AHA council approves antiwar resolution contingent upon its acceptance by the full membership

Historians in the News

UPDATED 1/10/07 Activists who celebrated the passage of an antiwar resolution at the Business Meeting of the American Historical Association on Saturday may now wonder how significant the vote actually was. On Sunday morning the council of the AHA voted to accept the resolution only if it is ratified by the full membership in an email vote. AHA President Barbara Weinstein told HNN in an email Jan. 10, 2007: "Our reasons for this were two-fold: the resolution had been submitted too late to be published in the December Perspectives, as was the case with the two other resolutions, and a majority of the Council felt that, given the importance of the issue, that a full vote of the membership was called for."

Critics have long complained that the actions taken at the Business Meeting on controversial and political subjects are meaningless since so few members attend. Of the 4800 members in attendance at the annual meeting, fewer than 200 were present for the Business Meeting.

The resolution, which was backed by the radical Historians Against the War, urges a speedy end to the conflict and chides the Bush administration for repeated violations of human rights. Opponents of the resolution argued at the Business Meeting that the organization should not spend its moral capital on issues extraneous to the functions of a professional society. Advocates of the resolution retorted that the war has raised important issues vital to the practice of history.

The council gave a positive response to the other two resolutions passed at the Business Meeting. The council accepted the compromise resolution critical of free speech zones. And the council agreed to study the proposal to subscribe to the Informed Meetings Exchange (INMEX), which is closely associated with the pro-labor group behind the recent wave of hotel strikes.

In response to the news that Atlanta police had arrested historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto for jaywalking, the council decided to send a letter of protest to local officials who had helped stage the convention with the understanding the AHA's concerns would be passed along to the appropriate city authorities.

On Thursday the council weighed in on the controversy involving the No Child Left Behind Act. Officials directed Arnita Jones, the executive director of the organization, to urge Congress to include history among the subjects students should be expected to master. While many historians object to NCLB, which requires constant testing, the council believes that so long as the tests are required history should be included. In many school districts money for history has dried up as schools shifted resources to the subjects tested under the act.

Read entire article at Rick Shenkman reporting for HNN.

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John D. Beatty - 1/9/2007

Old arguments are not nessesarily invalid.

If you want history to remain nothing more than what its most vociferous critics call it -- political hackery disguised as truth with evidence manipulated to favor the ruling clique -- then by all means vote on contemporary political issues in a partisan way. Become supportive of the talking heads in the mass media. They expect it of you.

If however you want the general public to actually take some stock in the work of real historians, reject any idea of even considering such a vote. History cannot provide guidance, only evidence. Choose sides and all that is tainted.

The historian MUST be neutral or he's just a flack. Reject this vote and all its kind. AHA has no moral obligation as an organization to do anything. MEMBERS as INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS may see such an obligation, but organizations such as the AHA are and must remain neutral. Nations are irrelevant to the profession of history, but impartial study of evidence is not.

So the choice is yours. Become part of the Greek chorus or remain independently sources of reason.

Choose now. Preserve the integrity of the profession or become just one more squalling pack of academics.

Hyman Kuritz - 1/8/2007

The argument that a professional society "should not spend its moral capital on issues extraneous to the function of a professional society" is an old one. It reflects the lingering influence of positivism that the historian must limit himself to the facts and subject them to scientific (empirical)investigaion.

This is too narrow and too limiting. The meaning of history is in its purpose. It must show its ties to present concerns. Otherwise, it bcomes a list of facts with no relationship to anything else and has no meaning. When historians abdicate this vital role. the role of a public intellectual, they leave this task to others to use and abuse history as they see fit.

I hope the AHA will recognize its moral obligation to join with others in a resolution against the Iraqi war at this very critical time in our nation's history.
Hyman Kuritz

David R Appleaum - 1/8/2007

Our silence is the surest path to the loss of moral capital and the marginalization of history and historians in contemporary society.

I urge all - council members included - to support the resolution.

Chris Murphy - 1/8/2007

Good decision! I am "radically opposed" to America's involvement in Iraq, however the AHA does itself no favours by acting as an unwitting conduit for radical political opinions.