AHA Activities

Supporting History Department Chairs

Behind the Scenes at the AHA

Dana Schaffer | May 14, 2024

I’ve been involved with a wide range of activities in my 11 years working at the AHA, but some of my most rewarding experiences have been working with history department chairs. Chairs are on the front lines of the discipline, defending historians’ work and supporting their professional lives at all stages of their academic careers. A crucial goal of the AHA and its Professional Division, which I serve as staff liaison, is to strengthen this work and to provide resources and opportunities that make chairs’ work easier and valued. Each year, the AHA hosts a variety of events and opportunities to benefit department chairs and build community, including webinars, sessions at the annual meeting, and an annual workshop.

Since 2018, the AHA has held a Department Chairs Workshop each July. The workshop brings together department chairs from all types of institutions around the country to share their experiences, offer advice, and build a cohort of peers who can serve as resources for one another long after the workshop ends. The 2023 workshop was my own introduction to working with department chairs. The attendees, including both incoming chairs and those with several years’ experience, enjoyed two days of facilitated discussions, presentations, and camaraderie, learning from each other and tackling common issues together. Chairs shared insights about strategies for recruiting majors and advocating for their departments, navigating personnel challenges, and managing a work-life balance, to name just a few of the topics covered. Attendees were supportive and energized, ready to take what they learned and apply it in their home departments. I’m looking forward to the 2024 workshop on July 15 and 16 at Northwestern University. (There is still time to register!)

Because finding the time and resources to attend an in-person workshop can be challenging for some, the AHA also offers a Department Chairs Webinar Series throughout the academic year. Planning these webinars has been a real pleasure for me—working with both AHA colleagues and committed department chairs to select topics and facilitators for each part of the series. These 60-minute sessions are held on Friday afternoons and, much like the workshop, include both facilitated discussions and breakout rooms on common issues. The 2023–24 series featured events on response to crises, postpandemic graduate education, navigation of legal issues, and the place of history in general education. These sessions are free to attend, but registration is required—keep an eye out for webinar announcements in our Fortnightly News emails.

Each year, department chairs have a large presence at the AHA annual meeting. The Department Chairs Lunch is a great opportunity for chairs from a wide range of institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to Research 1 universities to regional publics—to meet one another, share ideas, and learn about resources for their work. At the latest annual meeting in San Francisco, chairs discussed how departments might institute programs to develop the employability of college learners. (We are considering topics for next year’s lunch and welcome your suggestions.)

Additionally, the AHA has helped to convene regional chairs’ meetings, both in person and online, with discussions tailored to the needs and interests of the group. If this is something that might benefit your department, please let us know, and we can help.

Finally, in addition to our range of events and activities, the AHA hosts a vibrant Department Chairs listserv community, where chairs can post questions, pool resources, share data and insights, and solicit feedback and advice. The community is a confidential space for chairs to support one another and benefit from the contributions of their peers.

The AHA is grateful for the work of history department chairs, and we strive to provide programs, activities, and resources to help them sustain their work, support colleagues and students, and defend the historical discipline.


Dana Schaffer is deputy director of the AHA.


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