in southern California, as well as ties to the Chatham School district in New York.
The initiative to support junior scholars was laid out in considerable detail in an article, “Supporting Scholars Early in Their Careers,” published in the May 2008 Perspectives on History. We hope to develop a support system that will combine mentorship with tangible financial support for research. The article received a very positive response, particularly from younger scholars who validated the need for this initiative. Although I am quite disappointed that we could not find the funding necessary to implement this program, I am, nonetheless, quite pleased that these proposals run parallel to a number of initiatives being planned by the Graduate and Early Career Committee, so I expect this program to continue under their auspices. As to the internationalization of the AHA, the Research Division was able to secure funding to bring young scholars from abroad last year. This is an initiative we must all support in the years to come.
Aside from these newer programs, much of the division’s time is taken up with its various oversight responsibilities. This past year the division made a number of small adjustments to the annual meeting guidelines to help further the reforms put in place five years ago. I think the exceptionally large and diverse range of sessions in the program for this year’s meeting attests to the great success of these changes.
We also made a number of small changes to the book prizes and awards, which also fall under our purview. The most notable change is to the criteria for the John E. Dunning Prize. Since that is the only prize that is substantially for U.S. history, we decided to drop the requirement that it “must be awarded to a young scholar” for their first or second monograph. The rules were only imperfectly understood or enforced, so this seemed to make better sense. But we are concerned that this could also place an enormous burden on the selection committee, since it already receives a very large number of submissions. Unfortunately, because the endowment for the prize is too small we cannot award the Dunning Prize more often than every other year. I hope that when the economy improves, staff will be able to do some fund-raising to assure that it can be awarded more often.
I am also pleased to report that the Gutenberg-e project wrapped up this year, as the final books were published. The books are now available in open access from the Columbia University Library, and also through the Humanities E-Book. The AHA staff continue to work with Columbia University to provide publicity for the books, and are also working with other scholars as they consider what we can learn from the project.
Finally, the division oversees the American Historical Review. The Review has been superbly managed by Robert Schneider over the past years, and we are quite enthusiastic in endorsing a renewal of his term for another five years.
A number of other small issues also came up that the division staff tended to. Of particular note among these was the decision to join a lawsuit organized by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., seeking to force the office of the U.S. vice president to preserve the records of his office through the coming transition in administrations. The vice president has not always been clear about whether he is part of the executive branch, particularly when it comes to his records. So this seemed to be the only way to ensure those records will be available for future historians. The courts generally seem to be supporting our views on this.
The division staff also continues to work on the issue of institutional review boards, as historians who use oral history in their research continue to be harassed by their vague and sometimes arbitrary policies. The staff continues to provide information and support to historians who find themselves in trouble with these boards, and also continue to work with federal officials to get the rules clarified or changed.
Lastly, as my term comes to an end, I owe special thanks to all the members of the division who have been so helpful during my tenure, particularly Nick Salvatore, who will also be rotating off the division this year. Having served for three years as vice president, I am still in awe by all the wonderful work the staff does for the Association and its membership. Arnita Jones, Noralee Frankel, Sharon Tune, Debbie Doyle, Randy Norell, and many others serve this organization and its members in a most selfless and efficient manner. But my special thanks go to Robert Townsend, whose help and support over the last three years have been invaluable. He makes the Research Division, and many other things in the AHA, far better than we could ever manage. To them all, we owe a great debt and endless thanks.
Teofilo Ruiz (UCLA) is vice president of the Research Division.