AHA Activities

Committee Issues Report on Redefining Historical Scholarship

AHA Staff, March 1994

Despite considerable differences in institutional missions and goals, most American colleges and universities agree on the basic criteria for faculty tenure and promotion decisions: the documentation and evaluation of research, teaching, and service. Although the relative weight given to each of the three criteria varies considerably from institution to institution, critics maintain that too much emphasis is now placed on the research component, with the other two relegated to considerably lesser if not irrelevant status. For example, Ernest Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching maintains that this equation of scholarship with research and publication, while perhaps having served many faculty and institutions well over the years, has perpetuated narrow individual and institutional priorities at odds with the broader interests of faculty and with the varied needs of colleges and universities today. In Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990), Boyer argues that "a wide gap now exists between the myth and the reality of academic life. Almost all colleges pay lip service to the trilogy of teaching, research, and service, but when it comes to making judgments about professional performance, the three rarely are assigned equal merit ... . The time has come to move beyond the tired old `teaching versus research' debate and give the familiar and honorable term `scholarship' a broader, more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full scope of academic work" (pp. 15–16).

This debate over priorities is not discipline-specific but extends across the higher education community. Nevertheless, each discipline has specific concerns and problems. For history, the privilege given to the monograph in promotion and tenure has led to the undervaluing of other activities central to the life of the discipline—writing textbooks, developing courses and curricula, documentary editing, museum exhibitions, and film projects, to name but a few. Despite a number of efforts within recent years to give greater recognition to such work, a traditional, hierarchical conceptualization of what constitutes historical scholarship, based on the German university model, continues to dominate and restrict our profession's rewards structure. There is little recognition of the diverse interests and talents of today's historians or of the changes that they undergo over the course of their careers. The situation is unlikely to change until we as a profession consciously rethink the fundamental meaning of historical scholarship and the role of the historian as scholar today. While frustration over the academic rewards structure may be the catalyst, a reexamination of the meaning of scholarship has much larger implications for the profession—if scholarly activity is central to the work of our profession, then how we define scholarship determines what it means to be a historian and who is part of the historical community. The AHA defines the history profession in broad, encompassing terms, but is that definition meaningful as long as only certain kinds of work are valued and deemed scholarly within our discipline? If the historical profession is a broad community of individuals committed to "teaching, researching, writing, or otherwise providing or disseminating historical knowledge and understanding" (Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of the AHA, 1988, p. 1), then the virtually exclusive identification of historical scholarship with the monograph is inappropriate and unfairly undervalues the work of a significant portion of professional historians. Just how many historians are excluded by a narrow definition of scholarship? According to data from a 1985–86 study conducted by the American Council of Learned Societies, only 41.8 percent of historians surveyed have published one or more scholarly books or monographs during their careers.

The AHA Ad Hoc Committee

Within this context, the American Historical Association agreed in 1991 to participate in two initiatives that call for the development of discipline-specific redefinitions of scholarly work. The first, conducted by Syracuse University and supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education and the Lilly Endowment, focuses on enhancing the status of teaching within the faculty rewards system. Eighteen professional associations are taking part in this effort. In the second project, eleven professional associations have agreed to undertake a variety of efforts to increase recognition for scholarship-based professional service. The cosponsors of this project are the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, the University of Maryland at College Park, and Wayne State University, with support from the Johnson Foundation. Those two projects have in turn contributed to a third initiative in which the Association has taken part, the Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards sponsored by the American Association for Higher Education and funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education.

The Association's agreement to take part in these projects rested on five assumptions:

  1. That problems associated with the faculty rewards system are not discipline-specific. Hence, individual disciplines and their associations may be a good place to start, but they cannot be expected to bring about reform single-handedly. Similar initiatives must be launched within higher education associations and college and university administrations if there is to be any substantial change.
  2. That the AHA's role should not be to prescribe a certain formula but rather to suggest alternative ways of conceptualizing scholarly work and to provide examples of the different ways in which history departments have addressed this issue. The emphasis should be on what "can be" considered scholarship, not what "must be" or "is." Any statement from the Association must be adaptable to the varied needs of different departments and institutions and leave room for individual and institutional choices.
  3. That a redefinition of scholarly work should not diminish or undermine historical research but rather extend and enhance it. Nor should a redefinition lead to a competitive situation—the relationship of research to other scholarly work should be viewed as complementary not competitive. Research—as well as teaching—remains at the heart of the profession.
  4. That the Association's concern is with historians' activities that relate directly to their research and teaching, broadly defined, and not with public service, civic involvement, or other service to their institutions and communities. While the latter are valuable and should be encouraged, they do not draw upon the historian's professional or disciplinary expertise and cannot be characterized as scholarly.
  5. That reform efforts should focus on increasing flexibility within the system and avoid the imposition of additional requirements on already overburdened tenure-track faculty. Moreover, priorities should change concomitantly in institutional support for faculty. The point should be to change priorities and increase options, not to demand more or increase faculty workloads.

Rather than addressing the two issues (teaching and service) separately, the AHA decided to combine the two efforts into one and develop a more comprehensive statement on the nature of scholarly work and the structure of the tenure and rewards system. Toward that end, an ad hoc committee was convened, composed of:

Robert A. Blackey, AHA Vice President for Teaching (1991–95), California State University, San Bernardino

Blanche Wiesen Cook, AHA Vice President for Research (1990–94), John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

Susan Socolow, AHA Vice President for the Profession (1989–92), Emory University

Philip V. Scarpino, Indiana University—Purdue University at Indianapolis, representing the Organization of American Historians

Noel J. Stowe, Arizona State University, representing the National Council on Public History

James Powell, Syracuse University

Roger Sharp, Syracuse University

Carlin Barton, University of Massachusetts

Gerald F. Linderman, University of Michigan

David Miller, Carnegie Mellon University

James B. Gardner, AHA Acting Executive Director, ex officio

A Conceptual Framework

An essay by Eugene Rice, Antioch College, entitled "The New American Scholar: Scholarship and the Purposes of the University," provided the context for the ad hoc committee's work. The Rice essay provides an alternative conceptualization of scholarly work: He proposes that the trilogy of research, teaching, and service be abandoned in favor of a more inclusive four-part definition of scholarship. In so doing, the discussion broadens from issues of balance within the campus-defined function of professor to the larger roles and obligations of the scholar. Drawing on the work of Ernest Boyer, Sandra E. Elman, Ernest Lynton, Lee Shulman, and others, Rice breaks scholarship down into four distinct yet interrelated components:

  1. The advancement of knowledge— essentially original research.
  2. The integration of knowledge—synthesizing and reintegrating knowledge, revealing new patterns of meaning and new relationships between the parts and the whole.
  3. The application of knowledge—professional practice directly related to an individual's scholarly specialization.
  4. The transformation of knowledge through teaching—including pedagogical content knowledge and discipline-specific educational theory.

Rice concludes:

We know that what is being proposed challenges a hierarchical arrangement of monumental proportions—a status system that is firmly fixed in the consciousness of the present faculty and the academy's organizational policies and practices. What is being called for is a broader, more open field where these different forms of scholarship can interact, inform, and enrich one another, and faculty can follow their interests, build on their strengths, and be rewarded for what they spend most of their scholarly energy doing. All faculty ought to be scholars in this broader sense, deepening their preferred approaches to knowing but constantly pressing, and being pressed by peers, to enlarge their scholarly capacities and encompass other—often contrary—ways of knowing (p. 6).

An Expanded Definition of Historical Scholarship

The ad hoc committee then applied this framework to the history discipline, using as a starting point the following passage from the AHA's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct (1992):

Scholarship, the uncovering and exchange of new information and the shaping of interpretations, is basic to the activities of the historical profession. The profession communicates with students in textbooks and classrooms; to other scholars and the general public in books, articles, exhibits, films, and historic sites and structures; and to decisionmakers in memoranda and testimony (p. 5).

That description is clearly broader than the traditional definition of scholarship as original research, and it provided the committee with the basis for developing an expanded list of activities appropriate for consideration under a more inclusive tenure and promotion system. The list that follows is basically an inventory of activities that can be scholarly but does not address when a particular activity is scholarly and when it is not—that is an issue of evaluation, as discussed below. For example, teaching can be a scholarly activity, but all teaching is not scholarly in nature.

Using the Rice formulation of scholarship, the committee proposes that within history:

1. The advancement of knowledge includes:

  • Original research—based on manuscript and printed sources, material culture, oral history interviews, or other source materials—published in the form of a monograph or refereed journal article; disseminated through a paper or lecture given at a meeting or conference or through a museum exhibition or other project or program; or presented in a contract research report, policy paper, or other commissioned study.
  • Documentary or critical editions.
  • Translations.

2. The integration of knowledge includes:

  • Synthesis of scholarship—published in a review essay (journal or anthology), textbook, newsletter, popular history, magazine, encyclopedia, newspaper, or other form of publication; disseminated through a paper or lecture given at a meeting or conference or through a museum exhibition, film, or other public program; or presented in a contract research report, policy paper, or other commissioned study.
  • Edited anthologies, journals, or series of volumes comprised of the work of other scholars.

3. The application of knowledge includes:

  • Public history, specifically:
    Public programming (exhibitions, tours, etc.) in museums and other cultural and educational institutions.
    Consulting and providing expert testimony on public policy and other matters.
    Contract research on policy formulation and policy outcomes.
    Participation in film and other media projects.
    Writing and compiling institutional and other histories.
    Historic preservation and cultural resource management.
    Administration and management of historical organizations and institutions.
    Archival administration and the creation of bibliographies and databases.
  • Professional service—editing journals and newsletters, organizing scholarly meetings, etc.
  • Community service drawing directly upon scholarship—through state humanities councils (e.g., public lectures), history day competitions, etc.

4. The transformation of knowledge through teaching includes:

  • Student mentoring/advising.
  • Research, writing, and consulting in history education and in other disciplines allied to history.
  • Development of courses, curricula, visual materials, and teaching materials (including edited anthologies, textbooks, and software)—implemented in the classroom or disseminated through publications (books, professional newsletter articles, etc.), papers (annual meetings, teaching conferences, etc.), or non-print forms.
  • Organization and participation in collaborative content-based programs (workshops, seminars, etc.) with the schools.
  • Participation in developing and evaluating advanced placement and other forms of assessment.
  • Museum exhibitions, catalogues, lectures, film, radio, etc.—public programs as forms of teaching.

While the charge to the committee was to develop a discipline-specific definition of scholarly work, the above formulation would be applicable as well to interdisciplinary work by historians. The committee did not address, however, the relative value of or weight that should be given to such work.

Weighting, Documentation, and Evaluation

As indicated earlier, this list of activities should not be viewed as prescriptive or definitive but rather as suggestive of how historical scholarship can be redefined to be more inclusive and multidimensional. While the breakdown provides a good starting point for departmental reassessment of promotion and tenure criteria, any such effort must also take into account the mission and goals of the individual department and the institution of which it is a part. Even if a department adopts the redefinition, it must still determine for itself the appropriate balance among the four components and the relative weight to be assigned to each. A central question that every department should address is whether there is a single mix or balance that each individual within the department must achieve or whether there is room for individuals to weight categories of work differently, as long as the department overall achieves a balance consistent with its mission.

But agreeing on an appropriate definition of scholarly work is only the first step—implementation is impossible without the development of appropriate strategies for documentation and evaluation. Work that cannot be documented and evaluated does not merit reward. But how is the work to be documented? It is relatively simple to provide copies of books or articles produced as part of one's research, but how is an innovative classroom activity or a museum exhibit documented? Advocates of the redefinition of scholarly work maintain that scholarship is strengthened when other activities are included, but it is difficult to demonstrate scholarly quality and rigor when documentation involves no more than counting or identifying. New forms of documentation such as portfolios and reflective essays must be implemented.

Attention also must be given to peer review and evaluation. Who will evaluate this scholarship? Do you require outside reviewers for teaching as you do for research? How do you secure the reviewers needed to evaluate work outside the usual expertise of faculty, such as museum exhibitions and computer software? What will be the criteria for evaluation? In a presentation entitled "What Makes It Scholarly" at the Conference on Redefinition and Assessment of Scholarship, which was sponsored by Syracuse University in 1992, Ernest Lynton suggested that evaluation criteria might include the expertise informing the choices made, the appropriateness and effectiveness of the choices, the originality and degree of innovation manifested in the activity, the difficulty of the task accomplished, and the scope and importance of the activity. Lynton's criteria focus on the process of scholarship rather than the product, thus encompassing a wider range of work than the monograph or journal article. For an example of how documentation and evaluation has been addressed for a nontraditional form of scholarship (museum exhibitions), see Thomas J. Schlereth, "Museum Exhibition Reviews: Introduction," Journal of American History (June 1989), pp. 192–95.

As each department or institution develops or adopts standards and criteria appropriate to its own mission and goals, the problem of transferability from one institution to another arises—will a scholar with nontraditional credentials find his or her mobility restricted? It is likely, for example, that the most prestigious research universities will continue to weight those activities classified under "advancement of knowledge" very heavily in appointment and promotion decisions. Thus senior members of a department have an obligation to counsel junior colleagues not only about the criteria for promotion in their own institution but also about the realities that govern advancement in the profession beyond that institution.

For further discussion of these issues (weighting, documentation, and evaluation) within the broader higher education context, see Robert M. Diamond and Bronwyn E. Adam, eds., Recognizing Faculty Work: Reward Systems for the Year 2000 (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993); Russell Edgerton, Patricia Hutchings, and Kathleen Quinlan, The Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching (American Association for Higher Education, 1991); Sandra E. Elman and Sue Marx Smock, Professional Service and Faculty Rewards: Toward an Integrated Structure (National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 1985); and Ernest A. Lynton and Sandra E. Elman, New Priorities for the University (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987). Each addresses both theory and practice and provides additional bibliographic citations. The Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) has assembled a resource packet that includes not only a bibliography of articles and monographs but also a list of unpublished campus documents that address issues of faculty priorities and the reward system. Contact the Forum at the AAHE offices, One Dupont Circle, Suite 360, Washington, DC 20036-1110, (202) 293-6440.

Case Studies in Faculty Roles and Rewards

For a discussion of these tenure and promotion issues within the specific context of the history profession, see the April 1988, October and December 1989, and June 1991 issues of the OAH Council of Chairs Newsletter and the spring 1993 issue of the Public Historian. The first and the last provide discussions of promotion and tenure within the context of public history, and the 1991 issue of the Newsletter focuses on evaluating teaching. The other two issues present case studies of policies and procedures at eight very different public and private colleges and universities, including a two-year senior college, three general baccalaureate institutions, two comprehensive institutions, and two doctoral-level universities. Moreover, the departments vary in terms of the highest degree offered—five offer the B.A., two the M.A., and one the Ph.D.—and in size—from ten to nearly thirty faculty each. These articles provide both valuable illustrations of alternative faculty rewards systems and direction in addressing documentation and evaluation questions.

The pertinent articles from the OAH Council of Chairs Newsletter are:

From the April 1988 issue

Kendrick A. Clements, "Promotion and Tenure for Public Historians"

From the October 1989 issue

Donald R. Whitnah, "Faculty Evaluation at the University of Northern Iowa"
Raymond G. Herbert, "Faculty Evaluation at Thomas More College"
Charles P. Carlson, Jr., "Faculty Evaluation at the University of Denver"
Louise E. Hoffman, "Faculty Evaluation at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg"

From the December 1989 issue

Robert W. McAhren, "Teaching Evaluation at Washington and Lee University"
Charles R. Bailey, "Assessing Teaching Effectiveness at SUNY-Geneseo"
Carol S. Gruber, "Evaluating Teaching at William Paterson College"
Anthony O. Edmonds, "The Evaluation and Reward of Teaching: Confessions of a Department Head Who Agreed to Chair a Blue Ribbon Committee on Evaluating Teaching"

From the June 1991 issue

Russell Edgerton, "The Teaching Portfolio—Recognizing the Scholarship in Teaching"
Peter Seldin and Linda F. Annis, "The Teaching Portfolio"
John Barber, "The Teaching Portfolio: At Last, a Panacea"
Anthony O. Edmonds, "The Teaching Portfolio: A Personal Witness by a Department Chair"
James Wilkinson, "Documenting Feedback in the Teaching Portfolio."

From the Public Historian

Philip V. Scarpino, "Some Thoughts on Defining, Evaluating, and Rewarding Public Scholarship," Public Historian 15 (spring 1993): 55–61

For copies of the newsletters, contact the Organization of American Historians, 112 North Bryan Street, Bloomington, IN 47408-4199, (812) 855-7311. For the Public Historian, contact the Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106-9410, (805) 893-3667.