AHA President Barbara D. Metcalf warmly welcomed attendees at the Opening of the 125th Annual Meeting last evening in the Marriott’s Grand Ballroom. She began by taking a moment to acknowledge the untimely death of David Weber, a “cherished human being and distinguished historian,” who’d served as vice president of the AHA’s Professional Division. She noted the session taking place in his honor today from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in room 207 of the Hynes Convention Center: Borderlands and Frontiers Studies Committee: David J. Weber and the Borderlands: Past, Present, and Future.
Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Public Service Award
After the opening words, the first event of the evening was the presentation of the Seventh Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Public Service Award to Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman, vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, and retired president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The award is named for Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, two historians who served as presidents of both the American Historical Association and the United States. It is meant to honor a public figure or other civil servant who has made extraordinary contributions to the study, teaching, and public understanding of history.
Since the Congressman was not able to attend the 125th Annual Meeting, a video was shown of AHA Executive Director James Grossman’s interview with him (see below). In the interview, Hamilton talks about how his interest in history affected him in his public life, his commitment to transparency and declassification of documents, and his support of historians becoming more involved in public policy.
Following the award presentation was the plenary session: “History and the Public: A Session in Honor of Arnita Jones’ Commitment to the Public Work of Historians.” New AHA Executive Director James Grossman chaired the session, which honored his predecessor Arnita Jones. Grossman spoke of Americans appetite for history, and how historians need a more active role in public culture to bring in the historical perspective.
The panel of participants included Leora Auslander (Univ. of Chicago), Wm. Roger Louis (Univ. of Texas at Austin), OAH president David A. Hollinger (Univ. of California at Berkeley), Linda K. Kerber (Univ. of Iowa), Juan R. I. Cole (Univ. of Michigan), and Anthony Grafton (Princeton Univ.).
They touched on the necessity and challenges of public history in a number of ways, some more personally recognized Arnita Jones’ work and career. Leora Auslander looked at the challenges for museums and commemorative sites, which can reach millions of people and therefore must be thoughtful of their presentation of history. David Hollinger spoke of citizens writing about their nation’s history, the national myth, and how “truth and nation are always at odds.” Wm. Roger Louis praised Arnita Jones for her help in “structuring and supporting” the National History Center. Linda Kerber recognized Jones’ ability to turn the role of executive director into an art form. And Anthony Grafton, the last speaker of the evening, applauded her work at making public history a topic more thought about and discussed at the AHA.