Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dispatches from AHA

I did not get down to the American Historical Association's annual meeting in Atlanta last week, but wanted to pass along a few updates from the meeting. History News Network has a good series of reports from the convention, including the arrest of a prominent historian for jaywalking, the passage of the AHA's first-ever antiwar resolution, and the presentation of a senior scholar's award to David Brion Davis. Inside Higher Education also has a writeup of the actions taken on the war and on the failure of a resolution brought to oppose university speech codes.

Importantly, the AHA Council has ordered that the antiwar resolution be ratified by an electronic vote of the full AHA membership, since it was not introduced soon enough to be printed in organzation publications prior to the meeting. "Supporters said that the war is a national crisis that calls for a response from historians, but critics said that the association was risking its political stock by taking a stance that could appear to be dictating what professors should think about a controversial issue."

"In an interview Sunday, Arnita R. Jones, executive director of the AHA, said that there were two reasons the Council voted to accept the resolution conditional on a ratification vote by the full membership. One is that the anti-war resolution was not submitted early enough to be published in the AHA’s newsletter, so it was unclear whether all interested parties were aware of it. In addition, she said that the Council noted the 'intrinsic importance' of the issue.

Jones said that in the seven years in which she has been executive director, the AHA Council has never previously sent a resolution to the full membership (which tops 14,000) for a vote in this way. She said that the Council was not motivated by a desire to block the resolution, and that she expected the resolution to be passed."

There has been no timetable set for the full membership vote. I am torn over the text of the resolution and will carefully consider my vote before I cast it. While I certainly agree with the substance and the message of the resolution, I am not certain that taking this kind of political stance is something the AHA should engage in as an organization. But there is much to think about here, and this will certainly not be an easy decision.