From the Executive Director
Washington Notes, December 1992
Samuel R. Gammon, December 1992
Washington, D.C., it has been said, is a power town and the power of money, except perhaps for PACs, defers to the trappings of political power. Even the order of social preference decreed by the Office of Protocol and in the "Green Suede Book," Washington's nearest thing to a Social Register, follows the government pecking order. That mind-set becomes abundantly plain in a presidential election year, after the Congress goes home to campaign. The pace of the executive branch slows to a hibernation level of respiration, while everyone waits eagerly for the appearance of the "Plum Book," the Government Printing Office list of over three thousand appointive jobs in the federal administration. When the pollsters, soothsayers, and haruspices have predicted that there will probably be a change of political party in power, the excitement among career government employees becomes palpable beneath the doldrums of every fourth October.
One of the supreme ironies of a change of administration is that the new crowd invariably comes to town deeply suspicious and distrustful of career employees—after all, "they worked for the other guys" for four, eight, or twelve years. In reality civil servants and senior military and foreign service career people are 200 percent "loyal" to the new team and desperately eager to ingratiate themselves with the new bosses! It is wryly amusing to watch this scenario play out and see both sides begin to get accustomed to each other.
Meanwhile, behind all the political excitement, the AHA's own election is completed and our "new team" of elected officials is identified (see p. 1).
During the month of October two more of the AHA's important committees came to town to do their work. The Professional Division convened for a full day on October 3. It began a careful review and updating of parts of the Association's important Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct and directed a new draft be prepared of those provisions relating to employment and plagiarism. The division then turned to a large number of cases arising from complaints alleging violation of the Standards. Actions were taken on letters from participants in two prior cases. Five new cases were accepted and action was completed on one of them, a complaint alleging age discrimination, which the division did not find to be substantiated. Two informal complaints were considered and elicited letters giving the division's informal opinion.
For its spring agenda, the Professional Division decided to reexamine past doctrine for handling allegations of human rights abuses against historians in other countries. It authorized an AHA intervention on behalf of one historian imprisoned in a West African country. In a discussion of the standard for advertisements for job vacancies in AHA publications, which balances uneasily between insisting on truth in advertising and insisting on nondiscrimination, the division held that a request seeking to accumulate lists of potential minority candidates for future vacancies was permissible in Perspectives but that limiting recruitment for a specific position exclusively to one ethnic, racial, or gender group would not be permitted.
The Professional Division reviewed the ten-year-old AHA policy requiring that historian participants in the annual meeting program must be AHA members (unless foreign nationals) and voted to maintain it. Reviewing specific conditions at the upcoming Washington meeting affecting History of Science Society members, whose annual meeting is concurrent with the AHA, the division recommended to the Research Division that maximum leeway be accorded HSS members regarding registration and membership at the AHA's meeting. The division held that since HSS is not in any way dependent on AHA Washington hotel facilities, its members should be given guest privileges at our meeting.
The Joint Committee of Archivists and Historians, made up of delegates from the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and the AHA, met in Washington on October 18–19. This committee permits representatives of the preeminent historical and archival organizations to exchange views on areas of mutual interest and concern. It relies heavily on reports from the director of NCC, Page Putnam Miller, since many of the topics are susceptible to advocacy efforts with the federal government. Among the topics addressed were the problems created by recent draconian actions by the Library of Congress closing LC stacks to researchers, the status of fair use of unpublished copyrighted material, and legislation opening the Kennedy assassination documents. The health of the National Archives and its consort, the National Historical Publication and Records Commission, was extensively discussed, particularly their appropriations prospects for FY 1994. Representatives of the Archives and the NHPRC met with the committee to talk over various closer cooperation procedures that have been begun. An extensive review of two completed conferences at the Bentley Library on the historical content of archival education and the archival content of history graduate training looked toward future publication of the conference discussions.
AHA staff attended a fascinating conference October 13–15 in Washington on the first two hundred years of the White House, at which a number of leading American scholars spoke, including many former officers of the Association. The conference featured a reception at the White House for participants by the President and Mrs. Bush, somewhat truncated by hosts and guests scattering to their various TV sets to watch the vice presidential debate!
The AHA and its staff turn up in a number of odd places. On October 22 the executive director, at the request of the Senate Select Committee on Vietnam POWs and MIAs, gave a sworn deposition on the first two rounds of negotiations between the United States and Vietnam in 1976–77, in which he had participated as head of the American diplomatic delegation.
In the midst of these new and continuing activities, the Association brought to a close its role in the development of the framework for the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. history assessment. First authorized by Congress in 1969, NAEP tests are administered biannually in core subject areas to samples of students in grades four, eight, and twelve, and this new framework significantly revises the content or conceptual base for the next history assessment. Through the efforts of the AHA's Teaching Division and a specially convened focus group (see the November 1991 Perspectives) and the participation of some three dozen teachers, college and university faculty, and public historians on the project planning and steering committees, the Association was able to play an influential role in what was at times a contentious debate. The profession owes a considerable debt of gratitude to our colleagues who devoted countless hours to meetings and to the writing, reviewing, and editing of this important document.