National History Center to Merge with AHAHistorians in the News
tags: American Historical Association, National History Center
At its August 12, 2022, meeting, the Board of Trustees of the National History Center voted to “consolidate the work of the Center into the current and future activities of the AHA.” This decision will have structural implications, but it will not affect the actual work that the National History Center has been doing over the past few years.
The Center currently focuses on three activities: the book-based Washington History Seminar, which is currently online and tremendously successful as measured by attendance; Congressional Briefings, currently on hiatus because of insurmountable obstacles to in-person events within the Capitol Complex and compelling evidence that the briefings are ineffective in a teleconference format; and the History and Policy Education Program, which currently lacks funding and therefore has no staff time allocated to it.
This issue of time lies at the heart of the revision of the relationship between the Center and the AHA. The National History Center has never been able to raise enough money to pay even a small honorarium to the director. For a while, idiosyncratic institutional arrangements with home universities have generated time for a director to do the things required to maintain a viable nonprofit organization: coordinating the work of a governing board (more time than most people realize), cultivating donors, writing grant proposals, managing finances, mobilizing volunteers, creating programming, engaging collaborators, and more. Volunteers, generally board members, can help with some of this. But the buck stops at the desk of the director. The Center has been fortunate to have directors who have combined the generosity of their home institutions with their own flexibility and commitment to generate the time necessary for all this—though usually also with considerable allotments of time from the AHA executive director. Small grants have funded a part-time assistant director.
This isn’t viable. That conclusion led to consideration of the Center’s origins, goals, and mission, and whether an ambitious vision has just not had the right conditions to make substantial progress toward fruition. Sometimes even good ideas just don’t work out.
The original purpose of the National History Center is formally stated in its articles of incorporation:
The purposes for which the corporation is organized are: The study of history, the diffusion of historical knowledge through writing, teaching, and discussion, and related activities for presenting historical knowledge to scholars and students—all in the interest of education and enlightening people about the past.