Advocacy Briefs: The AHA Responds to Graduate Student's Imprisonment and to Confederate Monuments

AHA Staff | Oct 1, 2017

The AHA, along with the rest of the academic community, was deeply troubled to learn about the imprisonment of a history graduate student studying abroad in Iran. Members of the AHA community have also followed the distressing events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the national debate on the removal of Confederate monuments. Additionally, this past summer, the AHA responded to changes to federal support for history education and research, including funding for Title VI international education programs and a policy change at the National Archives and Records Administration that would negatively affect historical work.

Academic Statement for the Release of Xiyue Wang

The Iranian judiciary announced in July that Xiyue Wang, a doctoral candidate in history at Princeton University, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage. Princeton has stated that his family and the university are distressed at his continued unjust imprisonment. Wang’s request for an appeal was denied on August 17. The AHA was asked to post a petition generated by a group of historians to provide an opportunity for scholars to show their support for Mr. Wang’s release. 

Wang was detained on August 7, 2016, while conducting research for his dissertation. The AHA has been in communication with our colleagues at Princeton regarding this matter. There has been consensus until now that Wang’s case would not benefit from publicity on our part. This is not the first time the AHA has remained silent because we have been advised that our intervention could be counterproductive. The AHA remains strongly committed to the safety of scholars engaged in historical research.

AHA Statement on Confederate Monuments

The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 have re-ignited debate about the place of Confederate monuments in public spaces, as well as related conversations about the role of Confederate, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist imagery in American political culture. Historians have been a vocal presence in these discussions, and the American Historical Association has compiled a bibliography of the diverse perspectives of AHA members.

The AHA has also released a statement about the role of history and historians in these public conversations. Rather than seeking to provide definitive answers to the questions posed by individual monuments, the AHA emphasizes the imperative of understanding historical context in any consideration of removing or recontextualizing monuments, or renaming public spaces. The full text of the statement can be found in the AHA Activities section of this issue.

Urging the Reauthorization of Federal International Education Programs

On July 10, the AHA joined 29 other organizations in a letter calling upon the Senate Committee on Health and Education to reauthorize and adequately fund Title VI programs in international education. As part of the Coalition for International Education, the AHA recommended financial support that would meet “the rapidly growing national needs for Americans with international knowledge and foreign language abilities across employment sectors.” 

Addressing Hours Cut at NARA Research Rooms

In early July, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced that research rooms in Washington, DC, and College Park, Maryland, would no longer have Saturday hours beginning July 22, 2017. AHA executive director James Grossman sent a letter to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero to express concern about the impact of the change and the way it was announced. Grossman noted that “historical research should not be a privilege limited to those who do not have obligations during what are still conventional weekday working hours.” Additionally, Grossman took issue with the short notice of this change, given the advance plans many researchers make to conduct research at NARA.

David Ferriero responded to the AHA, citing limited resources and staffing as the reason for the change. He noted that NARA will offset the elimination of Saturday hours “by increasing the hours we are open Monday to Friday and adding an additional pull time.” Future questions about this change should be directed to NARA’s chief operating officer, William J. Bosanko. The AHA will continue working to address the elimination of Saturday hours.

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