Publication Date

September 1, 2009

Perspectives Section


The Obama administration has passed the six-month mark, and appointments to key positions affecting historians are finally starting to fall into place. While all these individuals have had their names submitted to the Senate, with the annual congressional August recess underway it will be well into the fall before any are confirmed.

David S. Ferriero Nominated to Be Archivist of the United States

On July 29, President Obama announced his intent to nominate David S. Ferriero to the position of Archivist of the United States. Ferriero currently serves as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries (NYPL). Ferriero succeeds Allen Weinstein who resigned in December 2008.

The New York Public Libraries constitute one of the largest public library systems in the United States and one of the largest research library systems in the world. Ferriero is responsible for collection strategy; conservation; digital experience; reference and research services; and education, programming, and exhibitions. The NYPL has 2,600 full-time employees and a budget of $273 million. Prior to taking the director position in June 2007, Ferriero served as the chief executive of NYPL’s research libraries for three years.

Ferriero was formerly the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and vice provost for library affairs at Duke University. He joined the staff of Duke University in 1996. He began his career as a junior library assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he spent 31 years, before leaving in 1996 when he was the acting co-director of the MIT Libraries.

Ferriero has an MA in English literature from Northeastern University, and an MS from the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston.

On May 29, 2009, the National Coalition for History had testified at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and the National Archives on the challenges facing a new Archivist of the United States.

Jim Leach Sworn in as Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities

On August 13, 2009, Jim Leach was sworn in as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He had been nominated in June by President Obama.

Jim Leach served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the state of Iowa for 30 years. He founded and co-chaired the Congressional Humanities Caucus, which is dedicated to advocating on behalf of the humanities in the House of Representatives and to raising the profile of humanities in the United States. The Caucus works to promote and preserve humanities programs and commissions such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Since leaving Congress in 2007, Leach has taught at Princeton University and served as the interim director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Leach, who has a BA from Princeton University, received an MA in Soviet politics from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and did additional graduate work at the London School of Economics.

Jonathan Jarvis Nominated for the Directorship of the NPS

In June, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Jonathan Jarvis to be director of the National Park Service. Jarvis, a 30-year veteran of the Park Service, currently is the regional director of the agency’s Pacific West Region. In this position, Jarvis is responsible for the 54 units of the National Park System in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands of Guam, Saipan, and American Samoa. He oversees 3,000 employees with a $350 million annual budget. A native of Virginia, Jarvis has a BS in biology from the College of William and Mary and in 2001 completed the executive program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Historian Myron Gutmann to Head Directorate at the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation selected historian Myron Gutmann, director of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan, to head its directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. The directorate supports research that builds fundamental knowledge of human behavior, interaction, social and economic systems, and organizations and institutions.

According to an NSF press statement, Gutmann said, “This is a critical moment for SBE research in the United States. I see my role as enabling the strengthening of SBE science, facilitating new inter-disciplinary and international collaboration, and building the technological infrastructure needed to understand our society in the 21st century.”

Gutmann, who specializes in historical demography and population-environment relationships with a focus on Europe and the Americas, is the first historian to head this directorate. He will take up his new duties on November 2, 2009. This position does not require Senate confirmation.

— is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached

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