Published Date

September 17, 1972

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

Many members have raised questions about the number, size, cost, representativeness, and rationale of the association’s committees. We have concluded that a number of their criticisms are well taken and that the committee system of the association should be substantially altered.

At the present time, the AHA is served by many committees, of varying activity and usefulness. Their demand on association resources is severe enough to require the elimination of some, the amalgamation of others and a continuing review to justify the existence of each of them. The new committee system which we propose is structured to reflect these concerns and to assure that the objectives set forth throughout this report are met.

We are proposing new categories of committees to replace those ad hoc committees which often remain in existence beyond their useful life. Furthermore, we have been motivated by the conviction that all the committees must be accountable to the entire membership and that a committee’s members must be active participants in its work.

Our thinking on these matters has been guided by a few basic considerations. First, the committee system itself must be genuinely representative of the membership of the association. Second, standing committees should assume considerably greater responsibilities than they do now and should be held accountable to the membership as well as to the Council. Specifically, each committee should submit its proposed budget to the Council or a designated staff officer; and each committee should report fully and openly on its activities and deliberations at least once a year to the full membership. Third, committee work should be adequately budgeted by the Council, and perhaps more important, each committee should receive the necessary staff assistance from the Washington office. Indeed, we believe that the professional staff officers must consider it their first duty to serve the Council and the committees. Moreover, assuming adequate budgetary and staff assistance, the structural changes we propose below should enable the association to carry out its functions without the proliferation of specialized committees.

We recommend that each division proposed in section 3 be the sole and immediate concern of a strong standing committee to make it a fundamental and central organ of the association. Each such committee would be responsible for overseeing historical affairs under its jurisdiction. Each committee would be expected to take initiatives within its jurisdiction and within its budget and to propose actions to the Council and the general membership. Each would be empowered to create its own subcommittees. Because of the reduction in the number of committees which our proposal entails, we would expect greater care to be taken to assure the representativeness of committee membership. Each divisional committee would be composed of nine members who would serve staggered terms of three years, plus the elected vice-president of the division, who would serve as committee chairman, and another Council member serving ex officio. Each committee would report to members of the association in open session at the annual meeting and prepare a full report of its deliberations and actions for annual publication in the Newsletter. The committee chairman and all other committee members present at the convention would receive suggestions and explain actions at the open committee meeting at the annual convention. Each committee should have the assistance of a specified member of the professional staff of the AHA. Finally, the vice-presidents would be expected to serve, through the Council, as liaison with other association bodies.

What we call association-wide committees are those which help govern and represent the association and which are the staff responsibility of the executive director. Below are our suggestions:

1) The Committee on Committees. This committee should recommend to the Council the names of members to fill vacancies on association-wide committees and on the three standing divisional committees, and, equally important but often ignored, should keep under continuing review the number, size, and scope of existing committees. This committee should, as at present, have the power to appoint successor members. It should number nine members, six of whom are chosen at large to serve staggered terms of three years, and the president of the association, the executive director, and the editor-in-chief of the AHR, all three sitting ex officio.

We believe that the existing Committee on Committees has responded well to the changing size and composition of the membership in its search for willing appointees. But knowledge of the membership gained in the normal course of professional life is no substitute for an open and deliberate canvass for appointees. Therefore, the editor-in-chief of the AHR, who has a wide acquaintance with the membership through the AHR reviewer files, as well as the executive director, who represents the entire membership, should sit as they do now on the committee. But in addition—and this we consider especially important—we urge that each year, through the columns of the Newsletter, the Committee on Committees actively solicit nominations and volunteers for appointment to all other association committees. Furthermore, we expect the Committee on Committees to oversee the budgets of other committees, to propose the creation or elimination of committees, and to encourage existing committees to work via subcommittees and to exercise caution in creating excessive numbers of ad hoc committees.

2) The Standing Program Committee. Created in 1968 as a continuing component of the Annual Program Committee to provide continuity and experience within that committee, the Standing Program Committee is composed of six members, each serving staggered three-year terms, and the president and vice-president of the association, the executive director, the local arrangements chairman for the year, and one staff member, sitting in ex officio capacities. We propose that this committee remain as it is and that, as has recently been the case, recent and future annual program chairmen be among the committee members. (On the Annual Program Committee, see section 7.)

3) The Prize Committees, including the Committee on the Harmsworth Professorship. In considering the prizes of the association, our thoughts have ranged between eliminating all prizes and creating new ones. In the end, we have become convinced that in recognizing distinguished achievement, association prizes serve a worthy end. Yet the selection of prize winners involves as many people and as great a sacrifice of time as almost any other current association function. It is a task also attended by endless frustrations, if not injustice: the failure of publishers to submit books, the need to meet arbitrary deadlines, the difficulty of giving each submission a careful reading, variations in individual judgments. At the very least, rationalization of the prize award system and a review of the rationale and objects of recognition are greatly needed.

In our dilemma, rather than offering specific proposals, we propose a series of criteria to guide existing prize committees in their deliberations and a number of suggestions for consideration by a short-lived ad hoc Committee on the Prize Structure which we urge the Council to empanel. Each prize committee (a number of which the Council, in a recent action, has wisely charged with the award of more than one prize) should carefully examine the deed of gift and the funding of each prize to determine alternatives for the awarding of prizes. Are the conditions of award governed by the devise or by Council action? (It is not, for instance, clear to us whether the rules and allocations of the Beveridge Fund are written into the original devise or whether they were imposed by the association and are thus more easily subject to revision.) Can either the devise or the Council ruling be altered through legal or administrative action? Is the amount of award governed by the deed of gift or by long-standing budget inertia? Assuming that many prize funds cannot be allocated for purposes other than recognition of achievement, is there nevertheless an opportunity to vary the amount or nature of the award, either by “spinning off” new prizes under an old devise or varying the amount and frequency of the award? We urge in any case that qualified legal counsel be sought on the opportunity open to the association to vary the prize system and, if deemed desirable, to alter prize bequests either through civil judgment or in consultation with donors and their families.

Finally, we believe that the ad hoc Committee on the Prize Structure should examine the desirability and feasibility of creating new prizes for teaching, for achievement in the production of films in history, for the best essay published annually in the AHR, and in popular history. (In the case of prize films, each should be presented at a session of the annual meeting.) Furthermore, each prize awarded by the association should be announced prominently in a publication of the association.

4) The Committee on the Littleton-Griswold Fund. Created in 1927 for the promotion of research in American history, this committee recommends the disbursement of funds for the publication of documentary materials. We propose that it stand as it is.

5) The Committee on International Activities. The committee’s primary responsibility is to arrange American participation in international historical congresses. At the present time, its principal task is to help arrange the next International Historical Congress, to be held in San Francisco in 1975. We think its efforts in promoting American participation in such meetings in the past have been successful. We do, however, believe that it should devote more attention to stimulating similar participation in the fields of African, Latin American, and Asian history. Moreover, it should increase its efforts to bring to the United States scholars from other continents, especially from Africa and Asia.

We also propose that the joint Committee of the Canadian Historical Association and the American Historical Association, composed of three representatives from each association who work to foster closer collaboration between them, become a subcommittee of the Committee on International Activities.