Publication Date

May 1, 1999

Perspectives Section

From the Research Division

In 1998 the division concerned itself with the entire range of issues assigned to it—oversight of the American Historical Review, oversight of the Program Committee for the annual meeting of the Association, oversight of new prizes and research grants, and oversight of the Association’s advocacy activities. We met twice during the year—by telephone in early October (as part of the AHA’s attempt to cut back meeting expenses) and in person in early March. For the most part, we kept in touch through our divisional listserv. And, it is important to say, we accomplished what we did through the superb guidance and support of our AHA staff liaison, Linn Shapiro.

This year the AHR has taken precedence in our activities. Most important, the division is charged with the periodic review of the editor of the AHR—currently, Michael Grossberg. President Joe Miller appointed a review committee composed, according to the Association constitution, of the Vice President for Research (myself); a member of the Indiana University history department (Alexander Rabinowitch); and a former member of the editorial board (Fred Cooper, Univ. of Michigan). Our committee met with the AHR staff in Bloomington and sent letters of inquiry to present and former members of the staff and editorial board. We unanimously recommended Grossberg’s reappointment, a recommendation endorsed by the division and by the Council of the Association. In brief, our findings were that not only was the Review flourishing as a learned journal, but that the staff and business of the AHR are being managed in an exemplary manner. Grossberg has emphasized the catholicity of the journal, with articles spanning the entire range of time and place, and accessible to historians of all specialties. He has also introduced new sections to encourage discussion and engagement of historians in the major dilemmas of writing history.

I am delighted to say that Grossberg has now accepted reappointment for another five-year term as editor.

Among the other issues concerning the AHR that have occupied my time and that of the division is the digitization of the journal. As I have reported earlier, we have been discussing the possibility of an online journal for the past two years, and have appointed an ad hoc committee (under my chairmanship) to address the problem. The committee, with Michael Grossberg’s concurrence, has recommended that the AHR plan to publish a simultaneous electronic version of the journal as soon as possible. We had hoped that might be next year, but it now seems likely that 2001 will be the inaugural year for the e-AHR. I hasten to say that there is no intention of discontinuing the print journal in the foreseeable future. The initial version of the e-AHR will be essentially a digital version of the analog journal, but it will of course be fully searchable and it will be accessible electronically anywhere. We are still studying a variety of options for producing and distributing the electronic journal; it is likely that final decisions will be made in the next several months. Eventually, the e-journal will provide access to image and sound, links, and all of the other features available in the new format. This will be a truly new era for one of the world’s premier historical journals.

The division has also spent a great deal of time on a number of electronic projects currently under development either by the AHA or in partnership with other organizations. Perhaps the most exciting of these are the new Gutenberg-e prizes that President Bob Darnton has pioneered, and for which he has secured substantial funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He has reported separately on the project, so I will say only that we will be awarding several prize fellowships each year for distinguished dissertations in selected historical fields so that the dissertations can be prepared for publication in digital form. Darnton and I also serve on an American Ccouncil of Learned Societies committee that is developing a project to publish historical monographs in electronic form. This project should be realized by this summer.

The division has also represented the AHA in the Historical Studies Distribution Network project in association with the Association of Research Libraries, several university presses, and several other historical societies. This is a project that was pioneered by our former executive director, Sandy Freitag—as was the Building Blocks project, in conjunction with the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage. Both projects are attempts to think our way into the electronic environment for historical work and to begin building the platforms historians will require to work in that new world.

The other major project the division has engaged in has been one in collaboration with the Community College Humanities Association and the Library of Congress. This project will attempt to assist community college faculty in training to teach world history, as well as historians around the world to think through strategies and prepare materials for teaching the subject. The AHA cochairs of this project, for which we expect to receive funding shortly, are Renate Bridenthal (Brooklyn Coll., CUNY) and Jerry Bentley (Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa).

It goes without saying that one of the most important responsibilities of the division is to work with the chairs of the program committees for the several upcoming annual meetings. We work with the chairs to recommend new members of the committee to Council. This is a crucial and difficult task, since a small committee must represent a wide variety of interests in order to ensure that the resulting program truly represents the wishes of the primary constituencies of the Association. We were especially pleased with the work of the Program Committee chaired this past year by John Voll (Georgetown Univ.) and cochaired by Gary Kulik (Winterthur Museum), and look forward to working with Michael Bernstein (Univ. of California at San Diego) and Barbara Hanawalt (Univ. of Minnesota) on next year's program and committee. The division tries to be attentive to complaints about the character and structure of the annual meeting program, for inevitably some groups feel excluded and many members dislike aspects of the program. But with only around 140 sessions on the "official" program, hard choices must be made. We welcome comments from the membership about the program at any time.

Finally, the division works actively with Page Putnam Miller and the National Coordinating Committee on issues that affect history and historians in the public world. Page continues to do a superb job, and for the most part the division serves as little more than a conduit from Page to the Council. But we frequently write letters to public officials or make calls upon them when we feel that the interests of historians or the historical record are at stake. We also occasionally join other groups in litigating on behalf of history and/or historians. Alas, many of the lawsuits in recent years have been against the National Archives, and in some cases we have prevailed. But our larger concern is to work with public agencies on behalf of history, and this year we have made a major effort to work with the archives and John Carlin, the archivist of the United States. Page Miller, Joe Miller, and I called upon Carlin this summer, and Carlin made an excellent presentation at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in January 1999. Both sides are committed to working more closely with one another.

Before concluding, I should mention that the division has worked very hard to construct a document concerning "best practices" in historical research across the range of institutions in the academy. That document is now out for comment to the Council and we hope to publish it in a forthcoming issue of Perspectives. We hope that it will provoke widespread discussion across the profession about the state of historical research and various proposals to improve the range and character of historical research. We would be pleased to hear from the membership about this or any the matter within the scope of the Research Division.

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