The President's Preface 2007
By Barbara Weinstein
As a historian who has studied vocational education, I am regularly impressed by the number of “jobs” academics are expected to perform for which we have no formal training. Whether the task is teaching, administration, or student counseling, we frequently have to adopt the “learning by doing” method. And that goes doubly for being president of the AHA. Certainly I had no formal preparation for the variety of issues and responsibilities—some foreseeable, others unexpected—that come with the AHA presidency. Fortunately, I did have the benefit of the wisdom and knowledge of the AHA staff and an apprenticeship with my predecessor, Linda Kerber. With their help, by the time my term ended, I actually had some idea of what the job entailed, and more important, I had gained a fuller appreciation of the many ways that the AHA supports, promotes, and enriches the historical profession.
The issues of academic freedom and of freedom of movement for international scholars have been high on the AHA’s agenda for several years, but became especially intense in 2007. The AHA wrote letters to the Departments of State and Homeland Security urging them to clear Bolivian historian Waskar Ari for a visa to take up his post at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and agreed to file an amicus brief when UNL initiated a suit. Happily, before this became necessary, Homeland Security granted Ari his visa and he has now joined his colleagues at Nebraska. Still, it is important to recall that he had to wait over two years to receive his visa, and to keep in mind that there are scholars in other disciplines who continue to have their visa requests delayed or denied.
Access to government documents has also been a pressing issue for the association over the last few years, and 2007 was no exception. The AHA has been especially active in challenging the executive order (13233) issued by President Bush in November 2001 that allows presidents, vice presidents, and their designees to preclude access to presidential records on the basis of “privacy concerns.” A suit brought by the AHA successfully challenged sections of this order, and the AHA helped identify historians to testify before Congress on the damage this executive order could do to historical research and the public interest.
Perhaps the most controversial issue for the AHA Council and membership in 2007 was the resolution passed in the January 2007 Business Meeting citing the negative impact of the War in Iraq on historical research and free academic expression, and calling for a speedy end to the conflict. In an admittedly unusual move, the Council decided to call for an e-mail ballot on the resolution, which was approved by over 75 percent of the members who voted. A significant minority of AHA members did register their opposition to the resolution, mostly on the grounds that it was a political issue that should remain outside the purview of a learned society.
Even those AHA activities that are routine and ongoing, such as the annual meeting, exhibited some new and innovative features in 2007. The 2008 meeting, in Washington, D.C., registered a remarkably large number of attendees, and saw a significant increase (approximately 50 percent) in the number of participants from abroad compared to the previous two years. Especially notable were the presence of scholars from regions beyond those—Canada, Western Europe—that have been relatively well-represented in the past.
While many of the developments during 2007 had immediate ramifications, there were some that are likely to have their greatest impact over the next few years. The Working Group on the Future of the AHA issued a report that calls for the association to diversify its services to its members and expand its appeal beyond its traditional constituencies. Revisions in the association’s constitution will enable closer collaboration between the Council and the three divisions, and allow for a more proactive Finance Committee. And the AHA has begun to explore the feasibility of a capital campaign to fund a new headquarters. My successor, Gabrielle Spiegel, and Wm. Roger Louis, founding director of the National History Center, have graciously agreed to co-chair the advisory committee created for this purpose.
During my term as president I have been repeatedly and profoundly impressed by the number of colleagues who contribute their time, energy, and material resources to various AHA activities and initiatives. But I have also been somewhat chagrined by the many colleagues who let their membership lapse, and take the AHA’s existence for granted. I would like to think that were these colleagues aware of all that the AHA does to defend their interests as historians, and to make the historical profession more interesting, they would regard the annual dues as a small price to pay.
Barbara Weinstein (New York University) was president of the AHA for 2007.