Publication Date

September 1, 1998

Perspectives Section

From the Executive Director

Over the last four years, one of the themes sounded frequently in this column has been the added capacity gained by the AHA when it works in synergistic collaboration with other organizations—in advocacy (such as promoting support for the National Endowment for the Humanities), in tackling problems on campuses (overuse of part-time and adjunct faculty, for example), and in programmatic and publishing initiatives (see below). Building strong relationships with other organizations is a time-consuming process; creating viable projects on which several organizations can work together requires even greater investments of time and creativity, especially if we also seek outside funding. We have reached a point at which these investments are beginning to pay off, and it gives me great pleasure to detail some of the accomplishments to which we can point. Recognizing these accomplishments is important for several reasons, not least for the new approaches and potential solutions they offer for the future.

It is worth noting that from an internal perspective, these collaborations to achieve programmatic initiatives have taken advantage of the strengths of a complex umbrella organization like the AHA. First, the divisions and committees have created laudable projects that address the needs of particular cohorts ("member services") in ways committee members felt were high in quality and significance, and that supported the policy goals enunciated by the Council. Second, staff integrated several aspects of particular initiatives from different committees/divisions so that more than one program goal could be accomplished within a single project. Third, by addressing multiple goals simultaneously, the projects are cost-effective in our use of staff/volunteer time and AHA resources. Fourth, the Association incorporated promising partners and collaborators in order to be more ambitious in scope and audience than would be possible for the AHA alone. Fifth, the projects demonstrate the AHA's commitment to issues of import to specific constituencies—cohorts identified during Council's planning discussions in 1995–96 as underrepresented categories of members (especially those in area studies, at the community colleges, and in public history). Sixth, some of the project proposals won grant moneys for a mix of new work and ongoing support for the division or committee involved in the project, so that some ongoing operating costs could be underwritten by the grant funds. This last strategy makes programmatic initiatives more feasible within the AHA's traditional constraints of budget and staff size, as well as helping to relieve pressure on the operating budget. A look at some of our achievements illustrates the multiple goals we are now beginning to accomplish.

Campus Clusters and Reworking the Survey Course

With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (marked by very gratifying reviewers' reports), the AHA will work on revamping the history survey course with three clusters of history faculty located in California, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. This project, overseen by the Teaching and Research Divisions, creates a space within which community college and four-year faculty meet as colleagues concerned with improving the survey course. The participating history departments, working in regional clusters, provide an exciting experiment in new forms of partnership, where collaboration will take place among different kinds of campuses in a locality, among the respective clusters on a national level, and between campus-based efforts and a national organization to encourage replication of the successes achieved in the project.

As William Cutler, the evaluator for the project, has noted, "the design [of the traditional survey course] has remained faithful to the idea that the first duty of the historical novice is to acquire a large body of factual information . . . [supplied] layer upon layer. [Yet] it has become increasingly clear in recent years that this objective has outlived its usefulness because college students, today more than ever, must learn how to use information. They must learn to evaluate and manipulate data, recognize a thesis or argument when they see one, and experiment with constructing arguments of their own." The Survey Course Project "rests on the assumption that the study of history can teach even beginning college students to be critical and creative consumers of data. By developing ways to build primary sources into history survey courses, the project aspires to do nothing less than transform the mission and methods of such courses. The use of primary sources favors active over passive learning and orients the instructor toward the teaching of analytical skills more than the coverage of content."

Thus the programmatic initiative embodied in this project aims to accomplish a number of goals simultaneously, almost all of them made possible by the collaboration that underlays the project itself. An added bonus in this project is that faculty are already at work, reviewing web sites on world history primary source materials, to help us create The Intelligent Person's Guide to Historical Research, which will improve on these existing sites and bring currently unavailable materials and learning exercises to students and interested members of the public. This added outcome will provide a new member service as well as an ongoing source of revenue for the AHA when the project is concluded.

Learned Societies and Area Studies/World History

With encouragement from the Ford Foundation, the AHA has expanded the "Globalizing Regional Histories" project created by the 1995 Program Committee (under the Research Division's auspices and with Council approval) to address the lack of participation by area studies historians in the annual meeting. From a modest series of cosponsored sessions at the annual meeting, the project now has several substantive activities planned for 1998–2000, all thematically focused on material and cultural interactions over time. The focus on interactions is used to locate historical developments and events, independent of the nation-state as a framing device. The activities include a summer seminar for community college faculty at the Library of Congress's area studies reading rooms; a conference; panel sessions at a number of the annual meetings of participating organizations; print and electronic publications; and a web site for discussion of the research and teaching materials created for the seminar, conference, and meeting sessions.

Oversight for the project is provided by a committee of representatives of the eight participating organizations—the AHA, the Association of African Studies, the Community College Humanities Association (CCHA), the Latin American Studies Association, the Library of Congress, the Middle East Studies Association, and the World History Association. This project, then, provides us with another experiment in collaboration—one that draws on national organizations to advance intellectual efforts previously limited to campuses (especially Title VI centers). Once again, the strengths of umbrella societies like the AHA can be brought to bear; in this case particularly the ability to work together nationally, and the capacity to communicate with a broadly defined field through the annual meeting and publishing venues of the participating organizations. The project, especially through the summer seminar organized with the CCHA, also forwards a goal articulated during the AHA's planning discussions, to underscore the connections between teaching and research.

Learned Societies and the Changing Academy

The ongoing work of the AHA with other members of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) on the overuse of part-time and adjunct faculty provides another model of national organizations working together—this time to tackle changes in the way campuses operate across departments. It is clear that there will be a number of such changes in the coming decade, as aspects of downsizing and corporate measures of "accountability" and "productivity" come to be felt more dramatically. National collaborations are useful for professional issues as well as intellectual ones.

Working for almost two years now, a number of scholarly associations have brought together the various projects they have each undertaken, seeking supplementary ways to work together to forward the goals of their own respective projects. In the case of the AHA, the Professional Division has been pursuing its concerns regarding this topic since 1993. Last year these focused especially on a collaboratively planned invitational conference in September that produced a report defining the issue, describing "good practices" across the disciplines, and suggesting next steps the collaborators could pursue. The report has generated good press coverage (ranging from The Chronicle of Higher Education to Science and public radio), and has prompted additional activity within the partner associations.

For the AHA, following up this report has involved several activities. Perhaps the most visible to date has been the crafting of a "Good Practices" statement by the Professional Division that Council approved at its June meeting. These "good practices" cover both academic and work-related treatment of part-time and adjunct faculty. The statement and an accompanying article will appear in a fall issue of Perspectives and will be circulated to history departments across the country through the AHA’s Institutional Services Program. In addition, Council approved adding a notation to the listings in the Directory of History Departments that indicates how many courses taught by part-time and adjunct faculty are included among each department’s offerings. This data, helpful to those who consult the Directory, will also enable the AHA to track the use of part-time and adjunct faculty more systematically in the future.

In addition, the AHA continues to work with other societies on the "next steps" outlined in last September's conference report. The number of associations participating in this collaboration has grown since the conference; in addition to an expanding core of ACLS societies, both math and chemistry societies are active as well. The collaboration is also facilitated by the MLA Council commitment to provide staff support for the cooperative work undertaken by the group. Four ad hoc work groups are currently focusing on specific next steps, including establishing contacts with accreditation organizations (recognized as the best way to put pressure on campuses and their boards) and creating a press release that can be used with state legislatures, governing boards, and the like. The group also hopes to collect a number of "good practices" examples from model campuses, so that publicity can be given to those campuses who use adjuncts well; it will also explore the possibilities of conducting special research to document the economic and other hidden costs involved in this expanding practice.

Public History and the AHA Work with Museums

Council also approved at its June meeting a collaboration designed by staff at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and the AHA that will treat six different themes over several years. Workshops focusing on both theoretical and practical issues will explore new trends in scholarship and their implications for the acquisition and presentation of museum collections in existing and future exhibitions. Each thematic set of discussions will involve academic- and museum-based historians and will culminate in a public conference. The first conference will focus on American identity in the millennium.

We hope that this long-term collaboration will provide a creative complement to the healthy interaction that now characterizes museum-academy cooperation among individual historians. We also looked for ways to work on "public history" without duplicating the work of our valued affiliate, the National Council on Public History. (With the NCPH, for instance, we are working on a second edition of one of our most popular copublished pamphlets, Careers for Students of History, and exploring collaborative ways to collect data on the job circumstances for public historians.) What marks this particular project is its targeted audience—those involved simultaneously in the academy and in presenting history to the general public—and, again, a systematic effort by two national organizations to foster broad-based dialogue that draws on the respective strengths of the partners. Staff at the AHA would help write grant proposals, identify potential participants, and provide publicity for the discussions underway. In turn, museum professionals will help educate academic historians about the differences in the ways museum-based history must be practiced, and the ways in which new scholarship can be presented to a larger public.

The collaboration promises to be mutually beneficial and capable of building a strong base for broader understanding and future cooperative projects. Preliminary discussions are also underway to turn these discussions into AHA pamphlets, so that they could benefit academy-based historians interested in reaching the general public, and graduate students interested in this aspect of a history career.

Pamphlet Series and Complementarity between the AHA and Affiliates

Building on four years of exploratory conversations and much goodwill, the AHA and the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) have created a plan for a jointly published series of pamphlets. This new form of collaboration between the umbrella organization and a specialized affiliate of the AHA marks a very promising model for the future, and was so greeted by the AHA's ad hoc Publications Advisory Committee. Although the model would not work for all affiliates—a key aspect of a series will need to be the ability to create pamphlets with broad utility for historians who teach across chronological periods and world regions—it is an exciting innovation that, once again, builds on the special strengths of the AHA as an umbrella organization. In this case, the AHA brings to this new form of collaboration both a capacity to reach the entire field of historians, and a healthy and growing publications program that specializes in a unique form of scholarly communication: pamphlets provide a concise and inexpensive overview by a recognized expert that is, nevertheless, accessible to nonspecialists and students. In addition, both organizations share a professional commitment to high quality publications (represented, in this cooperative venture, by the recruiting and peer review processes that SHOT will provide and the editing and production values that the AHA will provide) that ensure an additional service to the field made possible only by this collaboration.

Collaboration, as these examples attest, can take many forms. They enable an umbrella organization like the AHA to take on more specific projects than it could otherwise handle with a limited staff and budget. They make the existing capacities of the organization much more efficient and cost-effective in serving multiple constituencies through a variety of approaches and projects. Indeed, in an environment of stringent economics but ambitious desires to serve the field, collaborations and partnerships may well be the only way organizations can continue to serve their members while mitigating risks and minimizing costs in a rapidly changing world.

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