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The American Historical Association (AHA) is the oldest and largest society of historians and teachers of history in the United Statesmarker. Founded in 1884, the association promotes historical studies, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials. It publishes The American Historical Review five times a year, with scholarly articles and book reviews. The AHA is the major organization for historians working in the United States, while the Organization of American Historians is the major organization for historians who study and teach about the United States.

The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code.

Current activities

As an umbrella organization for the profession, the AHA works with other major historical organizations and acts as a public advocate for the field. Within the profession, the association defines ethical behavior and best practices, particularly through its Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. The AHA also develops standards for good practice in teaching and history textbooks, but these have limited influence. The association generally works to influence history policy through the National Coalition for History.

The association publishes The American Historical Review (a major journal of history scholarship covering all historical topics since ancient history) and Perspectives on History (the monthly news magazine of the profession). On September 28, 2006 the AHA started a blog AHA Today that the AHA describes as, "a blog focused on the latest happenings in the broad discipline of history and the professional practice of the craft that draws on the staff, research, and activities of the AHA."

The association's annual meeting each January brings together more than 5,000 historians from around the United States to discuss the latest research, look for jobs, and discuss how to be better historians and teachers. The 2009 Annual Meeting was held in New York, NY January 2-5, 2009. The theme of the meeting was Globalizing Historiography. The Association's web site offers extensive information on the current state of the profession, tips on history careers, and an extensive archive of historical materials(including the G.I. Roundtable series, a series of pamphlets prepared for the War Department in World War II).

The Association also administers two major fellowships, 24 book prizes, and a number of small research grants.


As James J. Sheehan (2005) points out, the association always tried to serve multiple constituencies, including archivists, members of state and local historical societies, teachers, and amateur historians, who looked to it - and not always with success or satisfaction - for representation and support. The early leaders of the association tended to be gentlemen with the leisure and means to write many of the great 19th-century works of history, such as George Bancroft, Justin Winsor, and James Ford Rhodes. Much of the early work of the association focused on establishing a common sense of purpose and gathering the materials of research through its Historical Manuscripts and Public Archives Commissions.

Publication Standards

From the beginning, however, the association was dominated by historians employed at colleges and universities, and served a critical role in defining their interests as a profession. The association's first president, Andrew Dickson Whitemarker was president of Cornell Universitymarker. and its first secretary, Herbert Baxter Adams, established one of the first history Ph.D. programs to follow the new German seminary method at Johns Hopkins University. The clearest expression of this academic impulse in history came in the development of the American Historical Review in 1895. Formed by historians at a number of the most important universities in the United States, it followed the model of European history journals. Under the early editorship of J. Franklin Jameson, the Review published several long scholarly articles every issue, only after they had been vetted by scholars and approved by the editor. Each issue also reviewed a number of history books for their conformity to the new professional norms and scholarly standards that were taught at leading graduate schools to Ph.D. candidates. From the AHR, Sheehan concludes, "a junior scholar learned what it meant to be a historian of a certain sort".

The academicians insisted on a perspective that looked beyond particular localities to a larger national and international perspectives, and that in practice it should be done along modern and scientific lines. To that end, the association actively promoted excellence in the area of research, the association published a series of annual reports through the Smithsonian Institutionmarker and adopted the American Historical Review in 1898 to provide early outlets for this new brand of professional scholarship.

Teaching and the Committee of Seven

In the area of teaching, the association's Committee of Seven Report on The Study of History in Schools largely defined the way history would be taught at the high school level as a preparation for college, and wrestled with issues about how the field should relate to the other social studies. The Association also played a decisive role in lobbying the federal government to preserve and protect its own documents and records. After extensive lobbying by AHA Secretary Waldo Leland and Jameson, Congress established the National Archives and Records Administrationmarker in 1934.

As the interests of historians in colleges and universities gained prominence in the association, other areas and activities tended to fall by the wayside. The Manuscripts and Public Archives Commissions were abandoned in the 1930s, while projects related to original research and the publication of scholarship gained ever-greater prominence.

Recent Developments

In recent years, the association seems to have recognized their problem and tried to come to terms with the growing public history movement. Meanwhile, the association also seems to be losing ground in its efforts to be a leader among academic historians, as well. The association started to investigate cases of professional misconduct in 1987, but ceased the effort in 2005 "because it has proven to be ineffective for responding to misconduct in the historical profession."

2008 Convention

The 2008 Annual Meeting was held in Washington D.C. January 3-6, 2008. The theme of the meeting was Uneven Developments.

2007 Convention

The 2007 Annual Meeting was held January 4–7, 2007 in downtown Atlanta. The theme of the meeting was "Unstable Subjects: Practicing History in Unsettled Times."A list of all the meeting's sessions and events is available in the 2007 online program. But the meeting gained the most public attention at the time for a controversy that arose when Atlanta police arrested a distinguished professor for jaywalking between hotels, and held him in jail overnight.

2006 convention

The 120th Annual meeting of the American Historical Association took place 5-8 January 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In attendance were some 5,600 participants. The AHA sponsored over 200 official AHA panels and some 110 other panels were sponsored by affiliated history societies. The diverse panels included sessions on ancient, world, comparative, and American history. Over 150 private and non-profit companies, commercial, and university presses exhibited their wares in the exhibit hall. AHA's Theodore Roosevelt- Woodrow Wilson Public Service Award was presented to Steven Spielberg. The prize was given to him for his founding of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Stanford University Professor James J. Sheehan delivered his presidential address, "The Problem of Sovereignty in European History." Dr. Arnita Jones, the Executive Secretary, reported a disturbing trend: "Individual membership has for long been drawn significantly on tenured faculty members in higher education institutions, but the percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty has shrunk over the years, with serious implications for our membership base."

Current officers and principal staff

  • President: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Harvard Univ.)

  • President-elect: Barbara Metcalf, (Univ of California, Berkeley)

  • Vice President, Professional Division: David J. Weber (Southern Methodist Univ.)

  • Vice President, Research Division: Iris Berger (University at Albany, SUNY)

  • Vice President, Teaching Division: Karen Haltunnen (Univ. of Southern California)

  • Executive Director: Arnita A. Jones

  • Editor, American Historical Review: Robert A. Schneider

  • Editor, Perspectives on History: Pillarisetti Sudhir

Past presidents

Presidents of the AHA are elected annually and give a president's address at the annual meeting:

See also


  1. [1] The Study of History in Schools, report to the American Historical Association by the Committee of Seven, New York, The Macmillan Company; London, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1899.
  2. Robert Orrill and Linn Shapiro | Forum Essay: From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: The Discipline of History and History Education | The American Historical Review, 110.3
  3. Press Release: AHA Announces Changes in Efforts Relating to Professional Misconduct
  4. Reporter's Notebook: Highlights from the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association

Selected bibliography

  • Alonso, Harriet Hyman. " Slammin' at the AHA." Rethinking History 2001 5(3): 441-446. ISSN 1364-2529 Fulltext in Ingenta and Ebsco. The theme of the 2001 annual meeting of the AHA, "Practices of Historical Narrative," attracted a variety of panels. The article traces one such panel from its conception to presentation. Taking the theme to heart, the panelists created a "slam" (or reading) of narrative histories written by experienced historians, a graduate student, and an undergraduate student, and then opened the session to readings from the audience.
  • American Historical Association Committee on Graduate Education. " We Historians: the Golden Age and Beyond." Perspectives 2003 41(5): 18-22. ISSN 0743-7021 Surveys the state of the history profession in 2003 and points out that numerous career options exist for persons with a Ph.D. in history, although the traditional ideal of a university-level appointment for new Ph.D.s remains the primary goal of doctoral programs.
  • Bender, Thomas, Katz, Philip; Palmer, Colin; and American Historical Association Committee on Graduate Education. The Education of Historians for the Twenty-First Century. U. of Illinois Press, 2004. 222 pp.
  • Elizabeth Donnan and Leo F. Stock, eds. An Historian's World: Selections from the Correspondence of John Franklin Jameson, (1956), Jameson was AHR editor 1895-1901, 1905-1928
  • Higham, John. History: Professional Scholarship in America. (1965, 2nd ed. 1989).
  • Meringolo, Denise D. "Capturing the Public Imagination: the Social and Professional Place of Public History." American Studies International 2004 42(2-3): 86-117. ISSN 0883-105X Fulltext in Ebsco. Unlike academic history, public history was often a collaborative effort, did not necessarily rely on primary research, was more democratic in participation, and did not aspire to absolute "scientific" objectivity. Heritage movements and historical preservation were also considered public history. Though public history originated in the AHA it separated out in the 1930s due to differences in methodology, focus, and purpose. The foundations of public history were laid on the middle ground between academic history and the public audience by National Park Service administrators during the 1920s-30s.
  • Morey Rothberg and Jacqueline Goggin, eds., John Franklin Jameson and the Development of Humanistic Scholarship in America (3 vols., 1993-2001)
  • Novick, Peter. That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  • Orrill, Robert and Shapiro, Linn. "From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: the Discipline of History and History Education." American Historical Review 2005 110(3): 727-751. ISSN 0002-8762 Fulltext in History Cooperative, University of Chicago Press and Ebsco. In challenging the reluctance of historians to join the national debate over teaching history in the schools, the authors argue that historians should remember the leading role that the profession once played in the making of school history. The AHA invented school history in the early 20th century and remained at the forefront of K-12 policymaking until just prior to World War II. However, it abandoned its long-standing activist stance and allowed school history to be submerged within the ill-defined, antidisciplinary domain of "social studies."
  • Sheehan, James J. " The AHA and its Publics - Part I." Perspectives 2005 43(2): 5-7. ISSN 0743-7021
  • Stearns, Peter N.; Seixas, Peter; and Wineburg, Sam, ed. Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History. New York U. Press, 2000. 576 pp.
  • Tyrrell, Ian. Historians in Public: The Practice of American History, 1890–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005

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