Talking about the Future of the AHA

We hope members—and everyone in the profession with an interest in the future of our disciplinary society—will take a little time to read the report of the Working Group on the Future of the AHA, which can be found in both the print and online versions of the April issue of Perspectives on History. After a year surveying the issue, the committee made the following recommendations:

(a) To secure its future, the AHA must reach out to a broader membership and become more diverse and inclusive while preserving its core constituency of history PhDs who teach at research universities and liberal arts colleges. Specifically, it should adopt policies designed to recruit AP high school teachers, community college instructors, and the broad category of practitioners often labeled "public" historians. Some of these policies will involve special dues packages and additional staffing, while others will involve further reforms to the annual meeting.

(b) The AHA needs to improve its use of the internet to provide member services, including blogs, chat rooms among subdivisions of the Association, and special instructional sessions at the annual meeting on how better to incorporate information technology into our teaching mission.

(c) The AHA should refine its advocacy efforts on behalf of historians to become more proactive rather than reactive, and should consider greater collaboration with peer organizations like the OAH on a variety of outreach activities.

(d) The AHA should pursue the development plan espoused by incoming president Gabrielle Spiegel, refining that plan in consultation with outside consultants to make personnel costs affordable, and to determine what the most effective means is (such as a new building or a leased structure) to achieve greater space.

(e) The AHA should revisit the structure of its relationship with the National History Center, focusing on the fiduciary responsibilities of the AHA and the desirability of the NHC becoming a "support corporation" of the AHA.

The report goes into the specifics of their recommendations in greater detail, but the AHA Council will need to take the next step to turn ideas into action. To make sure this happens, AHA President Gabrielle Spiegel appointed a subcommittee of the Council, which will be chaired by President-elect Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and comprised of Elise Lipkowitz, Frank Malaret, Trudy Peterson, and Larry Wolff. Arnita A. Jones, AHA’s executive director, and Robert A. Schneider, editor of the American Historical Review, will serve as ex officio members of the committee.

We hope all members of the Association will review the Working Group’s recommendations, and submit their comments and suggestions to me or post comment here on AHA Today by the end of April. Mills Kelly at edwired and Sterling Fluharty at PhDinHistory have already weighed in with their thoughts about the report, and I encourage you to do the same, so again please comment here or email me.

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  1. Larry Cebula

    What jumped out at me from the report was the AHA’s definition of its “core constituency of history PhDs who teach at research universities and liberal arts colleges.” I work at a 4 year teaching college, so I guess I cannot be in the inner circle? Nor can my friends who teach at the community college down the road.

    I am guessing that this language is an oversight?

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  2. Sterling Fluharty

    In 2003, the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty reported that exactly 50 percent of all history faculty with doctorates worked at either research universities or liberal arts colleges. Once you add in the history graduate students at research universities who are AHA members, it becomes easy to see that the majority of AHA members are employed at research universities or liberal arts colleges. Maybe the the Working Group on the Future of the AHA should have referred to this group as the base of AHA membership, rather than the core.

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  3. Robert B. Townsend

    Perhaps the phrase could have been better expressed as the Association’s “traditional core constituency,” since faculty at those institutions have been a disproportionate part of the membership over the past 60 years (and a disproportionate part of the Association’s leadership for the past 120 years). As the report insists, however, the Working Group believes we need to expand beyond those institutions for the good of the discipline, as well as the good of the Association.

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  4. Dani Vaughn-Tucker

    Although I don’t currently teach history, I think archivists and those in the business of preserving/documenting history should be included in the mix too. We are an asset to the practice of history insomuch that historians could not analyze if we did not document.

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