News Topic

Advocacy, Funding for History, Museums


Public History


United States

The AHA Council passed the following resolution at its June 16–17, 2001, meeting.

In consonance with its existing policies and recommendations, the American Historical Association issued the following statement to the Board of Regents at the Smithsonian Institution regarding recent events at the Institutions:

Recent events at the Smithsonian Institution have raised serious concerns within the American Historical Association. As the leading organization of professional historians in the United States, the AHA takes as one of its major responsibilities the defense of intellectual integrity and scholarly rigor in the public presentation of history. It therefore reaffirms the History Exhibit Standards endorsed by the AHA and other professional organizations.

Private donations are an essential element in the funding of museums and other historical and cultural institutions. But private donors should not determine the subject matter or interpretive perspectives of historical exhibitions or the overall direction of museum policies and practices. Control over content should rest with the professional staff, not the representatives of private donors. We therefore urge the Smithsonian to revise its agreement with the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation to ensure that it upholds these principles of curatorial control and historical integrity. Since the Smithsonian is the premier institution for preserving the nation’s historical legacy and is also substantially supported by public funds, it cannot afford to erode public confidence in the way it develops historical exhibits.

Institutions like the Smithsonian must change and grow, but such change must be carried out in consultation with the professional staff. We urge the NMAH to develop a comprehensive plan for the future presentation of American history. The exhibit planning process must always rest on a solid grounding of historical research. We believe that the historians and other professionals on the staff of the NMAH are best qualified to undertake this crucial task.