Letters to the Editor

On the February 2017 Perspectives Cover

Williamjames Hull Hoffer, May 2017

To the editor:

I am amazed at the editorial staff’s ability to discern the ethnicities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds (region, socioeconomic strata, etc.) of the ladies and gentlemen in the photograph of the 1934 annual meeting such that they can proclaim them as lacking diversity (“On the Cover,” February 2017). I expect simplistic, racist analysis from my less skilled students, but not from Perspectives. For shame.

Williamjames Hull Hoffer
Seton Hall University

Allison Miller responds:

The photograph of the AHA &ldquo;Founder&rsquo;s Banquet&rdquo; (1934), which ran on the cover of the February 2017 issue of <em>Perspectives</em>It’s no secret that at its founding in 1884, the AHA was composed of white men of Anglo-­Protestant, patrician backgrounds. Additionally, our pre-publication research on the photograph, picturing a 1934 dinner celebrating the founding of the Association, showed that the people at the head table were all white. All the women at the table were spouses of the men, leading one to surmise that those pictured were heterosexual (although as Professor Hoffer hints, plenty of LGBTQ people have been in straight marriages).

This spatial arrangement reflects another well-known fact: women were visible in the profession mostly as wives. The business of the Association was largely conducted unofficially at a men’s retreat convened by J. Franklin Jameson, pictured at the table. Women AHA members were not permitted to attend the retreat or the notorious “smokers”—clubby social occasions at the annual meeting that doubled as job interviews. For many years, too, the AHA leadership was concentrated mostly among men from elite East Coast universities, leading to the formation of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (today the Organization of American Historians) in 1907.

Finally, the pipeline: most of these elite universities maintained informal quotas on undergraduate admissions for whites from religious, ethnic, and class backgrounds that didn’t match existing student bodies, making it difficult for these minorities (especially Jews) to penetrate the ranks of graduate schools likely to produce AHA leadership. Of the guests at the table, only two had “ethnic” names: the British Orientalist De Lacy O’Leary and the Russian archaeologist and ancient historian Michael (Mikhail) Rostovtzeff, both of whom were born and educated outside of the United States.

Given these facts, it’s not at all “racist” to say that the 1934 Founders Dinner celebrated exclusivity in the profession: a tradition of exclusions by race, class, ethnicity, gender, and religion. There is no “shame” in acknowledging facts, however unflattering. We can only hope they are facts no more and continue to work toward broader inclusivity.


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