A Time for Renewal: The AHA and the Path Forward
Perspectives on History has a new look. As someone who misses visual cues on a regular basis, I realize some readers could be so deeply engaged in the content of our magazine that they would miss the change. But most of you will notice it immediately. This redesign, led by editor Allison Miller but very much a collaboration among AHA staff members and our designers at eighty2degrees, will help us communicate the unity and diversity of the AHA’s recent work and its continuing activities on behalf of history and historians.
A revamped Perspectives coincides with other changes in what the AHA does and how we do it. Even casual readers of Perspectives probably know that the Tuning project and Career Diversity have been marquee programs over the past three to five years not only at AHA headquarters but also at more than 100 higher education institutions nationwide. These institutional members of the AHA have been reexamining their undergraduate major programs and in many cases begun to consider reinventing graduate programs. This year marks a turning point for both.
A generous grant from the Lumina Foundation supported 158 historians at 122 two- and four-year colleges and universities as they reviewed and renovated the history major curriculum over four years. Adapted from analogous efforts in Europe, AHA Tuning helped participating institutions articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and define what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program. I was particularly grateful to Lumina for its faith in an organization with which it had no experience and a leadership with whom it had no previous connection. Good grant making involves risk, and Lumina took a risk, knowing little of the AHA or even of scholarly societies more generally.
The risk paid off for both parties. Lumina responded to AHA Tuning in part by funding the National Communication Association in a comparable endeavor. The AHA has seen exciting new work in our participating departments, learned vocabulary and methods to apply in other venues, and drawn on a new source of institutional leadership. Tuning simply has been too successful to drop at the end of the grant period. That’s why we are revising one of our most popular publications, Careers for History Majors; continuing a three-year tradition of sponsoring an annual teaching conference in Texas (drawing on the state’s common course-numbering system as an organizing frame); and initiating conversations with potential collaborators on adapting Tuning principles to even more aspects of undergraduate education, especially introductory courses. Our international footprint has increased as well. AHA Tuning maven Dan McInerney has won a research fellowship to the Tuning Academy in Bilbao, whose work has included more than 1,000 scholars from 120 countries over the past decade. Colleagues from Japan will visit our office next month to discuss how our work might inform a similar initiative there.
Career Diversity has taken another route that often follows a major grant: renewal for a next stage that, in foundation speak, “takes the work to scale.” We have learned enough from our four pilot departments and other aspects of the initiative to be able to host 34 departments at a series of institutes that will lead to 20 funded participants ready to expand career horizons and opportunities while better preparing graduate students for employment in the broad landscape of higher education. This includes fluency in assessment, learning outcomes, and curriculum design—things that all educators should know.
This year marks a turning point for the AHA’s Tuning project and Career Diversity.
While encouraging our departments to consider these new ways of thinking, we are also initiating professional development opportunities for the leadership of AHA institutional members. After extended consultation with history department chairs, administrators, and other scholarly societies, the AHA hopes to launch a “chairs workshop” beginning in June or July 2018. In one of my AHA fantasy worlds, all chairs would participate in our online discussion community (or “chairs list,” one of the AHA website’s Communities spaces). This is, of course, unlikely, but if chairs reading this column have ideas for this initiative, please join the group or contact me. Look for Communities in the upper right corner of the AHA home page.
The Association’s website also features new elements in its Advocacy section. “Historians Making News” highlights the presence of historians in the media, whether they’re being quoted by journalists or writing op-eds or other contributions to public life. Similarly, “Everything Has a History” offers videos that bring historical context to current events. Most of these materials are suitable for classroom use and are readily shared through social media.
Our interpretation of “advocacy” has moved beyond traditional notions of lobbying and issuing statements or passing resolutions. The AHA speaks out only when a significant public issue relates to the rights and careers of individual historians, historical practice in diverse venues, or the role of history in public culture. We check our facts first, which often eliminates what seem to be obvious imperatives to take a stand. But our “Statements and Resolutions of Support and Protest” page points to a more vigilant and vocal AHA in recent years, with nine statements issued in 2017 alone. We are here, in part, to represent your interests as historians and individuals committed to the role of history and historical understanding in public life. We are prudent, but not shy.
Keep watching this space for new developments at the AHA. Alex Lichtenstein began his tenure as American Historical Review editor last month. Our affiliates program is becoming more robust under the leadership of committee chair Jay Malone. We are entering a collaboration with our colleagues in philosophy to explore how scholarly societies can interact more effectively with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And the changes in Perspectives—both print and online—will enhance communication with our growing membership.
James Grossman is executive director of the AHA. He tweets @JimGrossmanAHA.
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