From the Executive Director
Washington Notes, May 1992
Samuel R. Gammon, May 1992
The Council of the Association is scheduled to meet in Washington in early May, bringing to a close the major standing committee and governing body meetings of the 1991–92 fiscal year of the Association. The rhythm of the AHA's existence is attuned to the cycle of academic life, where most of our members are employed. That produces busy periods each semester for the organization, culminating in the end-of-year annual meeting and in the days before final exams and commencements in May.
While the Council's actions, and those of the Teaching Division, which meets a few days earlier, cannot be reported until the first fall issue of Perspectives, readers will be interested in actions taken by the AHA's Membership Committee in its March 28 meeting and in discussions of the Joint Committee of Historians (AHA and OAH) and Archivists (Society of American Archivists) on the following two days.
The Membership Committee heard with satisfaction reports on the steady growth of AHA membership, much of it attributable to committee initiatives. It asked that the membership form be amended to permit members to designate a maximum of four (rather than two) areas of historical interest and to add options for an Asian-American area as well as one for independent scholars. It asked that the Review staff develop an article for Perspectives on the mechanics of selecting book reviewers for the AHR, a subject of intense interest to members. It welcomed information that half of new members subscribing to the special membership category for K–12 teachers are opting to receive both the AHR and The History Teacher, and it asked that a special letter encouraging graduate student recruitment be sent to directors of graduate study in Ph.D.-granting departments of history. It also reminded headquarters staff to urge graduate student members to make nominations for the new Nancy Lyman Roelker Mentorship Award, being launched this fall. The Membership Committee members also took a heroic and exceedingly rare decision for an operating committee—they voted to postpone its next meeting, if the Council concurs, for two years, when its creative batteries will have been recharged by the rotation onto the Committee of several new members.
The Joint Committee of Historians and Archivists had a very productive session. After hearing reports from each of the three member organizations, it focused on current concerns about the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. All participants agreed that a strong effort needs to be made to obtain better and more assured funding for both institutions. The recently drafted long-range plan for the NHPRC was discussed, as was filling future vacancies on the Commission. The Committee heard with pleasure Page Miller's report that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in response to letters from the AHA and others, is reconsidering procedures that would have prohibited use of personal equipment in the motion picture research room at the Archives, which would have seriously impeded access. Concern was expressed that the new NARA II facility being built adjacent to the University of Maryland, College Park campus may have serious problems for scholar users who need to move around the building. The Committee was concerned that NARA does not appear to be availing itself effectively of the small users' committee set up to give advice on such subjects. The Committee generally was dissatisfied that NARA has had no general advisory board to reflect the concerns of its clients since it attained its independence in 1984. Short-term, ad hoc groups exposed to show-and-tell "briefings" are no substitute for continuing dialogue with representatives of historical, archival, and genealogical groups.
Confirming the validity of the above was an interesting discussion held with representatives of NARA's Appraisals and Dispositions staff, who met with the Committee. A procedure was worked out for bringing to the attention of Page Miller and the Joint Committee notices in the Federal Register regarding proposed NARA dispositions of records. It is hoped this will enable historian specialists, who might be potential users of these records, to be alerted and to weigh in in timely fashion.
As members in academia prepare for end-of-academic-year activities and look forward to summer plans, they might be interested in early, tentative negotiations for AHA annual meeting sites in later years. December 27–30, 1992, will see the twenty-sixth annual meeting, to be held in Washington, DC; January 6–9, 1994, the first of our early January meetings, will be held in San Francisco; and January 5–8, 1995, will find us again in Cincinnati. Early contacts have also been made with eager hotels and convention bureaus in New Orleans and Atlanta for 1996 and in New York City for 1997. Subject to the AHA Council's approval, serious discussions with these various bidders will be opened over the next several months. It is the AHA's goal to find either two cities or two hotel groups in the same city to compete for our business, a negotiating tactic that has succeeded over the past decade in keeping our hotel room prices at bargain levels for our meetings, compared to other learned societies. The change to early January meetings removes us from the price protection of the "dead week" for hotels between Christmas and New Year's Day and puts us in competition for space with entities such as trade associations, sales conventions, boat shows, and garden clubs. That fact of life will cost members several dollars more per night than the late December dates, but we still hope to use the pressures of the market place as best we can to defend aggressively our members' purses.
It has been brought to AHA headquarter's attention that a long and exacerbated labor dispute between the Parc Fifty Five Hotel in San Francisco and a labor union local has been flagged for many of our members around the country by the union, with the request that the AHA be induced to boycott using the Parc Fifty Five as an overflow facility for rooms and meeting space beyond the capacity of our 1994 headquarters hotel, the San Francisco Hilton. While the subject will be brought to the AHA Council's attention at its May meeting, the AHA entered into a contract with the Parc 55 for overflow space on July 24, 1990, prior to any word of a labor dispute. Breach of contract is a serious—and expensive—tort, and we hope that the labor dispute will be settled over the next twenty months, making the issue moot. Should that not happen, individual members can be given the information to enable them to make their own judgments about which hotel they desire to use for bedroom purposes, and we can further reduce the AHA's use of meeting facilities to the vanishing point, in conformity with the contract.