Publication Date

April 1, 1999

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

The Council of the American Historical Association is pleased to report that Arnita Jones has accepted its invitation to assume the position of executive director of the Association for a five-year term beginning May 23, 1999.

Jones was recommended to the Council by a search committee chaired by AHA President Robert Darnton that included Drew Gilpin Faust (Univ. of Pennsylvania), Carol Gluck (Columbia Univ.), Nadine Ishitani Hata (El Camino Community Coll.), and David J. Weber (Southern Methodist Univ.). Darnton remarked, "In a field of exceptional candidates, Arnita Jones stood out for her managerial skills and her understanding of the problems confronting the profession. She received a unanimous chorus of praise for her leadership of the OAH, and I am convinced that she provides exactly what the AHA needs at this moment. She will be a superb executive director."

Currently the executive director of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), where she has served since 1988, Jones has placed a priority on developing better working relationships among historians in a wide range of institutions, including community colleges, high schools, and public history agencies, as well as higher education institutions. She has been particularly interested in involving college and university historians in efforts to improve teaching at the K–12 level, leading in the development and expansion of the OAH Magazine of History, a quarterly publication making recent scholarship more adaptable to the classroom. Involving community college historians more in the work of the OAH has also been an important initiative, leading to a major survey of the interests and needs of this group, as well as a collaborative publication with the AHA that will appear this spring.

During Jones's tenure the OAH has also launched a number of international initiatives, including a joint fellowship program with the Japanese American Studies Association, a multiyear program with New York University on situating the study of American history in a more global context, and the establishment of a U.S. government-funded network of libraries of American history in 59 academic institutions abroad. She has also led the OAH in several efforts to improve public programming in history, initiating a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service that has involved hundreds of college and university historians with site visits, conferences, publications, and other activities. In addition, she has been a vigorous proponent of increasing the participation of American historians in various advocacy efforts on behalf of history and humanities programming in museums and other historical agencies.

Jones notes that "helping historians to connect better with the public, to make their research and writing more accessible to the ordinary citizen, has been a central factor in my professional life for many years, along with strengthening relationships between public historians and those in the academy. OAH President William H. Chafe lamented the OAH's loss, noting that "Jones has been a terrific leader, providing stability and guidance through an important period in the organization's history. She will be hard to replace."

When she takes up her new position at the AHA it will mark a return to the Association's headquarters at Fourth and A streets in Washington, where she served as the first project director for the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History in the late 1970s. A graduate of Vanderbilt University who earned her MA and PhD at Emory University, Jones has also been a program officer for planning and assessment studies at the National Endowment for the Humanities and a senior historian at History Associates. She has also taught at several colleges and universities and served as a consultant to a number of foundations, higher education institutions, and government agencies.

An active public historian, Jones was a founding member of both the Society for History in the Federal Government and the National Council on Public History and has served on the boards of both of those organizations as well as the Federation of State Humanities Councils, National History Day, and the National Humanities Alliance. She is currently a consulting editor for History: Reviews of New Books and has served on the editorial board of the Public Historian. Her research interests include 20th-century history education reform movements and the place of the humanities in higher education.

High on Arnita Jones's agenda will be an effort to come to grips with recent trends affecting the profession, such as downsizing in the academy and the new trends in electronic publishing. Noting that "the context in which the Association does its work is changing," Jones said, "in the next five years the administration of the American Historical Association is going to be about managing change."

Among her priorities will be an effort to expand and upgrade the Association's data collection on enrollment trends, faculty work loads, and other conditions in higher education "so that historians can be much better informed and organized at the departmental level." She will continue to be a strong advocate of the AHA-initiated Coalition on the Academic Workforce, which is concerned with the alarming growth of part-time faculty over the past decade, as well as existing Association efforts to better integrate K–12 and community college historians into its programs and activities.

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