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Time of Transition, Success, for the American Historical Association

American Historical Association executive director James Grossman offered a different sort of tribute to presenters at the 2014 annual meeting at the AHA business meeting Saturday night.

“I want to thank all of the presenters who managed to get to the meeting, on time or not,” he said. With the massive travel disruptions caused by Winter Storm Hercules and the imminent travel disruptions of the polar vortex to be felt on Sunday and Monday, that is no small feat.

The AHA is in a healthy place, Grossman said in his report. The organization's website has been totally overhauled, and the new social networking feature for AHA members, AHA Communities, has seen steady growth since its debut in September. AHA Communities has provided a private, moderated space for department chairs to consult each other over tenure, hiring, internships, assessment, and other issues, Grossman said, and there are plans for the AHA to host similar discussion communities on the website connecting graduate and undergraduate directors.

The other great success story of the past year has been the AHA's Tuning Project, “a nationwide, faculty-led project to articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and to define what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program.” The response to the Tuning Project has been extraordinary, Teaching Division lead Elaine Carey reported, with widespread interest in the project not just from historians, but also administrators, local community leaders, and businesspeople. (See an HNN interview with Carey and special projects coordinator Julia Brookins here). The Tuning Project was recently awarded an $837,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation.

2013-2014 also marks a year of transition in AHA staff. Robert Townsend, the organization's data expert, left earlier last year for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – his responsibilities have AHA's commitment to the maintaining the high standard of data collection pioneered by Robert Townsend, and indeed the organization has been instrumental in publishing Townsend's most recent report on history PhD placement. His data collection responsibilities been inherited by Julia Brookins and Perspectives editor Allen Mikaelian.

In addition, Robert Schneider, the editor of the American Historical Review, will be stepping down from his position in August of 2015.

The AHA governing board will also see significant turnover, as current officers reach their three-year term limits. Among the scholars rotating out are William Cronon, Jacqueline Jones, and John R. McNeill.

Finally, Grossman called attention to the behind-the-scenes advocacy work that the AHA has been doing in 2013. In late October, local and national media outlets reported that Elizabeth City State University, an historically-black school in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was considering eliminating its history department due to low enrollment numbers. AHA president Kenneth Pomeranz took a leading role in working to persuade the school to reconsider its plans. In the end, the university backed away, and based on conversations with faculty there, Grossman said, “we know that we were heard.”