Executive Director's Report 2008

by Arnita A. Jones

Some Structural Changes

The year 2008 was all about “change” for the American people; and so it was for the American Historical Association as well. Indeed, we began the year with change at our 122nd annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in January 2008, when members, voting at the business meeting after a substantial online conversation, adopted important amendments to the Association’s constitution. Those revisions, particularly the expansion of the Council to include elected members of the Research, Professional, and Teaching Divisions, and a modernization of our financial oversight structure, were designed not to fix problems but to allow the AHA to thrive in a changing environment and continue serving the historical profession far into the future. The revised constitution was adopted by a combined electronic and mail ballot in January of last year and in June of 2008 the Council approved the amendments to the by-laws to bring them into line with the new constitution. Officers of the Association and staff at the Washington office have been hard at work through the year to implement these changes.

In January 2008, the AHA Council also received the final report from the Working Group on the Future of the AHA, which was chaired by William Chafe. The working group’s endeavors, which had begun in 2006 during the presidency of James Sheehan, culminated in several recommendations, which included increasing outreach to potential members in community colleges and in public history institutions; taking greater advantage of the internet; refining our advocacy efforts so that they could become more proactive than reactive; engaging outside professional expertise in pursuing the development effort that the incoming AHA president Gabrielle Spiegel presented to the Council; and revisiting the structure of the AHA’s relationship with the National History Center. To address these issues Council appointed Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the incoming president-elect, to chair an implementation committee that can report substantial achievement toward these goals.

To facilitate closer cooperation between the Council and the AHA initiative, the National History Center, the three divisional vice presidents have joined the Center’s board. We have also commissioned a professional consulting firm to undertake a feasibility study for our proposed joint capital campaign.

Finally, together with the National Council on Public History and the Organization of American Historians we sponsored a survey that generated returns from 3,888 public historians. We expect to gain information from this survey that will allow AHA, and other history associations, to better serve the needs of this rapidly growing segment of the historical profession. 

The Association’s Finances

I am pleased to report that in spite of the turbulent global economy, the Association’s finances are in reasonably good shape, as indicated in the auditors’ report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, which shows that we have a surplus of $431,861 in our operational account.

We are cautiously optimistic that we are situated to weather the current downturn in the national economy. In keeping with the changes to our constitution and by-laws as well as new federal government accounting guidelines, we have established a new Finance Committee that includes not only elected officers of the Association but also representatives from the business/financial sector. During 2008 the committee has undertaken an extensive review of the Association’s investments and made the decision to place our endowment funds with TIAA-CREF’s institutional investment services. The new committee will also provide advice to the Washington office about changes required for reporting on our finances to government agencies. As a 501(c) 3 nonprofit corporation we must be, and are, careful to fully disclose and monitor our advocacy activities and to ensure that our financial records are transparent. 

Membership

In many ways, the financial health and well-being of the Association is a function of, and depends upon, the membership figures. I am happy to report, therefore, that our annual snapshot of the membership data indicated that on March 31, 2008, we had on our rolls 14,903 individual members, the highest number since the previous peak reached in the late 1960s. Robert Townsend’s analysis of the snapshot revealed, among other things, that the number of members employed outside of academia has grown, thanks in part to the efforts of our Task Force on Public Historians, and now comprises 18 percent of the membership.

It is worth noting that while the number of graduate student members has risen significantly, partly reflecting the growth in their number generally, more than 60 percent of the members hold a PhD. Moreover, it is also interesting to note that, as Townsend reports, “the AHA membership is becoming much younger, as members who earned their highest degrees since 1999 now comprise almost 40 percent of the membership.” The accompanying charts offer some interesting insights into such indicators as the gender balance of the membership, the proportions of the different areas of specialization, and the geographical distribution of members across the 50 United States. 

The Divisions

The reports of the vice presidents of the three divisions, to be found elsewhere in this annual report will provide details about their respective activities, but it is useful to present some of the highlights here.

The Professional Division continues its work of “Responding to queries about the AHA’s Statement of Standards...,” a task that has become all the more important since the division ceased adjudication of allegations of professional misconduct. Apart from this complex, time-consuming work, the division (along with an AHA affiliate, the Committee on Lesbian and Gay History) successfully urged the Council to establish a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Historians Task Force. Similarly, it joined with the Disability History Association (also an affiliate) to request the formation of a joint task force on historians with disabilities. The task force, which began its work in June 2008 aims, inter alia, to “gather information about the concerns of historians with disabilities and propose concrete, practical solutions for as many of them as possible.”

The Research Division was able to diligently pursue during the year its major programs—the Sites of Encounter and Cultural Production program, which seeks, in collaboration with the AHA’s Teaching Division to bring together historians and educators at all levels to present new perspectives on global history; the initiative to assist junior scholars at institutions that do not support research; and the project to help the AHA to reach out to scholars in foreign countries. The division further fine-tuned the annual meeting guidelines with the aim of continuing to enhance and enrich the annual meetings. In furtherance of its charge to help historians in their research, the division continued to engage with the issue of institutional review boards and also recommended that the AHA join with the group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, in a lawsuit intended to seek the preservation of the records of the former vice president during the transition to a new administration.

The Teaching Division continued its work “to improve the quality of teacher-training and history instruction at all levels of K–16 and graduate education,” focusing in particular on collaborative programs, described by the vice president in an article published in Perspectives on History. Among other things, the division, aiming to enhance interest in historical thinking at an early stage, helped to establish a prize—endowed in the memory of Raymond J. Cunningham—for the best article on a historical topic written by an undergraduate student. To provide a coherent and consistent framework for properly designating teaching sessions at the annual meeting, the division drew up guidelines that would enable panel proposers themselves to identify a session as a “teaching session.” The year was crowned for the division by the AHA’s first workshop devoted to K–12 history education, held at the January 2009 annual meeting. The workshop, conducted in partnership with the Center for History and New Media, the Stanford University History Education Group, and the National History Center, focused on the development of the collaborative organization, the National History Education Clearinghouse

Publications

Robert A. Schneider, editor of the Association’s flagship publication, the American Historical Review, provides details about the journal in his own report. I am, however, pleased to report that the journal continues to prosper under his stewardship.

During 2008 we completed the first year of a new financial arrangement with the University of Chicago Press. Most importantly, we hope that the arrangement will increase readership. We also hope it will increase income from the American Historical Review by expanding foreign sales, taking advantage of economies of scale to negotiate more beneficial contracts with printers and other service providers. In the short run, we were concerned that we might face a cash flow shortage because of the need to transfer prepaid subscription income to the University of Chicago Press, which now fulfills institutional subscriptions, before we began receiving regular quarterly receipts from them. In anticipation of this problem we were able to hang on to a modest surplus from 2007 but that shortage did not materialize and we did not have to draw down on our investments.

Perspectives on History continues to be popular with members, and a survey conducted in spring 2008 revealed that according to a majority of the respondents, the newsmagazine has just the right mix of feature articles and Association news. Interestingly and significantly, even though the survey was conducted entirely online, a large majority of the respondents indicated a clear preference for reading the print version of the newsmagazine.

The AHA continues to produce its ever-popular pamphlets, some of which are used by teachers at all levels as usefully critical reflections on current research, while others—with more immediately practical topics—are read with great interest by new graduates or prospective students.

We are still concerned about the economic future of scholarly journals in history, our own included, and were pleased to be asked to be a part of a project initiated this year by the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). In this effort the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $50,000 planning grant to nine participating societies of the NHA to collect revenue, cost and circulation data on their principal journals with the aim of helping scholarly societies develop effective business plans for their scholarly publishing efforts that will in turn facilitate their transition to an increasingly electronic publishing environment. We try to stay abreast of other developments in scholarly communication in other ways as well. Robert Townsend was an invited participant at the international conference of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers in London last September. More recently he attended a conference convened for social science association staff, librarians, and technology specialists to share information on current and future arrangements for archiving presentations at scholarly conferences. 

Web Site and Electronic Communications

The most rapidly growing—both in terms of its size, as well as in terms of its circulation (or “page views” to use the vocabulary of the internet)—part of the AHA’s publication program is the web site. Existing features of the site, such as Perspectives Online; AHA Today, the blog, which celebrated its second anniversary in September 2008; various directories; pages restricted to members; guidance documents; and so on, continued during 2008. The year was also marked, however, by the launch of a new feature, the interactive Archives Wiki, which is designed to harness the power and efficiency of collaborative efforts to provide researchers helpful information about archives around the world.

To provide access to information about Association activities and other news of interest to members in a more timely manner than is provided by Perspectives on History in either its print or electronic formats, we launched a new mode of communication in September 2008. “Fortnightly News,” transmitted as an e-mail message to members who signed up to receive it, has proved to be an efficient mode of delivering important news and announcements. 

The Annual Meeting

The 123rd annual meeting of the Association was held January 2–5, 2009, in New York. With more than 5,900 registrations for the meeting, this year’s event was a modest financial success, despite the unusually high costs of operating a meeting in New York City. More importantly, the New York meeting carried forward with a sustained intellectual momentum the developments of the past few years. Continuing efforts to expand the annual meeting that we first initiated in Philadelphia in 2006, we offered members and others 340 sessions planned by the AHA and 56 from our 111 affiliated societies. These events include more than 200 scholars from foreign countries. In addition to the usual sessions on teaching, professional issues, and research this year the AHA, in cooperation with our partners in the National History Education Clearinghouse, sponsored an all-day workshop for teachers. This will be a regular event of our meetings for the duration of this multiyear contract with George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media.

Our Job Center at the annual meeting is an important part of the meeting. The drop in the number of history jobs advertised in fall 2008 (reported in Robert Townsend’s article in the January 2009 issue of Perspectives on History) was reflected to some extent in the decrease in the number of interviews held at the Job Center at the New York meeting. In contrast to the 261 searches conducted under the auspices of the AHA Job Center at the Washington, D.C., meeting, the Job Center facilitated only 198 active searches (although, as has been suggested elsewhere, some of the decrease may be attributed to a number of interviews being conducted outside the purview of the Job Center staff). 

Furtherance of History Education and Research

Our regular efforts to provide services to departments of history have continued to expand. We now host private listserve conversations for history department chairs and directors of graduate studies, moderated by AHA Assistant Director Noralee Frankel. These forums for frontline administrators in history education allow them to discuss financial, economic, and other issues and to benefit from the advice and experience of their peers. Robert Townsend continues to present data and analysis on the state of the profession, graduate education, and other issues from an ever-growing body of studies that monitor the health of the humanities and its place in higher education.

Robert Townsend and I have been a part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Indicators project, which this spring will launch a prototype of an effort to present data comparable to the National Science Foundation’s Science Indicators. For many years SI has provided vital statistics and data that have helped the natural, behavioral, and social sciences to make a better case for institutional support from higher education institutions as well as those responsible for appropriation, regulation, and decision-making at all levels of government. AHA has also played a major role in the development of the American Academy’s “template” project which aims to provide elements of a department survey that can be used across disciplines and thereby provide comparable data about several large humanities disciplines.

As part of its continuing and multipronged efforts to promote history education at all levels, the AHA established a Two-Year College Task Force. This task force has been charged with the responsibility of recommending to the Council—at the end of a three-year period of inquiry and discussion—ways of better serving the needs of the faculty in two-year colleges and of increasing their membership in the AHA. 

Advocacy Activities

An often muted but telling dimension of the AHA’s activities in support of the discipline and its practitioners is the energy and effort that goes into advocacy. Both on its own and through its partnerships with other social science and humanities organizations and coalitions—such as the COSSA, the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, and the National Humanities Alliance—the AHA is continually engaged with public policy issues of relevance to the profession. During the year 2008, I and other colleagues participated in numerous meetings of these coalitions, shared in tasks such as conducting surveys and analyses that aimed at contributing to a better understanding of the role of the humanities in academe and in the public sphere, and otherwise helped to pursue our common goals.

As a partner in the National Coalition for History, for instance, the AHA pursues a number of initiatives relating to preservation and access to historical records. For example, AHA representatives participated in public hearings that preceded the release of a report from the federal Public Interest Declassification Board which examined the strengths and weaknesses of the government declassification system and made recommendations for the future. In July a federal court in New York ordered the release of grand jury records from the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The AHA was one of the petitioners in this case, which had been filed in January 2008. The National Archives has already made substantial portions of these records available to the public.

In September 2008 the AHA and several other associations joined public interest law firm Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in a lawsuit challenging the possible exclusion of a substantial portion of Vice President Richard Cheney’s papers from the ambit of the Presidential Records Act. A few weeks later we welcomed District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s preliminary injunction mandating preservation of these records until the lawsuit is resolved. On October 1 yet another lawsuit in which AHA was involved was resolved largely in our favor. This case concerns the legality of President George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13233 relating to the Presidential Records Act, an interpretation of the federal law that would allow current and former presidents to withhold or indefinitely delay their records. The judge struck down this provision of the order, a decision which was not appealed by the White House. We are grateful for these victories but the problems of excessive classification of government records, as well as the exponential growth of electronic records, will require continued vigilance. 

Staff

Needless to say, all the many activities of the Association cannot be undertaken without the unstinting support of the staff. Numbering around 20 at any given time, AHA headquarters staff work diligently at the small but venerable and renovated townhouse at 400 A Street, S.E., in Washington, D.C., to implement the decisions of the Council and to provide the many services the AHA extends to both to its members and to the historical profession at large. Their work is also enthusiastically echoed by the staff of the American Historical Review, who are located in a building (generously made available by Indiana University) located at 914 E. Atwater Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana, and who help to produce what may justly be called one of the best scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences. 

Conclusion

The year 2008 in many ways has been quite like many others that went before, filled as it was with the activities of a disciplinary association—publishing, providing services to our members, preparing for and organizing the annual meeting, and dealing with the quotidian routines of a small but effective headquarters office. As in many times in the past, the routines were leavened also by the unexpected and contingent challenge that had to be met quickly and surely. But as mentioned at the outset, the year was one of “change,” not least in the fiscal sphere. As we pause on the cusp of the Association’s 125th year and look back on the year 2008, we can also reflect on the 124 years during which the AHA evolved from a small group at the American Social Science Association meeting in Saratoga, New York, into a relatively large, diverse, and more balanced organization that continues to effectively contribute to the intellectual well-being of the profession and its practitioners.

Arnita Jones is the executive director of the AHA.

Charts

The following charts offer some interesting insights into such indicators as the gender balance of the membership, the proportions of the different areas of specialization, and the geographical distribution of members across the 50 United States. Click on the charts below for larger PDF versions. The charts were generated by Robert B. Townsend for the annual statistical snapshot of the Association's membership and are based on membership data as on March 31, 2008.

Changes in Specializations

Changes in Specializations

 

Employment Data

Employment Data

 

Gender of Members

Gender of Members

 

Geographical Regions of Specializations

Geography of Members

 

Member Status Report

Membership Status Report

 

Trends in Membership

Trends in Membership

 

U.S. Membership

U.S. Membership