Washington Notes, November 1989

Samuel R. Gammon, November 1989

When Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton struck a deal to site the federal capital in the South, the polymath president-to-be may have appreciated the meteorological effects of that horse trade on future generations of functionaries.

The sleepy, Southern town that shut down in the summer is remembered by only a small number of elderly Washingtonians, but modern civil servants, bureaucrats, and residents still have to cope with the difficulties of weather forecasting in a climate zone margin. Invariably they are either over-prudent, as in bracing the city in mid-September for Hurricane Hugo, which bypassed Washington, D.C. in favor (?) of western Pennsylvania, New York, and the St. Lawrence River valley, or else they are caught flat-footed as often happens with a few inches of unexpected snowfall. The one reliable prospect is that they will then over-compensate in the other direction for the next perceived weather episode!

Neither of the founding fathers can be blamed for the rains which washed out the inauguration of a new president of Georgetown University the day after the non-appearance of Hugo. The Association was deputized to represent the American Council of Learned Societies on that occasion, and from under a very large umbrella our representative extended sympathetic vibrations toward several hundred faculty members who discovered the total inadequacy of a mortarboard and academic regalia as rain gear!

A drier and more bracing atmosphere characterized a conference at Wingspread in mid-September, cosponsored by the Association, which focused on the insufficiency of most college-level curricula for the period after World War II. A group of historians, political scientists, university administrators, and other educators met at the Johnson Foundation's conference center in Racine, Wisconsin to discuss the problem of preparing both students and the citizenry at large to face the impact of global change on their lives and that of the country. Alternative syllabi were prepared for proposed courses in post-1945 history, political science, and international relations.

The AHA has long had a close relationship with one of its important affiliates, the Society for History in the Federal Government. The AHA's executive director was invited to the Society's annual dinner, September 20 and as the guest speaker delivered the society's annual Hewlett lecture, named in honor of long-time AHA member, Richard G. Hewlett.

The early fall is also a season of activity for the other two lobbying organizations (in addition to our primary advocate, the NCC) in which the AHA participates. The National Humanities Alliance held a meeting of its executive committee and a full meeting of its board of directors, on both of which the AHA is represented. The Alliance's current principal concern is that the current bombarding of the National Endowment for the Arts over the proper relationship between federal funding and controversial or potentially offensive works of art leaves the National Endowment for the Humanities much too close to the line of fire for comfort. The other advocacy body, the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), had a useful meeting with the new president of the Social Science Research Council, David L. Featherman, to establish closer relations for the future. Directors of most of the COSSA member organizations, including the AHA, also had another separate get-together to compare notes on a wide variety of subjects such as dues structures, annual meetings, health insurance, and other technical managerial topics.

Headquarters staff were also busy putting the finishing touches on the 1989 Program of the Annual Meeting, arranging for the counting of ballots of the AHA's election in early November, implementing the new dues schedule, and arranging for more rapid copyediting and publishing of new teaching pamphlets now in the pipeline.

Final arrangements were completed for a strong delegation of historians travelling to the Soviet Union for the mid-October VIIth Colloquium of Soviet and American historians, which will be reported on in a later issue. In an epoch-making burst of energy, the United States side had all its papers done and in Soviet hands a month before the event, a record alas not matched by our Soviet colleagues.

With the approach of the December annual meeting, also comes intensive preparation for a series of important Association meetings. The Research Division Committee meets October 6–7 to be followed by the Ad Hoc Committee on AHA Publications the same weekend; the Professional Division will convene on October 27; the Teaching Division, November 3–4; the Joint Committee of Historians and Archivists, November 5-6; and the Program Committee for 1990 on December 9. For each of these events considerable staff support is required, from arranging meeting rooms and hotel reservations to preparing agenda books. Both staff and copying equipment are breathing heavily by the time these tasks are completed.