Tuesday, March 13, 2007

AHA Chooses to Speak for All and Opposes Iraq War

Gee, I wish I could say I was surprised to hear (via Ralph Luker) that the American Historical Association has approved a wide-ranging resolution that--among other things--opposes the Iraq War. I voted against it. I supported, in principle, the acute points that took President Bush's administration to task for "excluding well-recognized foreign scholars; condemning as "revisionism" the search for truth about pre-war intelligence" and "re-classifying previously unclassified government documents." In my opinion, these were well within the purview of a scholarly organization. The rest was rank partisanship masking as scholarly concern. In this, I agree with former AHA President James Sheehan (who is critical of the Iraq War)
He said that there are two problems with the resolution. First, he said, “it seems to me that people join the AHA with certain expectations, and the fact that the association will take political positions is not one of them. In a way, you are violating the conditions of membership, and I suspect a few people will leave.”

Second, he said it was important for the association to take political stands on issues “narrowly concerned with the interests of scholars in general and historians in particular.” So he said it was important for the AHA to speak out as it does against visa denials to foreign scholars or restrictions on access to presidential records. “But by taking more general stands, we weaken our moral authority and we become identified with partisan positions,” he said. “There is only a certain amount of moral capital that we have.”
Then again, I don't think the average person gives a crap about what the AHA has to say about Iraq. And I guess I don't either.

My only decision is whether or not such an organization deserves my dues.


Socrates said...

What do you get for membership in the AHA? Is it like the IEEE, which offers everything from email accounts to health insurance, or is it a glorified direct mail shop?

The tendency to get into politics doesn't bode well, and the overreach will only lengthen as time goes on. Eventually, the AHA will become like the Union of Concerned Scientists, unable to keep themselves from issuing a press release over any media frenzy that slops itself along.

And remember O'Sullivan's First Law.

Marc said...

Well, you get The Historian, which usually offers pretty boring scholarly articles, but has loads of book reviews that are valuable.

You also get the near-monthly PERSPECTIVES which occasionally offers research tips but more often then not is rife with the navel gazing of the academics who dominate the profession. The placement of new PhDs in the job market and history professor salaries are constant themes. The mag also has regular job listings. All that is fine, it's essentially a trade magazine for the "professional" historians (ie; those who teach). Not much attention--other than lip service--is given to non-PhD types (like me) nor of non-institutionally affiliated PhDs. The implication being that if you aren't affiliated, you're not "really" a historian. Though they don't really say that...

To sum it up, it's not an association of and for HISTORIANS so much as an association for Institutionally-affiliated, academic historians. Again, though, as that demographic comprises most of its membership, that's fine. And that's why I'm probably going to let my membership lapse.