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|Amber Brooks • 5/31/17|
The Short Version: The American Historical Association fosters a scholarly community where over 12,000 historians can share ideas, find informational resources, and collaborate on projects. Founded in 1884, the AHA is the largest organization for professional historians both in and out of the academic world. Whether you’re an undergraduate seeking a mentor or an archivist seeking colleagues, you can find many valuable networking and career opportunities through the AHA’s grants, programs, and yearly events. The AHA’s diverse members come from different fields and professions, but they find common ground in their passion for history. United in their studies, AHA members expand their knowledge base and explore ways the past can inform and shape the future.
In eighth grade, my social studies teacher hosted a History Bee for all her students. The winner would get an automatic A in her class. Two weeks of no homework, no final exam, and no worries was a tantalizing prospect, so everyone went into a studying frenzy.
Well, almost everyone. My boyfriend did not study — he didn’t even take notes — so it caused a minor uproar when he won the History Bee without breaking a sweat. He hadn’t needed to cram like everyone else because he was a huge history buff. He read presidential biographies for fun. Some of our classmates thought he was insufferably smug that day, but I’d never found him more attractive.
If you’re passionate about a niche subject area, sometimes it’s hard to find other people who share your fascination — especially if you’re 13 years old. Fortunately, professional historians have a tight-knit society dedicated to supporting their interests and research. Since 1884, the American Historical Association (AHA) has welcomed history students and professionals to form a collaborative network across more than 5,000 academic institutions in the US.
Today, the AHA is the largest professional organization for historians with over 12,000 members from coast to coast. The association’s networking opportunities, academic grants, and job resources guide historians throughout their entire careers.
The AHA hosts events, publishes research, and runs programs to advance the study of history and unite those individuals enamored by the past. Based in Washington, D.C., the AHA and its inquisitive 20-person staff serve a strong community of history students, faculty, librarians, and other professionals. In the coming years, the team is eager to add new perspectives to the study of historical events, AHA Marketing and Public Relations Manager Jane Fiegen Green told us.
“Our organization is changing dramatically,” she said. “Now we’re a much more diverse group — we’re diversifying in terms of gender, race, and age as well as position and employment sector. We’re looking to increase the representation of historians who aren’t working in academic posts.”
The American Historical Association promotes historical thinking beyond the realm of academia — in libraries, federal government, museums, private businesses, nonprofits, and the general public. Independent scholars of all types find a curious, opinionated, and welcoming community in this longstanding organization.
For the past 131 years, the American Historical Association has hosted an annual meeting to help historians build working relationships and network in a community unlike any other. The annual meeting is traditionally held on the first weekend in January. “Our yearly event is what we’re most known for,” Jane said. “It’s the largest gathering of historians. We can have up to 5,000 people descending on one city.”
Every year, the AHA’s event gives academics the opportunity to present their research and engage in informal discussions about the study of history. Attendees build bonds, renew friendships, and connect with colleagues in similar fields of study. While attending workshops, seminars, and career fairs, the historians maintain an active dialogue in a friendly atmosphere.
“We generally think of ourselves as a fun group,” Jane said. “The ability to put a face to the online network of historians is really great. If you’re collaborating with a colleague across the country, you have this opportunity to meet face to face at the annual meeting. Everybody looks forward to it.”
“It’s a point of pride to show your work to such a diverse audience of historians,” Jane said. “A lot of our panels bring together historians who are working on different takes on the same subject so you really get to see your work in new light.”
The AHA showcases the work of emerging and established historians in all fields to provide a complete look at the discipline. Graduate students, faculty members, archivists, writers, and other historians build their contact lists at topical panels and workshops held by leaders in the field.
Whether you want to find a research partner or touch base with old classmates from graduate school, the AHA provides the space to network in real life with historians of all disciplines. The 2018 Annual Meeting will be held in Washington, D.C., where the AHA’s headquarters are located.
In addition to the annual meeting, the AHA hosts smaller events throughout the year. The organization encourages networking and scholarship in targeted talks given for historians by historians. A diversity of perspectives are represented at these meetups. You can check out the AHA’s events calendar to find interesting conferences, exhibitions, and competitions held around the world.
The American Historical Association is an umbrella organization for an entire profession, so it covers a lot of ground in terms of grants, publications, advocacy work, and other career resources tailored to historians of all kinds. “Our members are everywhere,” Jane said, “doing all types of work in all types of institutions, and we’re doing a better job of showing that.”
Since 1895, the AHA has published a peer review journal called The American Historical Review to promote notable contemporary historical scholarship. Each year, the journal receives about 300 article submissions and 3,000 books for review in all subjects and fields. From that wide pool, the editorial staff based in Indiana select the most salient and thought-provoking material.
Another publication, Perspectives on History, highlights current issues facing historians, including what the job market is like and what type of students are majoring in history. The magazine also touches on political news and the AHA’s advocacy work. These articles tend to inspire animated conversations among its 15,500+ readers.
Since 2012, the AHA has coordinated a nationwide project called Tuning the History Discipline in the United States. Alongside 150 faculty members, the historians seek to study the curriculum, competencies, and student learning outcomes in undergraduate history education. “We’re really trying to define the skills that college students learn when they take history courses,” Jane explained, “to show the relevance a history education has.”
The National Endowment for the Humanities and the AHA sponsored the Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges Project to explore ways to bring global perspectives to American History courses taught at two-year institutions. Two faculty members from 12 community colleges attended seminars highlighting a broad geographical and chronological context for the United States.
The AHA pushes real-world action as well. The organization is affiliated with the National History Center, which facilitates historians sharing their expertise in congressional briefings. Learned individuals can inform government workers about the history of mass incarceration, executive orders, drug epidemics, the educational system, and other relevant topics to give some much-needed context to the issues of the day. Elected leaders can become entrenched in short-term concerns, so they benefit from the long-term perspective of historians.
Members of the AHA not only have access to academic resources, they join an active online community geared toward helping one another. The Members Forum gives newcomers a place to ask questions, join a discussion, and become part of a nationwide network of history professionals.
“In general, historians have been pushing digital humanities to advance our research,” Jane said. “Digital communication has led to better ways of sharing information and getting to know colleagues when you don’t have the ability to meet in person.”
On the forum, you’ll find announcements about academic awards as well as questions about institutional policy changes. The discussion ranges across many specific interests in the study of history. The forum is open to all members, from students asking for book recommendations on their disciplines to history professors looking for fresh ideas for their syllabi.
“We give them the opportunity to create their own community,” Jane explained. “For instance, there’s a group having an in-depth conversation about complexity history. I don’t know specifically what that means, but they’re very passionate about it, and they’ve started their own group focused on it.”
Private forums for department chairs are even more specialized, focusing on the administrative policies and practices of history departments across the country. “That’s been a good way for people in these leadership positions to contact colleagues who deal with similar issues,” Jane said.
Members of the AHA love to gab online. Jane said historians are surprisingly active on Twitter. They use the hashtag “Twitterstorian” to find one another and discuss current events, historical research, and other nerdy topics on the site. These #Twitterstorians have claimed their own niche corner of the Twitterverse using a unifying moniker.
“There’s a robust community between historians on Twitter,” said Jane. “The AHA is part of that. We like to take credit for popularizing the hashtag #everythinghasahistory.”
For the past century, the American Historical Association has established a reputation as a trustworthy hub for historians across the US. Its interdisciplinary resources and community support help members fund and further research projects. Whether you’re a seasoned history professor or an amateur history buff (like my old boyfriend), you can join the AHA to meet people of your ilk. Membership supports the Association’s range of advocacy, leadership, and resources. The AHA offers discounted dues for students and early career historians. Joining online is easy.
From online forums to public seminars, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. At the AHA annual meeting, you can mingle in person with professional historians and add your perspective to the best methods to teach history and what history has to teach us.
Motivated by the current political climate, the AHA has begun investigating how the historical perspective of their members can be used to enlighten present-day leaders and improve the world.
“We’re really trying to show that history is essential for understanding the world today and how we can make it better,” Jane said. “As historians, we examine the historical complexity of current events and how things that are happening today can be better understood if we look at their past.”