From the Letters to the Editor column in the November 2012 issue of Perspectives on History

Letter to the Editor: On Letters to the Editor

The Editors, Perspectives on History, November 2012

Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should follow our guidelines. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

We knew, when the AHA decided to wade further into public discourse through its blog, social media, and Perspectives on History, that we and our contributors would get more than a little pointed criticism.

It's been coming in, and it's been welcome. Even criticism not intended to be constructive forces us to look back at what we've written and published and makes us think about where we could have been clearer, what was missing, and how we can do better; or how wide the range of opinion might be on a given topic. Discussion and debate help us refine our positions, and ensure that we keep thinking. More important, disagreement is a healthy aspect of our discipline, of our work culture. The AHA ought to be an arena of vigorous – and civil – disagreement.

The current issue of Perspectives on History, includes letters to the editor critical of AHA projects, Perspectives articles, and previously published letters. In our regular "What We Are Reading" blog post on AHA Today, we point readers to articles critical of the AHA as a matter of course. In a recent statement by the AHA Council on the hot-button topic of open access publishing, the Council made a point of inviting comment (and it certainly got its wish). All this fits well also with the theme—"Disagreement, Debate, Discussion"—of the 2014 AHA annual meeting, which will be held Washington, D.C., a place that might benefit from models of constructive engagement and debate.

All this is a way of saying that we want more responses from our readers. The conversations happening in print and online can continue only if readers send us e-mails and snail mails, and offer comments on our web pages. And they don't have to all be critical (in this month's Perspectives we are running a positive comment about our work as well).

Even as we invite and welcome feedback from critics and admirers alike, we have to ensure that the discourse remains civil and courteous. The Perspectives on History editorial board has approved a set of guidelines that we apply to online interactions and letters to the editor. If some of the text in the guidelines sounds familiar, that's because it has been drawn from the AHA Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct:

Historians celebrate intellectual communities governed by mutual respect and constructive criticism. The preeminent value of such communities is reasoned discourse—the continuous colloquy among historians holding diverse points of view who learn from each other as they pursue topics of mutual interest. A commitment to such discourse—balancing fair and honest criticism with tolerance and openness to different ideas—makes possible the fruitful exchange of views, opinions, and knowledge.

This articulation of values reflects what good historians already know—personal attacks are out, evidence is primary, engaged discourse is essential.

Readers can interact with us by posting comments on our blog posts or on Perspectives Online, through our online submission form, on our Facebook page and LinkedIn group, or with a tweet to @AHAhistorians. If you write about us on your blog, send us a link and we will likely include it in our weekly link roundup. You can also e-mail us. If you want to mail a letter, address it to Letters to the Editor, AHA 400 A Street SE, Washington DC 20003.

We look forward to hearing from you.