Publication Date

April 1, 1989

Perspectives Section

From the Executive Director

The spring schedule of AHA meetings is a crowded one. Our three major divisions, Professional, Research, and Teaching, have their regularly scheduled committee meetings in the spring, and with Easter coming early all three are looking to April and early May for viable weekend dates. Given the busy programs of the elected members of these committees, it is not always easy to find a date that conforms to the unwritten ground rules: not to conflict with a religious holiday, not to interfere with midweek teaching commitments, and not to conflict with other, sister organizations’ annual meetings. All three meetings must be completed in time to forward action recommendations to the Council’s spring meeting, which is scheduled this year for May 13–14.

Interwoven with these rendezvous are the OAH annual meeting, the American Council of Learned Societies annual meeting, meetings of the Joint Committee of Historians and Archivists, the Committee on Women Historians, a special meeting of the AHA Finance Committee of the Council, and a special summit meeting of representatives of the AHA and sister organizations concerned with teaching, called by President Louis Harlan. We are sometimes astonished that our long-suffering and meeting-weary representatives do not quote Cromwell’s blast to the Rump Parliament and bid us begone!

On page 4 of this issue, members will find AHA President Harlan’s testimony on behalf of the Library of Congress appropriation to the Congressional Committee on Library Appropriations in early February. The committee was obviously impressed with testimony from a distinguished user of the Library of Congress, and the small size of the hearing room and the intimacy of the atmosphere added to its effectiveness. We are very hopeful that the LC may get a much-needed increase.

On the weekend of February 16–18 the elected Nominating Committee of the Association convened in Washington for its arduous task, so ably reflected in the list in this issue’s lead story. All members owe a debt of gratitude to their hard-working committee; its discussions are long, careful and at times heated as its nine members weigh the merits and demerits of candidates for the vacancies at the head of the Association, on its Council, on the three divisional committees and on those two bodies which largely determine its elected and appointed leadership, the Committee on Committees and the Nominating Committee itself. Fortunately the Nominating Committee, like the U.S. Senate, is a continuing body, as two-thirds of its nine members continue through the next year. Its elected chairperson for 1989, Darlene Clark Hine of Michigan State, is a veteran of two previous years’ committee experience, and combined ingenuity, creativity, and diplomacy to bring about the impressive roster of nominees for the fall election. The list begins on the front page.

In late February the Association agreed to support a legal case being brought to protect an important, future source of information on the recently concluded Reagan administration. In mid-January just a few days before the end of that administration, investigative reporter Scott Armstrong, who heads the privately operated National Security Archive, an open repository for declassified government papers relating to international affairs, learned that the White House computer system was being purged of the internal memoranda of the National Security Council. AHA members will recall that the failure of individual NSC staffers’ attempts to destroy their records (the PROF notes) was vital to the investigation of the Iranscam affair. Mr. Armstrong and other plaintiffs obtained a quick injunction to halt the electronic destruction process; the injunction continues and oral arguments are scheduled to take place in mid-March. It appears that the Justice Department will argue for the government that the claim of executive privilege enables the government to take whatever action it chooses with regard to destruction of internal memoranda. Since the AHA’s charter act of Congress of January 1, 1889, includes “the collection and preservation of historical manuscripts,” the Association has a legitimate interest and has agreed to join the case, a step approved by Research Division representatives. Our affidavit maintains that the PROF notes constitute an invaluable, future source of historical documentation; while the classified nature of much of its contents may legitimately withhold this archival source from historians’ eyes for a long time to come, “its preservation is essential if this information is ever to be available to historians.” We will have more information in our next issue.