From the Letters to the Editor column in the November 2001 Perspectives
Independent Historians and the AHA
Joel Goldstein, November 2001
To the Editor:
I am writing to congratulate Perspectives and the AHA for some recent actions and to make several suggestions regarding independent historians. First, I congratulate the AHA for its recent resolution encouraging greater access to databases, libraries, and archives for independent historians. This increased access will help independent historians contribute to historical research and keep their skills sharp. I also thank the AHA for its continuing efforts to provide letters of introduction for AHA members. For independent historians, this resource allows us to use vacations and leave time to continue our professional development.
I am also writing to suggest that the AHA consider an independent historian task force analogous to the graduate student task force. While I hope that the recent upsurge in retirements and declining graduate enrollments will reduce the glut of capable but unemployed historians, I am afraid that the rank of independent historians will continue to grow.
Such a task force may assist independent historians in several ways. First, the AHA should continue to urge historians in government or private-sector employment to continue their professional development. Second, continuing advocacy can help open research resources to independent historians. Third, the AHA should consider several changes to the annual meeting: (1) ensuring rotating regional locations to make periodic attendance more feasible for historians with limited time or finances, (2) encouraging networking among independent historians, and (3) publicizing opportunities for independent historians.
Working to improve the lot of independent historians can benefit the AHA as a whole as well as independent historian members. If they find meaningful careers outside of academia, independent historians can avoid adding to the oversupply of candidates that drives down the value of academic positions. Through mentoring, independent historians can help graduate students find career opportunities superior to the uncertain path of adjuncts. Many independent historians are making important contributions to the profession through research, limited teaching, and through application of their historical skills and knowledge in their workplaces.
I hope that Perspectives, the annual meetings, and the leadership of the AHA continue to recognize the importance of independent historians.