Publication Date

April 1, 1990

Perspectives Section

From the Executive Director

Members will have noted in their daily newspapers that the Supreme Court in February declined to accept the case of Henry Holt & Co., Inc. v. New Era Publications International, a.k.a. the Church of Scientology case, for its docket. The AHA, together with the American Council of Learned Societies, American Political Science Association, Modern Language Association of America, and Organization of American Historians, had submitted an amicus brief asking Supreme Court review late last year. Specialists in recent history and literature will perceive the case as one of conflict between the interpretation of copyright laws and the First Amendment, and whether copyrights can be used to dry up historical source material. (See M. Les Benedict’s discussions on copyright beginning on page 1.)

Last summer, the New York Appeals Court found that in a biography of the late Church of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, the author’s use of unpublished source materials, many of them obtained from the government under Freedom of Information procedures, constituted an infringement of copyright, since they included quotes from Hubbard’s unpublished writings. Due to a technicality the court did not grant an injunction against publication, but the decision will certainly have a chilling effect on the publishing industry and on the work of historians, political scientists, art historians, English and literature professionals. While the impact on recent history, especially that treating living individuals, will be most severe, the Appeals Court’s assertion of the rights of heirs to copyright protection of unpublished works by the testator could conceivably result in an injunction against books treating Adolf Hitler in a manner offensive to his heirs!

With the Supreme Court’s denial of a writ of certiorari, the informal coalition of scholarly organizations and publishers is checking into the possibility of legislative action to clarify the copyright law, since its passes belief that Congressional intent at the time of the law’s passage envisaged such judicial creativity. Another legislative concern that we are continuing to monitor through our own history advocate par excellence, Dr. Page Miller and the National Coordinating Committee, as well as through our participation in the National Humanities Alliance, is the reauthorization of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The previous authorization expires this year. Given the prodigious “flap” over the National Endowment for the Arts (included in the same authorization legislation) and its somewhat remote connection with sexually explicit art last summer and fall, we are concerned that NEH might be cast for the role of innocent bystander struck by flying brickbats and reduced appropriations, or even worse by unnecessary or repugnant limitations on its procedures and practices.

A major activity of headquarters staff during January and February has been the preparation of a large grant proposal in cooperation with the American Political Science Association to the Pew Charitable Trusts for a program to commemorate the rapidly approaching bicentenary of the Bill of Rights through a major educational effort working with teachers. Our response to the word in early January that the Pew Charitable Trusts would entertain such proposals was to activate the “auld alliance,” the highly successful multi-year Project `87 carried out jointly by the AHA and the APSA. We understand that we can expect a response from Pew in early April.

Two important and very responsible committee chair positions, still pending at the end of the San Francisco annual meeting, have now been filled. The Program Committee for 1991 will be chaired by Professor Linda Hall, University of New Mexico, who is busily organizing her committee members list to be submitted to the Council at its spring meeting. The 1991 meeting, in Chicago, will be the occasion for a number of Columbus quincentennial sessions. The Council decided to enable the Association to open the quincentenary year at the end of 1991, rather than wait to conclude it a year later. Equally important to the success of an annual meeting is the choice of a Local Arrangements Committee chair. Professor Carol S. Gruber, William Paterson College, has agreed to fill this position for the December 1990 annual meeting in New York City.

The month of February also saw headquarters staff participating in meetings of the executive committee of COSSA, the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the board of the National Humanities Alliance, and a meeting of the executive directors of the OAH, NCSS, and AHA, the three sponsoring organizations of the History Teaching Alliance, with its director, Dr. Jane Landers of the University of Florida. Among other matters discussed was the organization of a matching fund-raising campaign to provide a substantial endowment for the HTA in conjunction with the NEH’s generous challenge grant award of $225,000.