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The American Historical Association: Status Report on the Field of History

The American Historical Society (AHA) held its annual conference earlier this month. In addition, it has released some messages of interest. In this blog, I cover two news items and part of a conference session on “Building Bridges Between Historians and K-12 History Teachers.” The news items are:

1. Making history information more accessible to the history community even if one is not a member of a given organization or institution (like a college).
2. The status of history majors today.

From the Executive Director

Research Access and Scholarly Equity

James Grossman and Becky Nicolaides | Jan 10, 2020

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians….

Faculty with inadequate access cannot keep up with the latest scholarship for teaching and have circumscribed access to the primary sources that enliven a classroom and stand at the center of highly regarded history pedagogy….

Many independent scholars, museum professionals, public historians, and K–12 educators share the common status of nonaffiliation with a university, which excludes them from remote access to important databases. Recent degree recipients are cut off from library access upon graduation, impeding their ability to continue research and publication to better situate them in job markets or continue their research activity regardless of where they are employed….

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

To read more click here.

History Enrollments Hold Steady as Department Efforts Intensify

Results of the 2019 AHA Enrollment Survey

Julia Brookins and Emily Swafford | Jan 15, 2020

Ask any department chair, and most faculty, what the most vexing data point during the academic year is and the most likely answer would be “enrollments.” In a data-obsessed age when it seems everything is tracked and analyzed, few data points matter as much in higher education as enrollments. For many institutions, department funding is tied directly to enrollment numbers. Courses that don’t meet minimum enrollment requirements are canceled, snarling the distribution of teaching responsibilities among faculty and narrowing the intellectual range in the curriculum. Fluctuations in enrollments and majors—a close relative of enrollments data—are cited as reasons to create or cancel tenure lines. A lot is riding on what academic slang calls “butts in seats.”…

Nonetheless, the AHA’s survey continues to identify strategies faculty can use, in conjunction with administrative partners, to address the lackluster trends. Respondents with stable or increasing enrollments described several concrete strategies to attract students. These included offering more online courses, hiring charismatic junior faculty members to teach new courses that students find exciting, and expanding departmental recruitment activities. In addition, successfully recruiting majors and minors, as might be expected, had a positive effect on overall enrollment.

To read more click here.

The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis: Building Bridges Between Historians and K-12 History Teachers

The following is excerpted from a blog by Sari Beth Rosenberg. The author is doing what I do when I write about the proceedings of conferences. She is doing so at the direct request of the AHA.  She is a U.S. history teacher and writer in New York City. Sari helped write the new social studies high school curriculum for the New York City Department of Education and is also a frequent curriculum consultant at New-York Historical Society. Specifically she wrote about a session on January 5th at 8:30AM organized by the AHA Teaching Division, “The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis.” The panel was chaired by Joe Schmidt (New York City Department of Education) in conversation with Trevor Getz (San Francisco State University), Christopher Martell (University of Massachusetts Boston), and Judith Jeremie (Brooklyn Technical High School). She writes that she left the session determined to redouble her efforts in finding more ways for historians and history teachers to join forces in meaningful ways. This is a subject near and dear to me. See most recently County Historian’s Roundtable: Lessons from Putnam County.

Chris Martell’s Two-Way Bridge Between Historians and Teachers 

Based on his paper, “A Two-Way Bridge: Building Better Partnerships between Historians and History Teachers/Teacher Educators,” Martell’s main message was that we need to move from historian/history teacher interaction to collaboration. That means we need to start presenting at each other’s conferences [see Putnam County blog] and utilize more digital platforms for sharing our resources and teaching strategies. He began by discussing how there are a few thousand self-identified historians and professors in the United States, but there are currently 1.1 million elementary school teachers. These educators are often overlooked when we talk about who teaches history. Meanwhile, beginning in 2008, we have experienced the steepest decline in history majors. Considering that 18% of 300,000 history majors report they wish to pursue careers in K-12 education, this does not bode well for the future of public education. How do we stoke the flames of enthusiasm for the study of history?

Martell’s answer is to partner history teachers with historians. In his studies, he found that K-12 history teachers often struggle to keep their content updated with the latest research and struggle to find helpful resources. They find historians inaccessible, most school-based professional development is not focused on content, and most of the history journals are not open-sourced. Martell realized that social media has become the new territory to best improve interactions between historians and history teachers. In response, he started a social media campaign, #BridgingHistoriansandTeachers, to get historians and history teachers to follow one another. It has been an effective venture thus far. In thirty days, Martell followed 42 historians. 33 of those historians followed him back and promised to follow back any K-12 historians who followed them. If Martell’s initiative continues, he hopes that historians and educators can learn about each other’s work and engage in meaningful conversations about classroom activities. He also emphasized the need for more PD opportunities that link content and pedagogy so teachers can actually implement the material in their respective classrooms. He cites the University of Massachusetts Boston/ Boston Public Schools model as one to which we should emulate.

Martell has touched on the issue of content and of being current in history scholarship. Presentations at each other’s conferences is a step in the right direction, but how many people can attend a national, state, or regional conference? And besides social media there still is something to be said for face-face discussions. After all, teachers still teach their students in the classroom. Here is where we need to examine the requirements to become a social studies or elementary school teacher and then to maintain one’s status once one becomes one. This includes the classes offered in the certification process and the professional development programs needed to keep teachers current. It also means as regular readers of my blog know, going out to the places where history happened and meeting with the local history museums and societies. It means attending summer programs that occur elsewhere or outside the school room. There are limits to what history organizations can accomplish in working with teachers if the system is rigged against teacher involvement with history organizations. And the history organizations themselves need to keep up with what the scholars are doing. Think of the NPS study on Imperiled Promise (for the last of multiple blogs on this topic see Imperiled Promise: History and the NYSOPRHP. It’s not just the elementary and social studies teachers who have a “history deficit.” When do the history staff at museums and historical societies get to learn what’s going on in the academic world?

So as not to make this blog too long, I will continue reporting on this AHA session in my next blog.

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