Publication Date

March 31, 2021

Perspectives Section

News

Post Type

Advocacy

As funding and resources are cut for historians across the country and world, the AHA continues to advocate for the needs of the discipline. In January and February, the AHA fought to preserve access to archives, opposed policies that target higher education, and defended historians who were persecuted due to their scholarship.

AHA Posts to Federal Register Regarding Proposed NARA Digitization Policies

On February 1, the AHA sent comments to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on the proposed rule “Federal Records Management: Digitizing Permanent Records and Reviewing Records Schedules.” The AHA “strongly support[s]” the requirement that “every five years, agencies review records schedules which are ten or more years old.” The AHA also recommends that NARA “require the involvement of subject matter experts in each review process undertaken with an agency” and “regularly draw on the expertise of staff members throughout the agency who have appropriate subject backgrounds and training.” The AHA also judges NARA “to have exceeded the requirements of federal law by stating that records will be accepted ONLY in digital form,” which could “delay, interrupt, or delay indefinitely the transfer of records.”

AHA Opposes New Policy on Virtual Scholarly Exchanges in India

On February 5, the AHA issued a statement registering concern about a new policy issued by India’s Ministry of Higher Education/Department of Higher Education that “requires Indian scholars and administrators to obtain prior approval from the Ministry of External Affairs if they want to convene online or virtual international conferences, seminars, or trainings.” The AHA states that this policy is likely to “affect a wide range of scholarly exchanges that are critical to the free international expression of ideas” and “strongly maintains that government agencies should not intervene in the content of scholarly exchange.” As of March 1, 25 organizations have signed onto the statement.

AHA Signs onto ASEEES Statement Calling for Immediate End to Libel Trial of Polish Historians

On February 8, the AHA signed onto the Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies statement calling for an end to the trial of historians Jan Grabowski (Univ. of Ottawa) and Barbara Engelking (Polish Center for Holocaust Research), who are charged with libel for their 2018 co-edited book, Night without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland. The trial “strikes at the very core of academic and intellectual freedom,” and the statement calls for a “clear and unambiguous repudiation of the legal and political strategy that allowed such a trial to go forward in the first place.”

AHA Issues Letter Expressing Concern for Polish Historians

On February 10, the AHA sent letters to Polish leaders Andrzej Duda, Mateusz Morawiecki, Jarosław Kaczyński, and Jarosław Gowin expressing concern about recent legal proceedings against Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, two historians convicted of libel regarding their co-edited book Night without End. In the letter, the AHA emphasized that “a legal procedure is not the place to mediate historical debates” and urged Polish leaders to “uphold the rights of historians to investigate the past without legal harassment and with no fear of reprisals for making public their historical- and evidence-based findings.”

Schools, History, and the Challenges of Commemoration

On February 10, the AHA issued a statement expressing alarm regarding the San Francisco School Names Advisory Committee’s process in proposing changing the names of 44 public schools. The committee “showed little interest in consulting professional historians, relying instead on Wikipedia articles and cursory glances at other online sources.” The AHA is “not advising the people of San Francisco on the substance of their decisions,” the statement clarified. Instead, the AHA urged the San Francisco School Board to “begin this process anew, inviting broader public participation, enlisting the expertise of professional historians, and encouraging a robust debate about the way historical figures and events should or should not be memorialized via school naming practices.”

AHA Signs onto MESA Statement Protesting Turkey’s Attacks on Higher Education

On February 16, the AHA signed onto the Middle East Studies Association’s Statement in Solidarity with Protests at Boğaziçi University. Students and faculty protesting the appointment of a new rector “have faced police brutality, protesters have been described by government officials as terrorists, and those detained have been subjected to abuse, including strip searches and sexual harassment.” The statement condemned the “ongoing and intensified government assault on higher education in Turkey” and urged President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to “restore the autonomy of universities and the protection of academic freedom—including freedom of expression, opinion, and association—in Turkey’s legal order.”

AHA Expresses Alarm at University Press of Kansas Financial Cuts

On February 17, the AHA sent a letter to the Board of Trustees of the University Press of Kansas expressing alarm about financial cuts and the press’s possible elimination. The letter notes that “few presses have done so much to burnish their home institution’s reputation, to advance the careers of promising scholars, and to make vital contributions to historical knowledge as the University Press of Kansas,” and that its demise “would be an incalculable loss for the historical discipline and for generations of American historians yet to come.”

AHA Endorses the Educating for American Democracy Initiative

On February 23, the AHA endorsed the Educating for American Democracy initiative, a multi-institution, cross-partisan initiative to create a Roadmap for Excellence in History and Civic Education for All Learners. The roadmap is “a practical and highly implementable guide about how to integrate history and civic education to give today’s diverse K–12 students a strong sense of connection to and ownership of our constitutional democracy.”

AHA Issues Letter of Support for Institute of Political History in Hungary

On February 26, the AHA sent a letter to János Áder, president of the Republic of Hungary, expressing “deep concern about recent government actions against the Institute of Political History,” including “unfounded attacks on our colleagues,” “eviction from its new premises,” and “defunding.” The AHA “urges the Hungarian government to reconsider the misguided steps that have already been taken to the detriment of the institute and to safeguard its premises, support its activities, and vouchsafe its independence now and in the future.”

Updates on Advocacy Successes

The efforts of the AHA and co-plaintiffs in State of Washington et al. v. Russell Vought et al. have successfully halted the sale of the NARA facility in Seattle, Washington. A federal judge in Seattle blocked the federal government’s plan to expedite the sale of the facility and the removal of the records from the Pacific Northwest. The delay provides time for the Biden administration to reconsider the facility’s closure and sale, which, from all appearances, seems to have been focused more on real estate than archival or community priorities.

As one of four plaintiffs in National Security Archive et al. v. Donald J. Trump et al., the AHA joins our colleagues in reflecting on significant accomplishments: a formal instruction from the Justice Department articulating precise instruction to the White House for records retention, and immediate attention to these issues on the part of the Biden administration. The AHA continues to monitor these and related issues. The Association has been involved in conversations with congressional staff about necessary revisions to the Presidential Records Act to ensure historians’ access to complete records of future administrations.

Gabriella Virginia Folsom is communications and operations assistant at the AHA. She tweets @gvfolsom.

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