Letters to the Editor

Effective Representation a Goal?

Jon Kukla, February 1990

The opening paragraphs of Ronald Formisano's letter in the September 1989 Perspectives raise questions about the legislative process that restructured the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. Who among us would not be disconcerted by the unceremonious removal of the chair in which he or she sat? Nevertheless, the immediate result seems less dire than Professor Formisano's letter suggests, while other wider concerns may be understated.

Sound policy requires precise analysis, and Professor Formisano's characterization of the Association for Documentary Editing as a "vested interest" misrepresents the scholars who comprise its membership in two ways: First, the organization is genuinely interdisciplinary; its members engage in an intellectual colloquy among scholarly editors who identify with disciplines such as literature, the fine arts, and philosophy as well as history. If there are ADE members inclined to press for narrowly defined "professional" interests they must be disappointed with the organization's breadth of vision. In adventures across disciplinary lines in this era of deconstruction and "the New Literary History," historians in the ADE have learned and taught a great deal, but anyone who witnessed the centripetal independence of scholarly editors debating the aims and contents of what eventually emerged as A Guide to Documentary Editing (Baltimore, 1987), by May-Jo Kline, knows that the ADE excels at academic discussion (if not anarchic disputation) rather than self-serving conspiracy in the committee rooms of Congress.

The ADE joins the OAH and AHA among nearly fifty members of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, which regularly reports on NHPRC legislation and funding in the pages of Perspectives. Many historians in the ADE are absolutely independent of the NHPRC as a source of support, and it is from their number that the ADE Council wisely selected its representative to the NHPRC.

At our best, women and men participating in serious historical scholarship bring to the discussion of public and professional affairs the breadth of vision that elevates our liberating art above mere technical proficiency. It would be unfortunate if Professor Formisano's letter, by portraying recent developments at the NHPRC as a confrontation in which scholarly interests and the public good fell victim to narrowly defined professional agendas, obscured the legitimate concern that we all share for effective representation of our broadly-based historical understandings in this increasingly splintered world of technicians.

Jon Kukla
Richmond, Virginia