Professional Division 2009

by David J. Weber (Southern Methodist Univ.)

The Professional Division consists of five members.  Four are continuing from last year:  myself as vice president, Kristin L. Ahlberg (U.S. Dept. of State), Leisa Meyer (Coll. of William and Mary), and Trudy Peterson (consulting archivist and member of the AHA Council).  Council member Sarah Maza (Northwestern Univ.) joined the division this year.  I’ve been debilitated all year, first by cancer then by the effects of cancer treatment.  Other members of the Division, particularly Leisa Meyer, members of various committees, and AHA staff members Sharon Tune, Rob Townsend, and Debbie Ann Doyle have cheerfully picked up the slack for me.  I’m deeply appreciative of all they have done.

The Division has a mandate to monitor all areas of professional work in the discipline and develop advisory materials to assist historians in various stages in their careers.  Over the past year we have focused most of our attention on the development of new “best practices” documents, a statement on evaluating public history scholarship, and collaborative projects on LGBTQ issues and disability questions.

In January 2010 we presented two best practices documents to the Council:  “Plotting Your Path to Tenure: What New History Faculty Need to Know,” by Sarah Maza and Elise Lipkowitz with assistance from Leisa Meyer, and “A Brief Word on Graduate Student Health Insurance” by Leisa Meyer.  Both were approved by the Council and will be published.

The AHA, together with the Organization of American Historians and the National Council on Public History, has nearly completed a report on “Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Historian.”  Kristin Ahlberg represented the Professional Division on the joint committee.  The Division voted to bring the report before the Council in San Diego for a preliminary review.  We expect all three organizations to approve it in the spring.

Together with the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History (CLGBTH) (an affiliated society of the AHA), the Division received approval from the AHA Council in January 2009 to create a Joint Task Force on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Historians.  Following its charge from the Council, the task force will have a life of three years.  It is co-chaired by two members of the Division, Leisa Meyer and David Weber, and consists of three other members: Marc Stein (York Univ.) appointed by the AHA, and Jennifer Brier (Univ. of Illinois at Chicago) and Susan Stryker (Simon Fraser Univ.) appointed by the CLGBT.  The task force will, in Leisa Meyer’s words, “gather information about the concerns of LGBTQ historians and propose concrete, practical solutions for as many of them as possible. We have already begun conducting a benchmark survey of other professional organizations with an eye to best practices and policies.”  The LGBTQ task force is not charged with taking a public stand on issues such as the boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, but it has worked behind the scenes to clarify difficult issues and to provide guidance to the AHA.

The Professional Division has joined with the Disability History Association to form a joint task force on historians with disabilities.  The task force has been “gathering information about the concerns of historians with disabilities and propose concrete, practical solutions for as many of them as possible.”  This is a five-person task force: Paul Longmore (San Francisco State Univ.), Leisa Meyer (Coll. of William and Mary), Sandy Sufian (Univ. of Illinois, Chicago), David Ulbrich (Ohio Univ.), and myself. I was supposed to chair this five-person task force, but Sandy Sufian generously took over in my absence.  This year the task force has gathered information on grants for research on the history of disabilities, prepared a bibliography on disability studies, a questionnaire for graduate students who might wish to participate in a mentorship program, and worked on an instrument to survey AHA members about the needs of persons with disabilities.  It also sponsored two sessions at the San Diego meeting: Session 140: “Becoming Helen Keller: Perspectives and Experiences Integrating Disability into U.S. Survey, Higher Education, and Secondary School Coursework,” and Session 175: “Reclaiming the Disabled Subject in Historical Research and Representation.”

The most sweeping of the AHA’s best practices documents is a “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.”  Informal and often confidential queries from our members often appeal to this document and the Division devotes a considerable amount of time to responding to them.

The Division continues to monitor the job market and disseminate information about it through the skillful work of Robert Townsend, the AHA’s assistant director for research and publications, whose frequent articles on the market appear in the AHA’s Perspectives on History