Published Date

June 1, 2019

Resource Type

AHA Standards and Guidelines

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning

Approved by AHA Council, June 2019

These guidelines build upon the Guidelines for the Incorporation of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the Work of the History Profession by describing what a SoTL research agenda could look like for a working history teacher and scholar, and how departments can evaluate and reward that research.


Defining the Challenge

Many historians are already producing the scholarship of teaching and learning, but until recently, this work has often gone unrecognized. As scholar James Rhem suggests, SoTL “seems new . . . but like most new things it has a history.”1 Ernest Boyer’s 1990 Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate introduced the “scholarship of teaching,” a broader notion of what constituted “scholarship” than the academy had recognized previously. Boyer suggested that teaching and learning were not merely what happened in a typical college classroom but were themselves cognitive activities that could be a legitimate topic of inquiry. Researchers could design questions, collect and analyze data, and publish findings that could be used to improve both professors’ teaching and students’ learning. If shared widely, the results of this inquiry could contribute to a continuous process of peer review, experimentation, adaptation, and assessment. SoTL, then, should not be confused with a “how to” literature for busy professors; it is its own area of inquiry-based, peer-reviewed research. As Rehm reminds us, Boyer helped to “honor teaching as an intellectual adventure of equal value” to archive-based research published by scholarly presses and journals. Instead of seeing teaching “as the grunt-work stepchild” of this type of conventional research, the SoTL literature affirms the legitimacy of the classroom as a research space.2

Still, even as we have witnessed the emergence of online newsletters, new journals, conference panels, faculty teaching and learning centers, and the creation and growth of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History, it is not yet clear how SoTL is being valued in the historical profession.3 How does a search committee understand citations of SoTL in a job applicant’s curriculum vita? How does a department personnel process evaluate SoTL activity in a candidate’s tenure and promotion portfolio? Further, it is not yet evident how SoTL is regarded and rewarded at different types of institutions across the spectrum in higher education-from community colleges to research universities. Indeed, given the vast differences in teaching loads and research resources, sometimes the scholarship of teaching and learning is the only type of research a scholar can do.

The challenge, then, in this moment of SoTL’s development is to identify what scholars have already done in this subfield, how that work can be further encouraged and applied in history classrooms, how it can be evaluated as a scholarly field within the context of the historical profession, and what forms it could take in the future.4 The AHA has already affirmed the importance of SoTL through its 2019 Guidelines for the Incorporation of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the Work of the History Profession. This document builds upon those guidelines by describing what a SoTL research agenda could look like for a working history teacher and scholar, and how departments can evaluate and reward that research. Ultimately, the yield of SoTL is a literature that can improve the teaching practices of tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct faculty, and, importantly, graduate students in training, thus it has important implications for the future of the profession, from enrollments to curriculum. SoTL is a young enough subfield that the AHA can shape the conversations about how it could be practiced, evaluated, and applied.

Forms and Functions of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History

In many ways the scholarship of teaching and learning resembles more traditional forms of historical research. It revolves around intellectual questions, rests on the collection and analysis of evidence, builds on the work of others in the field, and can be shared through papers and publications. In most cases, work in the scholarship of teaching and learning will be presented in formats that are familiar to historians. Increasingly, both traditional history journals and conferences are welcoming SoTL publications, but there are also several refereed journals specializing in history teaching (e.g. Teaching History and History Teaching). In addition, there are important general SoTL conferences (e.g. the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and EuroSoTL) and journals (e.g. The Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, The International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, College Teaching, and Arts and Humanities in Higher Education) that welcome submissions from historians.

As in digital history, the conditions of particular projects in the scholarship of teaching and learning will sometimes call for non-traditional formats of presentation. This might involve contributions to databases on particular aspects of historical learning, shared tools for assessment, interviews with students or other instructors, etc. Over the last twenty-five years, the course portfolio has also emerged as a particularly appropriate means of sharing work in the field. Course portfolios can provide evidence of intellectual work that can be evaluated by colleagues within a department or by outside experts in the field of teaching and learning in history by combining different forms of evidence about teaching and learning in a particular course-explanations of the application of particular theoretical approaches, explicated syllabi, examples of course materials, samples of student work, peer observations, assessments of learning, student comments, etc.5

The scholarship of teaching and learning differs, however, from older genres of history in that it is intimately connected with the practice of teaching. SoTL practitioners often draw upon their experiences in the classroom and use the results of their research to increase learning in their courses and those of their colleagues. And instructors, not personally contributing new work in SoTL, often draw upon the knowledge produced by the field. Thus there is a spectrum of activity that stretches from purely analytical work on the nature of historical learning (the scholarship of teaching and learning proper) through teaching in which the insights gained from SoTL are systematically applied (often described as scholarly teaching) to more traditional forms of teaching based entirely on instinct and tradition.

This continuum can be mapped onto traditional academic categories. In a department’s hiring, tenure, promotion, and salary decisions, SoTL would generally fall within the category of research, whereas scholarly teaching can be evaluated as part of individuals’ contributions to the teaching mission of their institutions. In most cases to be counted as research, work would need to be connected with an on-going literature on teaching and learning and provide clear evidence supporting its conclusions. It should typically have a clear research question and methodology, although scholars of teaching and learning have rejected the notion that only social science approaches are acceptable. Many of the forms of analysis used in traditional historical research are quite applicable. By contrast, articles and publications that simply describe a historian’s teaching techniques in a particular course would generally be considered as evidence for the determination of excellence in teaching.

In practice, however, the appearance of the categories of the scholarship of teaching and learning and scholarly teaching often challenges the rigid division of faculty work into teaching, research, and service, and departments should be sensitive to ways in which the contributions of their members no longer fit in these 19th or 20th century categories. SoTL may be focused on the application of abstract pedagogical concepts to solve specific learning problems that arise in an instructor’s courses. Scholarly teaching can involve the kind of intellectual explorations that we have in the past identified with research. And both may involve projects that are of service to a department, a university, or our profession, particularly in the form of training future K-12 or college history teachers. Thus, in many cases a particular piece of work may be viewed simultaneously as contributions to research and to teaching, and, in some cases, to service as well.

Responsibilities of Departments

In approaching the evaluation of SoTL, departments of history, as well as the colleges or other units to which they belong, should have clear and easily accessible criteria for assessing all aspects of academic merit, particularly as related to promotion and tenure, as well as to annual evaluations of faculty performance or scholarly achievement. Departments of history that wish to recognize and encourage SoTL should expressly state that it constitutes a recognized field of research, or a field of scholarly study, or a topic to be included in graduate curricula, or some combination of these positions within the discipline. Departments should further ensure that their bylaws, handbooks, or formal assessment criteria for faculty specifically reflect this commitment so that faculty who perform research or scholarship in the teaching and learning of history can easily understand how their work will be evaluated for purposes of promotion and tenure, and for other assessments of merit. Departments should make explicit statements within their governing documents explaining whether publication and professional activity in this field will be evaluated in the same terms as traditional historical scholarship, e.g., whether books published by academic presses and articles dealing with SoTL in peer-reviewed journals and edited books are considered coequal with “traditional” historical scholarship published in analogous venues.

Alternatively, if SoTL research and publication is to be judged by different criteria, this should be explicitly stated and these alternative criteria clearly articulated. In addition, departments should state whether online publications will be considered as evidence of scholarly production or activity, and if so how they will be evaluated. Departments should make it clear whether presentations of SoTL findings at national, regional, or intramural venues will be assessed in the same terms as other presentations of historical scholarship and whether service or residence at intra- or extra-mural institutes dedicated to the study of teaching and learning will be valued similarly to fellowships or residencies at analogous institutions dedicated to other fields of historical scholarship.

The AHA recommends that SoTL should be recognized as a field of historical research and scholarship coequal with any other in the discipline. The publication, academic presentation, public-facing expression of research, and digital communication of SoTL should be evaluated in the same terms as other thematic fields in history-in short, scholarship on the teaching and learning of history should be judged by the same metrics as any other field of history. The evaluation of merit for faculty with a profile in SoTL may include assessment of the quality of publication venues, the number of citations generated by the publication, any awards or honors given to the publication or presentation, and other indicators of distinction and professional or public visibility. Since a significant amount of SoTL research is published online, it may be somewhat easier to quantify impact than other fields, since such evaluations may be based on number of hits and/or the number of links to a digital publication and used as evidence of overall visibility and significance. Likewise, a faculty member’s success in receiving grants and fellowships, earning residencies at academic centers, and evidence of teaching excellence in SoTL should all be evaluated on par with such achievements in other fields of history.

It is crucial that tenure and promotion processes for faculty who have a portfolio in SoTL include specialists in that field as external evaluators. Ideally, the proportion of external evaluators associated with a promotion case would be roughly equivalent to the proportion of the candidate’s portfolio dedicated to SoTL. Furthermore, deans and other relevant administrators should be apprised of a department’s decision to acknowledge SoTL as a recognized field of study, so that university leaders are aware of the addition of a “non-traditional” field to the department’s academic profile before a process of promotion and tenure begins.

The teaching and learning of history will likely represent a growth field in departments of history and elsewhere in higher education in the years to come. In particular, we anticipate that SoTL will become an increasingly prominent field of graduate study, as Ph.D. and MA-granting departments begin to require some familiarity with the SoTL scholarship and as an increasing number begin to train specialists in the subject. Departments should ensure that faculty teaching these courses have the necessary qualifications to do so. Hence, the commitment to add SoTL content to the curriculum implies a robust institutional commitment on the part of the department to ongoing professional development for those faculty assigned to teach in this field, and that faculty who develop a teaching or research specialization in SoTL will receive the sort of institutional considerations outlined here.

Responsibilities of Scholars

Because SoTL scholarship can have different forms and aims, individual scholars doing work in SoTL will have to consider the following questions:   How do you explain your work in SoTL? Does it contribute to research or teaching practices or both? As you consider your work in SoTL, you may want to consider both your research agenda as a whole and the particular project and its significance. How will your department and institution recognize, support, and evaluate SoTL research? As you develop your SoTL research, you may want to consider the current role that SoTL research has in your department and if it is valued the same way as other kinds of research. What are your plans for dissemination, sustainability, and preservation? It may be helpful to educate the department about the value of the work and also identify leading areas of publication and conference presentation of SoTL research.

Once you have answered these questions, the AHA recommends the following:

Before and during your SoTL project, be prepared to explain its design, document its development, and articulate its significance. Be attentive to how your project draws on techniques of historical analysis to advance historical knowledge. Historical knowledge can be defined quite broadly to include history of pedagogy, history of textbooks, and historical thinking in the classroom. These conversations should be had with chairs and committee heads within the department. If there are materials that you present to the dean and provost, you may also want to consider these as opportunities to educate others about SoTL and its value.

Seek support and guidance in preparing your promotion and tenure materials. Resources may be found within your department from colleagues who have similar research, the AHA, or from scholars at other institutions who also develop SoTL as part of their research agenda. Ask that external evaluators have the relevant experience to assess your portfolio. Consider how department policies shape definitions and evaluations of scholarship. It may be helpful to understand how different kinds of scholarship are valued at the department, college, and university level. Be your own advocate by explaining the challenges and opportunities of the scholarship of teaching and learning.

The AHA’s Role

The AHA has long supported a variety of forms of scholarship, and it is committed to different forms of historical research, production, and presentation. As the historical profession continues to define how SoTL work can be integrated and evaluated in the discipline, the AHA affirms that this field offers valuable resources for researchers, teachers (from K-12 through higher education), and even to students (both those in our classrooms and those who may pursue their own SoTL work as part of their historical studies or preparations for teaching careers in K-12). Indeed, the AHA in June 2014 granted affiliate status to the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History.

In order to increase commitment to SoTL scholarship, the AHA will work collaboratively with departments to encourage development of the field and affirm its value in promotion and tenure, as well as to make SoTL an integral part of training in PhD programs. Its Teaching Division will deepen the relationship and collaborations between the AHA and the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History, and will work with that organization to create a working group of experienced SoTL scholars who may serve as outside reviewers to assist departments as they assess SoTL scholarship. The AHA will also support SoTL conversations through AHA communities and at the annual conference. In order to demonstrate the value of SoTL scholarship, the AHA will encourage SoTL panels at the annual meeting. It will also encourage the AHR editor to include more SoTL reviews in the American Historical Review.


  1. James Rhem, “Forward,” in Nancy L. Chick, ed., SoTL in Action:  Illuminating Critical Moments of Practice (Sterling, VA:  Stylus Publishing, 2018), ix. []
  2. Rehm, in Chick, xi. []
  3. The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History is the organization most rooted in our discipline, but the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning can connect historians to SoTL scholars in other disciplines: []
  4. The International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History has already created a bibliography of more than 1,000 scholarly works on teaching and learning in the historical profession, which can be found here: ( []
  5. More information about course portfolios can be found at numerous websites and in Daniel Bernstein, Amy Nelson Burnett, Amy Goodburn, and Paul Savory, Making Teaching and Learning Visible: Course Portfolios and the Peer Review of Teaching (Bolton, Mass.: Anker Publishing, 2006) and Pat Hutchings, ed., The Course Portfolio : How Faculty Can Examine Their Teaching To Advance Practice And Improve Student Learning (Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education, 1998). []