Last winter I had to see a neurologist for something that turned out to be no more than a pinched nerve that righted itself without treatment. But the process itself was unnerving, with an MRI and another test that involved being poked with dozens of needles. It ended in an interview with a smart young physician who assured me nothing serious was wrong, just some arthritis in a few vertebrae. “Not to worry,” she said, “it’s just age appropriate.”
That phrase lingered in my mind over the past few months as I have considered my upcoming retirement, which will happen in the summer of 2010. Retirement is, after all, “age appropriate” too. Not only that, this year also marks a decade of serving as the executive director of the American Historical Association, preceded by 11 years in a very similar job as executive director of the Organization of American Historians. It is more than time to make a change.
I will do some teaching, some writing, some travel, play with grandchildren, read a lot more history than I am able to do now, and probably eventually take on one or more projects that will seem compelling. Just what the mix will be of these activities I happily contemplate is not clear, and the unscheduledness of it all adds to the fun. For the last two decades I have been able to know exactly what I would be doing for much of the year, many years in advance.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I have loved this job and still do. It has been a privilege to work for the AHA these last 10 years, doing what our 125-year old mission statement tells us to do: promoting history through teaching, research, and publication and working to broaden historical knowledge among the general public. Not only that, the executive director gets a lot of help from an excellent staff as well as dozens of volunteers among our members, especially officers, who routinely put their own work on hold for one or more years to serve the needs of the Association. Last, but not least, is a wonderful network of historians and professionals in other associations and institutions who have unstintingly provided help and advice over the years. You know who you are.
But this job is not yet finished. There is also some hard work to be done in the coming year, not least of which is maintaining the Association’s financial health through a very stressful period in higher education and in our nation’s economy. During the coming months I plan to use my column in Perspectives on History to talk about the long-range challenges and opportunities facing the historical profession, as well as the AHA’s many strengths.
An excellent search committee for the AHA executive director position has been appointed and is meeting this month to begin the process of recruitment. I look forward to helping them in any way I can and to welcoming a successor next year. For more information about the search please see the advertisement on this blog.
Arnita Jones is the executive director of the AHA.