Published Date

September 17, 1972

This resource is part of The AHA Review Board: A Preliminary Report (1972).

The proposal for a Review Board grew out of what many saw to be the critical issues faced by the association in the late 1960s. During the early months of 1970, R. R. Palmer, then president of the association, held discussions with many members and solicited their ideas for the reform and revitalization of the organization. From one of these discussions emerged some proposals for change and a full-fledged review of association affairs, which were printed in the November 1970 AHA Newsletter. In September 1970, the Council authorized this review of the association.

The Council resolution creating the Review Board offered a broad mandate for investigation:

Resolved, that a review board be created to investigate and recommend changes in the organization and functions of the American Historical Association. The review board shall be named by the president of the association from nominations received from members of the association, and shall report directly to the membership at large. The review board shall consider, among others, such matters as the governance and committee structure of the association, the nature and conduct of the annual meeting, and the feasibility of decentralizing some aspects of the association’s activities. The review board shall be empowered to name a staff associate to assist its inquiry.

Following procedures indicated in this resolution and in a further resolution passed at the 1970 business meeting (AHA Newsletter, 9, March 1971: 15–18) Joseph R. Strayer, president of the association for 1971, named the members of the Review Board in the spring of 1971. The board met for the first time in Washington in June 1971 and has met seven times since in sessions ranging from one to three days. We have benefited from direct discussions during this time with many people, including present and past officers of the association, present and past members of the Council and committees, and all members of the professional staff of the Washington office.

We sent through the Newsletter the following request to the entire membership for information and suggestions about the course and state of the AHA:

In order to assure a thorough review of the purposes and functions of the American Historical Association, the AHA Review Board wishes to have members’ observations about the present state of the Association and their suggestions for any alterations in its direction and operations which they think necessary or desirable. The following questions are those which reflect the fundamental concerns which we have been discussing to date but which do not by any means limit our considerations. We would very much appreciate your views about, and answers to, these questions, along with any other comments you may have about these or other matters.

In your judgment, is it necessary for the AHA to undertake reorganization in order to make itself more responsive to changing professional needs and opportunities? If so, what would you propose?

Many members of the Association have been raising questions about the training of graduate students. Should the AHA concern itself with the nature and quality of graduate programs? Should the AHA concern itself more with options other than teaching and research open to holders of graduate degrees in history?

What should the AHA do to promote and improve undergraduate teaching of history in the United States?

What should the AHA do to promote and improve the teaching of history in primary and secondary schools?

What should the AHA be doing to promote historical scholarship that it is not now doing?

What groups of people interested in history should be reached and served by the Association? Are there any groups not now served by the Association which might benefit by membership and participation in AHA affairs and whose membership might benefit the AHA?

If you are a member of other professional organizations (such as the Organization of American Historians, the African Studies Association, the Society for French Historical Studies, and the Conference of British Historians), what services does or should the AHA provide which are not offered by these other groups? What services do you find redundant?

Should the Annual Meeting of the Association in any way be altered so as to affect the form and content of its various official functions (such as the program of sessions, job placement, and the business meeting)? Is the present meeting date satisfactory?

Finally, if you were arranging the priorities of the Association, how would you do so?

We received about forty replies to our request for information.

We sent an inquiry to the officers of twenty-five other historical associations, soliciting their views on inter-association relations; to this inquiry we received twenty replies. We held four hours of panel hearings at the annual meeting in New York in December 1971. Each member of the Review Board has met or corresponded with many other historians, member and non-member, at colleges and universities of all kinds, in secondary schools, and at archives and historical societies in order to learn their views and gain the benefit of their suggestions. Furthermore, we considered and prepared a questionnaire with the intention of developing a professional profile of the membership and of determining members’ involvement in the association’s activities, but because our questionnaire was greeted by administrative skepticism, it was abandoned. We continue, however, to think that such a questionnaire ought to be issued as soon as possible in order to gain information which we judge essential for the successful operation of the association as we envisage it.

This report does not and cannot represent and incorporate every view expressed to us. Our aim instead has been to make an independent assessment of all views and proposals in order to present the entire membership with an analysis of the current state of the AHA and some suggestions for change and improvement.