Publication Date

May 1, 1993

Perspectives Section

From the Executive Director

This issue of Perspectives is the last one for the 1992–93 academic year and as such the last chance to convey to members a report on some of the Association’s routine but important business activities of the late spring.

AHA headquarters’ rhythm is keyed to the academic year, which governs the schedule of the vast majority of our members, teacher-scholars in post-secondary educational institutions. Staff pulses to a twice-a-year cycle marked by summer school holidays and a pause for breath after the Christmas season and the annual meeting. The two peaks of activity are of course the annual meeting, now slated for early January, and the spring meeting of the Council in May. Clustered in the months of March–April and October–November are the semiannual meetings of our other standing committees, the three divisions, the Committee on Minority Historians, the Committee on Women Historians, and the Membership Committee. Inevitably, some of these meetings take place too late to be reported in our newsletter in as timely a fashion as we would like. However, we have now the pleasure of reporting on the spring meetings of the Teaching Division (which took place in the midst of a mid-March weekend snowstorm) and the Research Division (late March).

The Teaching Division’s Arctic adventures featured an extra night in Washington for two of its snowbound and airline-dependent members and the absence of one member from suburban Maryland, whose driveway and street were impassable. The meeting itself was a productive one. The division turned to middle-term and long-term planning of projects to continue and build on the last decade’s progress increasing the AHA’s contribution to the teaching of history. Those efforts and three new pamphlet series generated by them have increased the circulation and sales of teaching-oriented AHA pamphlets fivefold. The AHA’s presence and advice in a number of teaching improvement initiatives are eagerly sought and listened to with attentiveness. Thus, working up a new wish list of education projects and enlisting the support of our elected presidents, which the division completed, give confidence that progress will continue. Plans were also laid for the development of future teaching prizes to join the two recently-created Asher and Roelker teaching and mentorship awards. The division also decided to pursue the development of a pamphlet on the training of teaching assistants to draw on and publicize the experience of a number of creative graduate departments.

The Research Division met on the weekend of March 28–29. Its agenda is always occupied with difficult choices since it decides on the award of small grants under the AHA’s Beveridge, Littleton-Griswold, Kraus, and Schmitt grants programs, which provide grants not to exceed a thousand dollars each to help scholar researchers complete research projects. The division noted with gratification that a natural evolution has taken place in these programs which focuses almost all of the grants on doctoral dissertation projects. Since the division had 139 grant applications to read and discuss, much of its first meeting day was devoted to tough choices. Eighteen grants were approved, to seven women and eleven men applicants, totalling $10,600. Over the twelve years since the oldest of these grant programs, was established, 379 grants have been awarded.

The division also weighed the recommendation of potential honorary members of the Association and agreed unanimously on a recommendation to the Council. The tradition of naming honorary members goes back to the 1880s when Leopold von Ranke and later Bishop William Stubbs were appointed. Rejoicing over the designation of long-time member Trudy Huskamp Peterson as Acting Archivist of the United States, the Research Division asked its chair to send a letter of congratulations. (Elsewhere in this issue, on page 1, we note that her elevation to new responsibilities has necessitated Dr. Peterson’s withdrawal from this year’s ballot as a candidate for a position on the Research Division because of the conflict of interest that her possible election could have caused.)

The division also approved and passed on to the Council the recommendations of the editor of the AHR, David Ransel, of four appointments to the Review‘s Board of Editors. Finally, the division carefully reviewed the guidelines for Program Committees of the Association, suggesting to the Council two changes to clarify these committees’ powers and responsibilities.

The AHA’s Council last December had discussed with concern some of the problems relating to the services to scholars traditionally provided by the Library of Congress. Recent financial stringencies and the lure of expanded and expensive services made possible by advances in both hardware and software have led to the cutback of hours that the library and its magnificent manuscript collection are open. A rash of publicly acknowledged thefts led the Librarian to close the stacks absolutely to scholars, no matter how distinguished their credentials. The Council directed that President Louise Tilly and other AHA representatives discuss these concerns with Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress. A lengthy meeting took place on March 19. Professor Tilly was joined by Professor Ira Berlin (University of Maryland, College Park) as a representative scholar with extensive experience as an LC user, and by Association staff.

The discussion did little to reassure the Association. The Librarian and his staff feel under intense congressional critical pressure and victimized by shrinking appropriations. While some easing of the denial of stack access might be possible, it is dependent on “solving” the security problems, a Holy Grail being earnestly pursued. It is clear that the AHA needs to mobilize its resources and its members in support of the library and its genuine needs. We need to be a continuing advocate with the Congress on the same scale with which we support—and sometimes criticize—the National Archives and with the same zeal we devote to fighting the continuing battle for greater access to federal government documents.

A meeting of the Joint Committee of Historians and Archivists the previous weekend had also raised concerns about the Library and its near future. The Joint Committee, made up of Society of American Archivists, OAH, and AHA representatives, devoted part of its time to this issue, which we all regard as of great importance.

The AHA’s Committee on Women Historians met on March 20. Looking back with pride and a sense of accomplishment on the status of women historians now, as compared to the era of the committee’s creation almost a generation ago, the CWH found there are still issues to engage it. It reviewed the status of the AHA’s pamphlets on women’s history, noting that even the most distinguished works need periodic updating; it began the process of revising the Association’s “Guidelines on Hiring Women in Academia” to keep it useful in the late 1990s; and it began planning for the next two annual meetings’ sessions on women in the profession and on women’s history.