Executive Director's Report 2007
by Arnita A. Jones
At the AHA, every year we deal with a great many routine matters that recur with clockwork regularity—the many publications; the meetings of the committees, divisions, and Council; elections; and the planning for—and conducting—the capstone of each year, the annual meeting. But every year, the routine is also punctuated by the unusual and the extraordinary. The year under review, 2007, was no exception. If anything, in 2007 we dealt with newer and more complex challenges and issues of somewhat larger import than usual: fundamental changes to the AHA’s constitution; new partnership arrangements for publishing the American Historical Review; reviving and seriously exploring the long-contemplated idea of moving the AHA’s offices to a larger building; taking up—successfully in some instances—the cases of foreign historians whose academic freedoms were constrained or denied; and even the re-visioning of the very future of the Association through the efforts of the Working Group on the Future of the AHA that had been set up by Council in 2006.
The raison d’etre for the Association, its very essence, so to speak, is, of course, its members. It is a pleasure to report, therefore, that in 2007 individual membership in the Association continued to increase (up 564 from March 31, 2006 or by 3.92 percent) as shown in Table 1 (see also the charts that depict membership data in different categories). Membership has fluctuated between 14,000 and 15,000 for many years, but the current figure is the highest in over a decade. One especially welcome statistic in the membership data is that student membership also has grown by 683 over the last two years, to 3,637 (the highest since 1998). Our Committee on Graduate Students has been engaged in substantial membership marketing to their peers over the last two years and I attribute a substantial portion of this growth to their efforts.
I am glad to report that we ended the fiscal year 2006–07 with a modest surplus of $116,312 as indicated by the report of the auditors. The latter figure represents only a small margin (3.3 percent) of our total expenses for last year. It is thus cause for some satisfaction but also a mandate for continued vigilance. Our concerns over a temporary cash-flow problem resulting from new publication arrangements for the American Historical Review (see below) proved ultimately to be unwarranted.
At the senior level, staffing has been quite stable, as it has been for many years. We did have an unusual amount of turnover in the entry-level positions in the administrative office. The number of full-time staff at 400 A Street has hovered just below 20 for some years now, even as the mix of what we do has changed quite substantially. The willingness and ability of the experienced professionals—in the Washington headquarters office as well as in the Bloomington, Indiana, office of the AHR—to adapt to changes in technology as well as focus of the Association is a major asset. In particular, the business office, as well as the publications and membership departments in the headquarters office had an unusually busy year with the move of the AHR to the University of Chicago Press.
For some time now, we have been exploring the possibility of purchasing or leasing new quarters for the AHA that would provide better, more efficient, and more professional space for our current staffing and some room for growth. During 2007 we took more definite steps toward this goal by seeking advice from real estate professionals who work largely with nonprofit associations or organizations in the Washington metropolitan area, several of which are scholarly societies very similar to the AHA.
Over the past months we have closely investigated the situation with respect to zoning and now have a zoning attorney’s evaluation to the effect that the property at 400 A Street could be sold to another nonprofit organization and not have to revert to residential use. If the property had to revert to residential use its value as a financial asset would be substantially reduced so this has been an effort well worth undertaking.
Additionally, we have met with attorneys who specialize in developing bond financing, for which the congressionally chartered AHA turns out to be eminently eligible. This is also good news, since bond financing is usually about two percentage points below market rates.
The three vice presidents provide detailed reports elsewhere in this annual report about the activities of their respective divisions. Here, I will highlight some of their major accomplishments. The Professional Division continues to provide informal advice to historians on particular professional concerns and issues. But the division’s focus has shifted to providing more general guidance by publishing “best practices” documents and through closer collaboration with the Association’s existing committees on minorities, women, and graduate students. In the case of the latter the Professional Division has been particularly supportive of expanding the AHA’s focus beyond graduate students to early career professionals, a group that has its own particular needs for professional services. The division has also taken up as a part of its mission the professional concerns of the growing number of public historians. Debbie Ann Doyle staffs this aspect of the division’s work and has been a highly visible and important presence on behalf of the AHA in its relations with the National Council on Public History, the American Association for State and Local History, and other public history groups.
The Research Division has taken up two major projects, apart from its usual oversight responsibilities. The first of these, described in a December 2007 Perspectives article, is a long-term collaborative research and teaching program on the theme, “Sites of Encounter and Cultural Production,” which would integrate research and teaching at the K–16 level. The second project—which the division will take up in conjunction with the other two divisions—aims to support the scholarly activities of junior scholars employed at institutions that do not normally encourage or support research.
The Teaching Division has been particularly engaged in developing a major effort (supported by a Department of Education grant) to launch, in collaboration with George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, a clearinghouse on history education. Noralee Frankel, AHA’s assistant director for women, minorities and teaching, will be helping with this project. We expect this project will be a great vehicle for allowing the AHA to capitalize on its strengths and make a valuable contribution to the Teaching American History grants program that has provided more than half a billion dollars to improving precollegiate history education.
Services to Members
Publications and the Web Site
The Association has published the American Historical Review continuously since 1898 (having taken over publication three years after the journal had been launched).Aftermuchcomplex negotiation that needed the close and time-consuming attention of staff—both here at the headquarters office and in the Review’s offices in Bloomington—publication of the flagship journal has been taken over by the University of Chicago Press beginning with the issue of October 2007. We anticipate that because of the new publication arrangement, the AHR will benefit substantially from the better marketing and distribution systems, as well as the technical production expertise that the Press can offer. While editorial and content management will remain with the Review’s staff at Bloomington, we hope that the international marketing ability of the University of Chicago Press will help us stem the decades-long attrition in institutional subscriptions to the AHR.
The new contract with the University of Chicago Press has, however, resulted in an end to our arrangements of nearly 10 years with the History Cooperative. This decision was unavoidable; but we have attempted to implement it in such a way that the AHA’s actions did not negatively affect other journals which we had helped recruit to the Cooperative during the years when we were a partner. The University of Illinois Press was especially grateful for our decision to phase out support over two years and is now optimistic that a new arrangement with JSTOR can substantially strengthen the History Cooperative.
Perspectives, the newsmagazine of the Association, continues to grow in size and in the variety of the features it contains. Its editor, Pillarisetti Sudhir, and his colleagues, David Darlington and Christian Hale, are continually making efforts—in consultation with the editorial boards—to add features and to make the magazine even more useful.
A digital version of Perspectives appears on the AHA’s web site soon after the print version is mailed out. But the Association’s web site has much, much more than that to offer an increasing number of visitors to the site. Under the expert hands of Vernon Horn, the Association’s internet coordinator, and Elisabeth Grant, web content editor, the web site offers a rich trove of information and resources to students, teachers, and researchers interested in history. Most of this content is freely and globally available to the field and the public, though some of it—the job ads and the membership directory, for example—is restricted for members only. Deciding upon the right mix of free services to the field and to the public, while continuing to restrict some services to members (partly to maintain revenues), is at best a complex challenge.
We also communicate much more regularly with our members, either through the “AHA Today” blog on the web site or by direct electronic mailings about advocacy issues, new publications, and to elicit members’ opinions.
The Gutenberg-e dissertation publication series, supported by the Mellon Foundation and hosted at Columbia University, which has consumed substantial time from Robert Townsend and staff in his department, as well as from me, will close down early in 2008. All 35 dissertations have now been published or are in the final editing process. Staff at the AHA and others have learned much about electronic publications from this project, though not all of it giving cause for optimism. Still, we are proud of these publications and pleased that arrangements have been made to house them permanently at the American Council of Learned Societies Humanities E-Book series. One of the original goals of this project was to legitimize electronic publication for young scholars as they face tenure and promotion committees. We know that in some cases the (electronic) publication coupled with the prize has been beneficial to the scholars. Others are concerned, however, by what receiving the prize and the subsequent publication would mean for their career trajectories.
Representing the Association to the Higher Education and Humanities Communities
Among the many useful and productive tasks that I and other colleagues in the headquarters office perform is representing the Association in ongoing advocacy coalitions and other initiatives important to historians and related professionals.
In February 2007 I had the pleasure of attending a conference at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public Policy in honor of former Association vice president Stanley Katz, and making a presentation concerning his great contribution to scholarly societies, especially to the AHA, which recognized his efforts by awarding him the Troyer Steele Anderson Prize in 2006. Since I have known Stan, and cherished his friendship, from the early 1980s through his presidency at the Organization of American Historians (he hired me there), this was great fun to do.
AHA staff and members participated in the Humanities Advocacy Day held in March 2007 in conjunction with the National Humanities Alliance’s annual membership meeting. The well-attended event offered representatives of Alliance members the opportunity to meet informally with federal officials responsible for various programs that support humanities research.
In April 2007 I gave the keynote address to the Georgia Association of Historians on the various advocacy activities of the AHA.
At the May 2007 annual meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies, I made a presentation about the American Academy of Arts and Sciences “template” project, which aims to gather comparable data on humanities fields by standardizing parts of regular association departmental surveys. The Academy has received funding from the Teagle, Packard, and other foundations to implement the project.
Robert Schneider, editor of the AHR; Robert Townsend, AHA’s assistant director for research and publications; and I attended the annual JSTOR publishers meeting in New York City in May 2007. This event is becoming increasingly more useful as a source of information about trends and problems in the world of journal publishing.
Noralee Frankel, AHA’s assistant director for women, minorities, and teaching, and I attended a meeting at the Department of Education with Vickie Schray, a senior official there, who had invited various disciplinary associations to discuss the department’s priorities for higher education accountability. It is my hope that over the next few years the AHA can position itself to help history departments and their faculties become more aware of the need for developing measures of accountability that will enhance rather than detract from their teaching and research mission.
I should also note that Noralee Frankel has over the last year or so taken on (with help from Internet Coordinator Vernon Horn) the revival and development of moderated e-mail discussion lists for history department chairs and for directors of graduate study. On one reconstituted discussion list conversations are stimulated on key themes by Frankel and her co-moderator Tyler Anbinder of George Washington University. The second discussion list derives from the AHA’s ongoing attention to graduate education stemming from the recommendations made by the committee that produced The Education of Historians for the Twenty-first Century. One key finding from that study was the that directors of graduate programs badly need a communications network and so far they seem to be much appreciating what the AHA is providing. Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill co-moderates the list with Frankel. Frankel also represents the AHA on the Board of National History Day.
Robert Townsend, who oversees the Association’s annual survey of departments of history and the publication of the AHA’s Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians, continues to provide useful analyses of data relating to the historical profession. They contribute mightily to the understanding of trends and prospects in our field. Recently he has also been in demand to advise on other projects such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Indicators series. These are services the American Historical Association provides for the entire profession.
I remain on the board of the Center for Research Libraries, a Chicago-based institution whose collections are primarily of a historical nature, and which continues to be an excellent source of information about the impact of new information technologies on libraries, which are so critical to the dissemination of the scholarship in association journals; the Board of the Consortium of Social Science Associations; the advisory committee for the Humanities Indicator Project of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences; the Conference of Administrative Officers of the American Council of Learned Societies; and the National Humanities Alliance’s National Agenda for the Humanities Working Group. While these projects take some of my time, they are also fully staffed by professionals at the sponsoring organizations, and thus allow the AHA to be represented in conversations important to the discipline without an overwhelming commitment of effort by me or by AHA staff.
Government Relations and Advocacy
In 2007 Lee White, the executive director of the National Coalition for History, began to work with a very new and different Congress, which is promising historians and other scholarly societies a more permeable bureaucracy, and has, in fact been providing opportunities to historians to participate more actively in the legislative process.
For example, in February 2007 I was contacted by staff of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform chaired by Representative Henry Waxman of California for names of historians who might be able to provide testimony on presidential records. We provided several names with the result that historians were ably represented by Robert Dallek and Anna Nelson. (For an audio or video version of the hearing, go to http://informationpolicy.oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1182 ).
Lee White has created a new and effective web site for the National Coalition for History, increased membership in the coalition, and become a valued resource for the coalition’s members and the professionals with whom they work in the federal government.
Although the level of federal funding for history has never been higher, the budgets of the various federal agencies for which we advocate—the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Teaching American History grants and the Javits Fellowships in the Department of Education, as well as the history programs in the National Park Service remain in constant jeopardy and require our continued vigilance and support.
Sometimes even greater vigilance is required, it seems, to protect and preserve academic freedoms, especially for foreign scholars. We had some successes this year in this regard. Our statement upholding academic freedom in response to a decision of the Council of the European Union on the Fight against Racism and Xenophobia has been widely publicized and garnered support from the World History Association and the International Committee on Historical Sciences. We supported historians Waskar Ari and Marixa Lasso in their successful efforts to renew visas to allow them to return to the United States. We held a special session at the 2008 annual meeting to create a larger coalition to monitor the problems of foreign scholars who wish to enter the United States for study, employment, or simply to attend scholarly conferences.
A surprising victory on another front came in October when the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on a 2004 lawsuit in which the AHA was the lead plaintiff and struck down the portion of President Bush’s executive order 13223 that allows a former president to indefinitely delay the release of presidential records.
For the 122nd meeting held January 3–6, 2008, in Washington, D.C., the AHA and its affiliates offered a larger program than ever, with more foreign scholars participating, and a rich array of high-quality sessions focusing on teaching, professional concerns, as well as research in various fields and subdisciplines.
Sharon K. Tune, AHA’s convention director, has for many years set a standard for negotiating hotel contracts which other associations can only envy; but the recent developments have meant that she needed to renegotiate for additional space for job interviews, and session rooms for sessions, panels, poster sessions, film festivals and increasing affiliate activity. Convention Assistant Debbie Ann Doyle also coordinated with an active Local Arrangements Committee and helped Sharon Tune with the planning for the annual meeting. Doyle has been also been responsible for developing and negotiating with vendors to host the online proposal submission system, which now seems to be popular with both members and program committees.
Needless to say, every department in the building is involved in the Annual Meeting, from the business office, which is responsible for registration and exhibitors to the publications office, which produces the Annual Meeting Program and manages publicity for the meeting. And, of course, everyone in the office has one or more specific assignments at the meeting itself. They are ably complemented by the enthusiastic support extended by the Local Arrangements Committee’s hourly workers, who are mostly drawn from area’s graduate schools.
For many years now it had been clear that we needed to make some fundamental structural changes to facilitate the Association’s work and to achieve greater efficiencies in serving our members and achieving our goals. Toward this end, and in consultation with staff, colleagues in other associations, and with AHA’s legal counsel, Albert Beveridge, as well as with AHA’s parliamentarian, Michael Les Benedict, we proposed several amendments to the AHA’s constitution. Council discussed and approved the amendments after allowing for lengthy discussion by members through a dedicated web-based forum. The new, amended constitution will come into effect in 2008.
The Future of the Association
While every annual report is necessarily a retrospective look at the past, we also take a look at the future, to see where we are going and where we would like to go. In the year under review, this look toward the future acquired a special meaning, as the Working Group on the Future of the AHA, which had been set up in 2006, completed its work. The group, led by William Chafe of Duke University, met during the 121st Annual Meeting in Atlanta in January 2007 and also held an open forum there. While the working group’s mandate was broad, they had been asked in particular to consider carefully the nature and demographics of the AHA’s current membership base and to advise us on membership development in the near future. After gathering information from members, the group met again in October 2007 to review its draft report containing the group’s recommendations for the Association. At its meetings in January 2008, the Association’s Council discussed and accepted the report (and also set up a Council subcommittee to recommend ways of implementing the recommendations of the working group).
The National History Center
An important part of the future of the American Historical Association is the National History Center. Begun in 2003 as an initiative of the AHA, the Center was legally and financially established as a separate entity in 2005. It has now developed an impressive array of programs that bring historians and historical research to a wider public: Congressional briefings, an international seminar for new scholars, conferences on policy issues relating to history as well as a book series on “revising” history.
During the past year the Center’s board of trustees has been expanded to include the vice presidents of the Association’s professional, research, and teaching divisions to better ensure coordination of programs. To further support the Center and also to provide funding for larger and more appropriate headquarters space for the AHA, Council also agreed to explore the feasibility of a joint capital fund campaign and formed a development advisory committee for this purpose, to be chaired jointly by AHA’s president-elect Gabrielle Spiegel and the Center’s director, Wm. Roger Louis.
Arnita Jones is the executive director of the AHA.
(click on the images to see larger PDF versions of the charts)
1. Long term membership and subscription trends, 1884-2008
2. AHA Members by Geographical Area of Specialization
3. AHA Members in the United States
4. AHA Members by Principal Area of Employment
5. Rank/Position of AHA Members Employed in Colleges and Universities