Publication Date

April 1, 1989

Perspectives Section

From the Executive Director

The end of March and early April is one of the two pleasant seasons in Washington. Spring virtually explodes in a ten-day period with daffodils, cherry blossoms, magnolias and forsythia all blooming furiously at one time, the trees are just beginning to leaf and the azaleas give promise of rampant exhibitionism. Alas, some years it is also a very short season of mild temperature between the cloudy, rainy days of late winter and the muggy heat of summer, but historians in a capital city which still lives by politics and deals are not entitled to complain about the results of a political deal between Hamilton and Jefferson!

This year all three of the Association’s divisional committees are meeting too late in the season for their activities to be reported in this issue, which we try to get to our members before many of them disappear into their libraries, archives and summer address destinations. Three other major meetings took place in March which will, we believe, interest our readers.

On St. Patrick’s Day the Association’s Committee on Women Historians (CWH) held its spring meeting to consider a number of important issues. A good deal of time was devoted to exploring ideas for improving CWH’s already excellent networking skills by strengthening ties with the Organization of American Historians’ analogous committee and by a possible meeting of several similar committees of historians on the margin of the 1990 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. CWH also approved affiliating with the newly formed National Network of Women’s Committees. Plans were adopted for an appropriate observation of the twentieth anniversary of the landmark 1970 Rose Report next year, which was the beginning of the rapid changes that have characterized the status of women’s history and women historians in the profession.

A perennial concern of the CWH has been the subject of less than open faculty searches and recruitment, an area in which it is cooperating with the AHA’s Professional Division. This difficult subject was discussed at length. General agreement was expressed for the centrality of honesty as the key component of all searches; when the broad needs of a university and department are reflected in a targeted recruitment process, that targeting needs to be both legally defensible and clearly revealed to the job-hunting universe in fairness to all potential candidates. CWH decided to consult both model universites and the American Association of University Professors for examples of legitimate use of parameters and their expression.

Similarly the CWH continued its interest in the operation of the AHA Job Register at the annual meetings. Concerns about sexual harassment and belief in good manners alike led the Committee to express its continued desire to the Professional Division that the use of hotel sleeping rooms for job interviews be actively discouraged by the Association.

In planning for the annual meeting, the Committee discussed a number of topics for the two traditional sessions it sponsors on women’s history and the status of women in the profession.

On a Saturday afternoon in mid-March representatives of eight organizations and projects convened in Washington on the invitation of AHA’s president, and OAH’s president-elect, Louis R. Harlan, to discuss ways in which the two history associations might cooperate in the improvement of pre-collegiate history teaching. National History Day and the History Teaching Alliance; the Bradley Commission on History in the Schools, the National Commission of Social Studies in the Schools and the UCLA-based National Center for History in the Schools; the Organization of History Teachers and the American Association for State and Local History all described their important activities in this arena, while the National Council for the Social Studies, though unable to attend, conveyed its strong support for the meeting.

All participants agreed on the usefulness of the in-depth exchanges and decided to reconvene in the fall. General agreement was reached on six proposals for action: effective textbook review articles, development of a state-level network for lobbying purposes, urgent development of pamphlet and other publications to supply precollegiate teachers’ thirst for usable, content-based source material, encouragement of collaboration between precollegiate and postsecondary teachers, development of better access to the two associations so that member teachers may have opportunity for election to leadership positions in AHA and OAH, and better liaison networking with the many other groups playing a role in the current national effort to improve teaching and the educational system.

Less easily addressed but of equal importance were two other issues, in the view of the participants. The preparation and certification of teachers is an area in which post-secondary historians are all too little involved, and many suggestions focused on action by history departments: history faculty involvement in practice teaching monitoring, special historiographic courses for future teachers and effective cooperation between schools of education and history departments. The other area that resists ready improvement was identified as the reward system for teachers. At both levels teachers are hard-pressed to carry out their regular responsibilities and insufficiently recognized or rewarded for participating in the kinds of programs needed to improve pre-college history education. The tenure system itself often rewards research production and implicitly ignores teaching achievement and participation in outreach efforts to enhance the quality of history teaching.

Sunday and Monday, March 19–20, the Joint Committee of Historians and Archivists, representing the OAH, the AHA and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) convened for its spring meeting. As is its custom the Joint Committee had a long session with representatives of the National Archives and Records Administration, hearing reports on the plans for the new Archives II building adjacent to the University of Maryland, College Park, on plans to experiment with opening the Suitland, Maryland, Record Center on Saturdays during April and May and other topics. The Committees expressed some concern at NARA’s lack of adequate resources to fulfill its basic mission and to enhance its clout in the inter-agency universe. The Committee also discussed in some detail SAA’s progress in developing a system for certification of experienced archivists. The two historical organizations voiced concern at the continuing diminution of emphasis on history studies in the archival education process.

In the April issue we reported on the AHA’s decision to participate in legal procedures in support of an injunction by the federal court in the District of Columbia halting the attempt of the White House and National Security Council to erase the Reagan Administration computer records of the White House and NSC. Oral arguments took place on March 15, but a ruling by the judge either to uphold or to quash the injunction is not expected until after this issue is in press. The Justice Department attorney’s most effective argument was to the effect that the computer data under injunction is not a record and that bona fide records are all printed out in hard copy and that therefore purging the computer does not violate the Federal Records Act. The attorney for the plaintiffs, who include the American Library Association as well as the AHA, noted emphatically that the National Archives was never consulted in any way as to the record or non-record nature of the computer notes and indeed had never been consulted by any recent White House staff. Interestingly enough, the attorneys arguing the case for both sides are women. AHA staff present were pleased to hear the judge remark ruefully that he had only recently accidentally erased a hard disc on his own computer, which we hope will ensure a sympathetic view of the importance of this form of record preservation! We will of course report more fully to members on the case in our next issue.