Teaching Division 2009

by Karen Halttunen, Vice President of the Teaching Division, 2007-2009

My work for the Teaching Division took an unexpected turn one year ago when, as senior vice-president, I was asked to chair a working group to plan a threaded mini-conference, “Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage,” for the San Diego Annual Meeting in 2010.  What began as a strategic alternative to the LGBTQ boycott of the Manchester Hyatt Hotel quickly evolved into a positive intellectual intervention by professional historians into the public debate over marriage policy.  This intervention was made possible by the dramatic growth of new scholarship on the history of marriage, sexuality, and domestic unions.  The initial goal of the working group was to schedule one panel for each major time slot at the meeting.  But the unexpected number of proposals on the history of domestic unions received by the Program Committee—along with the hard work of the three AHA Divisions, the LGBTQ Task Force, a number of other AHA committees, and the indefatigable Noralee Frankel—made it possible for us to expand the mini-conference to double its initially planned size.  “Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage” grew to include a total of 13 panels and round-table discussions, plus a film screening, a talk by John D’Emilio at the Committee on Women Historians breakfast, and a plenary session, “Marriage on Trial,” chaired by President Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  The final tally was 32 talks or papers, 22 round-table discussants, and 15 chairs and commentators, for a total of 70 scholars participating.1  The mini-conference featured papers on “quasi-marital unions” in medieval Europe, the politics of marriage in early America and colonial India, male couples during the era of the “Boston marriage,” the historical relationship between racial, ethnic, and sexual restrictions on marriage, and recent debates over same-sex marriage in South Africa, Canada, and the United States.  Two panels honored major figures in the field; several took a comparative, transnational, or global approach; and the plenary session addressed the role of professional historians in legal cases concerning same-sex marriage.

The concerns addressed by the mini-conference called upon the resources of all three AHA Divisions, and engaged the energies of such groups as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Historians Task Force; the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History; the Committee on Women Historians; the Committee on Minority Historians; the Coordinating Council for Women in History; and the Conference on Latin American History.  But I think it is appropriate that this overview of the mini-conference should appear within the annual report of the Teaching Division.  From the outset, the Council conceived of “Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage” as an occasion for bringing historical research findings to a broader public deeply engaged in debates over same-sex marriage.  Our timing in this endeavor was fortuitous: Monday, January 11, 2010, was the first day of the trial in the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriage in November 2008.  The working group hoped that its mini-conference would serve as a public classroom for teaching a historically sophisticated understanding of the fluidity and eternally contested nature of marriage laws and practices over time and space.

For this final annual report of my three-year term as vice-president of the Teaching Division, I’d like to assess the place occupied by teaching at the 2010 Annual Meeting.  When I asked one of my graduate students what she planned to do at the meeting in San Diego, she complained that there were too many sessions on teaching and too few panels on research in her own immediate area of interest.  (I don’t know whether she was never aware of my position in the AHA, or had forgotten about it, but I was compelled to admire her frankness in any case.) This meeting hosted a total of 27 teaching sessions in addition to the all-day workshop (with its additional six sessions) offered by the National History Education Clearinghouse, in which the Teaching Division was a partner.  Some half dozen of these 33 sessions dealt with teaching the survey, while another half dozen addressed digital technologies and teaching resources.  Four sessions focused on teaching strategies such as role-playing, the use of visual images, and teaching skills of historical analysis.  And a substantial number were about the teaching challenges posed by particular fields, including women’s, military, immigration, and disability history.

But what was most striking to me about the 2010 program was the dozen or more sessions that concerned or involved K-16 collaboration—which has been a major priority of my term as vice-president.  The 2010 Annual Meeting hosted sessions on No Child Left Behind and on recent California educational policy; on K-16 uses of EDSITEment lesson materials and on the proper role of university history departments in K-12 teacher certification; on a Kentucky Teaching American History program; and on professional development for world-history teachers in Southern California.  Among the teaching sessions, eight involved direct participation by K-12 teachers (and one added high school students to the mix).  Once again, as in 2009, the centerpiece of K-16 collaboration at our annual meeting was the Saturday workshop of the National History Education Clearinghouse, a partnership of George Mason University, Stanford University, the National History Center, and the AHA.  Participants in this workshop—which drew from the greater San Diego and Los Angeles areas—received an introduction to the invaluable curricular and pedagogical resources of the Clearinghouse, and listened to a series of speakers who included my colleague George Sanchez at USC, Tom Adams of the California Department of Education, and Emma Hipolito from the California History-Social Science Project at UCLA (who served as the K-12 representative on this year’s Program Committee).

All this attention demonstrated both our continuing commitment to include teaching as an important part of our annual meetings, and our progress in drawing a more diverse group of historian-teachers to those meetings.  The first major recommendation made in the final report of the Working Group on the Future of the AHA, accepted by the Council in January 2008, was this: “To secure its future, the AHA must reach out to a broader membership and become more diverse and inclusive while preserving its core constituency of history PhDs who teach at research universities and liberal arts colleges.  Specifically, it should adopt policies designed to recruit AP high school teachers, community college instructors, and the broad category of practitioners often labeled ‘public’ historians.”  The current Two-Year College Task Force, formed in response to this report and headed by Frank Malaret of the Teaching Division, is now working to determine how the AHA might more effectively draw two-year college faculty into the Association.  Once this Task Force has finished its work in January 2012, we are committed to forming a comparable K-12 Task Force to explore ways to draw more K-12 teachers and encourage more K-16 collaboration among historian-teachers within our Association.  I look forward to continued success with both these constituencies in the years to come.

In closing this report, I want to extend my gratitude to the current members of the Teaching Division—Frank Malaret, Patricia O’Neill, Timothy Thurber, and Barbara Tischler—for their hard work and creativity in serving the Division.  I thank President Laurel Thatcher Ulrich for her support of the Division in 2009, especially her willingness to devote a slot on her Program Committee to a K-12 representative.  I am grateful to Executive Director Arnita Jones who worked triple over-time, sometimes during holidays and vacations, to ensure that the mini-conference would take place, and that its message would reach our membership; and to other AHA staff-members, especially Sharon Tune and Rob Townshend, for contributing their own work overloads to Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage.  Finally, I thank Noralee Frankel, once again, for her rare combination of political astuteness with unfailing good cheer in service to history teaching.  She has been my teacher over the past three years; I’ve learned much from her; and I’m deeply grateful for both her leadership and her support. 


1. One paper was authored by two historians.