How does one visualize the work of historians? Or represent a century-old organization with a forward-looking mission? What icons can capture an organization that serves historians specializing in every field and profession?
The decision to commission a new logo for the American Historical Association came on the heels of the AHA’s continued commitment to promote history and historical thinking, but more broadly and more emphatically. AHA staff undertook this complex task in collaboration with our colleagues at Eighty2degrees, a social impact design firm. The process began before any pen was put to paper. We started with a workshop to identify the AHA’s audience and to articulate our values and goals. The staff, including those who have worked at the AHA for decades and newly minted members of the team, took a break from our daily tasks to step back and identify the core aspects of our mission.
By the end of the session, we could identify key values that our organization hopes to communicate to our members and the general community: connecting people and ideas in real and virtual spaces to foster a symbiotic, mutually beneficial community of historians; helping to contextualize the past and the present; empowering current and future members; and serving as a national voice on issues facing all historians. So how did we translate these values visually? The most prominent example is our new logo. The sans-serif font Avenir implies currency and newness, while the timeline denotes an ever-present awareness of history and context.
The key feature of our new logo is a line that runs through the organization’s name. The designers included this subtle nod to a timeline “as the spine that forms our understanding of our past, and what our future may hold.” Ambica Prakash and Mike Englert, the co-owners of Eighty2degrees, explain: “The timeline . . . helps envision how moments in history are not isolated events, but part of an ever-expanding storyline with no beginning or end. The ticks of the timeline provide context for events occurring at a particular moment in history.” The AHA staff was particularly attracted to the timeline for the ways its lines and nodes emphasize connection between people, places, and ideas. This icon resonates with the AHA’s mission, as the Association aspires to be a lifeline running through the discipline. The new colors—teal, orange, and tan—also have significance. As Prakash and Englert note, “With the chosen colors, we were striving for a warm, vintage tone, while maintaining a professional feel.”
The logo’s emphasis on context and connection reflects the AHA’s belief that everything has a history and supports the Association’s goal of bringing the diversity of the discipline together. “Everything has a history,” Jim Grossman commented. “The logo’s evocation of a timeline highlights those histories, and the imperative of contextualization as an aspect of historical thinking.”
In addition to redesigning our logo, colors, and font, we also updated our historians.org homepage. In the past year we have increased our efforts to spread the word about historians using their skills to inform the public on pressing issues. Toward this end, AHA staff worked with our development firm, Results Direct, to build a news feed for the historians.org homepage. The feed draws attention both to the work of historians and that of the AHA.
These efforts come at a significant moment in the AHA’s 133-year history. As we commit ourselves to tackling the challenges facing history education at all levels and more urgently recognize the importance of bringing historical perspectives to civic life, we need a clear statement of who we are and what we do. Our logo, emblazoned on our website, social media, statements, educational and professional resources, and publications, will emphasize our values as we stand alongside our peer organizations to advance the humanities in classrooms, public squares, publications, state houses, and beyond.