The American Historical Association encourages its members to participate in civic culture, as historians. We have created forums at our web site relating to specific issues and events, such as Supreme Court decisions, candidate debates, and major issues relating to higher education. But historians should not wait for an invitation from the AHA to weigh in on conversations in the media, in their communities, and anywhere else that would benefit from the particular insights that historians bring to public affairs. And our members will benefit from seeing what their colleagues have to say. So please send links when you publish something online that relates to any aspect of public affairs.
Historians Release Report on Renaming University Buildings
December 5, 2016 - AHA members, including John Fabian Witt serving as chair, were part of a Yale University Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. The 12-person group, which included many historians, released its report outlining procedures for renaming buildings on Yale’s campus, spurred by recent calls to rename Calhoun College. The committee’s report outlines a set of principles, grounded in historical memory and historical context, that should guide renaming decisions. Calling history “one of the forms of knowledge at the core” of the university’s mission, the report sought to balance the need for change without erasing the past.
Jewish historians release statement on US election
November 29, 2016 - AHA members are using their historical perspective to build solidarity in the wake of the US presidential election. The Jewish Journal published a statement from over 250 Jewish scholars, including many AHA members, expressing concern about "the racial, ethnic, gender-based, and religious hatred" evidenced by Donald Trump during his campaign and since his election to the Presidency. The statement calls for unity to defend "the constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans."
Downs and Masur Call for Reconstruction Monument
October 13, 2016 - AHA members Gregory Downs (UC Davis) and Kate Masur (Northwestern Univ.) penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post calling for the creation of a new national monument to Reconstruction in Beaufort County, SC "so that Americans can confront the dramatic victories and bitter defeats of a crucial time in our nation's history."
AHA Member John Fea Responds to Dave Ramsey on the Value of the History Major
October 12, 2016 - After businessman, author, and media personality Dave Ramsey declared taking out a student loan for a history degree a "stupid" decision, historian and AHA member John Fea responded on his blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, reminding readers that the history degree's low economic value is a fallacy and that it prepares students for success in many careers.
AHA Guidelines Crucial to Response to Controversial Textbook
September 9, 2016 - AHA Teaching Division Councilor Trinidad Gonzales (South Texas Coll.) and AHA member Emilio Zamora (Univ. of Texas, Austin) are part of a committee that has released a report citing numerous factual inaccuracies and generally poor historical work in a textbook proposed to meet Texas’s Mexican American Studies standard in high schools. Drawing on the AHA’s Guidelines for the Preparation, Evaluation, and Selection of History Textbooks and the Association’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct to evaluate Mexican-American Heritage, the committee, convened by a member of the Texas State Board of Education, found a lack of “critical dialogue with current scholarship,” which resulted in “a polemic attempting to masquerade as a textbook.” The AHA remains unaware of any role played by professional historians in writing the text; apparently the publisher ruled out participation by scholars of Mexican descent because of concerns that they would be “biased” (quoting news reports). Here at 400 A St. SE we wonder how many of our colleagues born and raised in the United States have authored US history textbooks tainted by their “bias” as Americans.
The committee, convened by Ruben Cortez, the 2nd District representative to the Texas State Board of Education, released its report at a press conference on Tuesday, September 6. AHA members Gonzales and Zamora will also testify in front of the Texas State Board of Education on September 13. You can watch the hearing live online.
Leading Georgetown to Address Legacy of Slavery
September 1, 2016 - Fr. David Collins, SJ, history professor and chair of Georgetown University’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, is grappling with the legacy of Jesuit slave ownership in the nineteenth century and the sale of 272 enslaved men, women, and children to pay university debts. The recommendations made by the working group, influenced by activism from descendents, scholars of African-American history, and members of the Georgetown community, include renaming buildings, reaching out to descendents of enslaved people who built and maintained the university, and extending preferential status in admissions for descendents. Fr. Collin’s reflected on the legacy of slavery at Georgetown in a New York Times op-ed. In May 2016, AHA member Adam Rothman, also part of the Working Group, addressed this issue for AHA Today.
Op-Ed on Teaching Creative Thinking in History Class
August 28, 2016 - In response to Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s claim that documentaries can replace trained history educators, Amanda Seligman (history department chair, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) penned an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the importance of true history education. She explains the necessity of teachers who can actively engage students in “[u]nderstanding multiple viewpoints, debating ideas without acrimony, connecting past and present, and collaborative analysis.” By adapting to current debates and student needs, instructors “cultivate qualities that students may deploy at work, as parents, as neighbors, and as citizens in our democracy.”
DOJ Report on African American Rights in Baltimore
August 22, 2016 - Jessica Millward (Associate Professor of History, University of California, Irvine) writes about the recent Department of Justice Report on police activities in Baltimore for The Conversation. Policing practices of the present, she concludes, echo policies and practices directed at Free Blacks in antebellum Baltimore.
Four Hundred Years of African American History
July 18, 2016 - In a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed, Peter Onuf (Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia) responds to a congressional proposal to establish the 400 Years of African-American History Commission, concluding that African American history is American history.