American Historical Association

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American Historical Association
Formation1884 (1884)
Headquarters400 A St. SE, Washington, D.C., U.S.
AffiliationsAmerican Council of Learned Societies

The American Historical Association (AHA) is the oldest professional association of historians in the United States and the largest such organization in the world. Founded in 1884, AHA works to protect academic freedom, develop professional standards, and support scholarship and innovative teaching. It publishes The American Historical Review four times annually, which features scholarly history-related articles and book reviews.

AHA is the major learned society for historians working in the United States, while the Organization of American Historians is a field society for historians who study and teach about the United States. The AHA's congressional charter of 1889, established it "for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical manuscripts, and for kindred purposes in the interest of American history, and of history in America."


AHA operates as an umbrella organization for the discipline of history, and works with other major historical organizations and acts as a public advocate for the field. Within the profession, the association defines ethical behavior and best practices, particularly through its "Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct". AHA also develops standards for good practice in teaching and history textbooks.

The association publishes The American Historical Review, a major journal of history scholarship covering all historical topics since ancient history and Perspectives on History, the monthly news magazine of the profession. In 2006 the AHA started a blog focused on the latest happenings in the broad discipline of history and the professional practice of the craft that draws on the staff, research, and activities of the AHA.

The association's annual meeting each January brings together more than 5,000 historians from around the United States to discuss the latest research and discuss how to be better historians and teachers. Many affiliated historical societies hold their annual meetings simultaneously. The association's web site offers extensive information on the current state of the profession, tips on history careers, and an extensive archive of historical materials (including the G.I. Roundtable series), a series of pamphlets prepared for the War Department in World War II.

The association also administers two major fellowships, 24 book prizes, and a number of small research grants.


Executive officers of the American Historical Association at the time of the association's incorporation by the U.S. Congress photographed during their annual meeting on December 30, 1889, in Washington, D.C. Seated (left to right) are: William Poole, Justin Winsor, Charles Kendall Adams (President), George Bancroft, John Jay, and Andrew Dickson White, Standing (left to right) are: Herbert B. Adams and Clarence Winthrop Bowen

The early leaders of the association were mostly gentlemen with the leisure and means to write many of the great 19th-century works of history, such as George Bancroft, Justin Winsor, and James Ford Rhodes. However, as former AHA president James J. Sheehan points out, the association always tried to serve multiple constituencies, "including archivists, members of state and local historical societies, teachers, and amateur historians, who looked to it – and not always with success or satisfaction – for representation and support." Much of the early work of the association focused on establishing a common sense of purpose and gathering the materials of research through its Historical Manuscripts and Public Archives Commissions.

Women and African Americans

According to the Association,

Women and minorities were officially accepted into the Association from the beginning, but enjoyed little or no representation at the Association’s meetings and in the governing structure. No African Americans were represented on the AHA governing Council until 1959, and it would be another 20 years before John Hope Franklin was elected president of the AHA. Similarly, only 15 women served on the AHA Council before 1971 (out of over 186 members), and in the Association’s first 100 years only one woman, Nellie Neilson, had been elected to the presidency . By 1973 an assistant executive secretary had been appointed for the specific purpose of dealing with such problems.

Thavolia Glymph was elected president of the AHA for the term beginning in 2024. The 140th president, she is the first Black woman to hold that post.

Publication standards

From its founding, the association was largely managed by historians employed at colleges and universities, and served a critical role in defining their interests as a profession. The association's first president, Andrew Dickson White, was president of Cornell University, and its first secretary, Herbert Baxter Adams, established one of the first history Ph.D. programs to follow the new German seminary method at Johns Hopkins University. The clearest expression of this academic impulse in history came in the development of the American Historical Review in 1895. Formed by historians at a number of the most important universities in the United States, it followed the model of European history journals. Under the early editorship of J. Franklin Jameson, the Review published several long scholarly articles every issue, only after they had been vetted by scholars and approved by the editor. Each issue also reviewed a number of history books for their conformity to the new professional norms and scholarly standards that were taught at leading graduate schools to Ph.D. candidates. From the AHR, Sheehan concludes, "a junior scholar learned what it meant to be a historian of a certain sort".

AHA and public history

Meringolo (2004) compares academic and public history. Unlike academic history, public history is typically a collaborative effort, does not necessarily rely on primary research, is more democratic in participation, and does not aspire to absolute "scientific" objectivity. Historical museums, documentary editing, heritage movements and historical preservation are considered public history. Though activities now associated with public history originated in the AHA, these activities separated out in the 1930s due to differences in methodology, focus, and purpose. The foundations of public history were laid on the middle ground between academic history and the public audience by National Park Service administrators during the 1920s–30s.

The academicians insisted on a perspective that looked beyond particular localities to a larger national and international perspective, and that in practice it should be done along modern and scientific lines. To that end, the association actively promoted excellence in the area of research, the association published a series of annual reports through the Smithsonian Institution and adopted the American Historical Review in 1898 to provide early outlets for this new brand of professional scholarship.

Establishing a national history curriculum

In 1896, the association appointed a "Committee of Seven" to develop a national standard for college admission requirements in the field of history. Before this time, individual colleges defined their own entrance requirements. After substantial surveys of prevailing teaching methods, emphases and curricula in secondary schools, the Committee published "The Study of History in Schools" in 1898. Their report largely defined the way history would be taught at the high school level as a preparation for college, and wrestled with issues about how the field should relate to the other social studies. The Committee recommended four blocks of Western history, to be taught in chronological order—ancient, medieval and modern European, English, and American history and civil government—and advised that teachers "tell a story" and "bring out dramatic aspects" to make history come alive.

he student who is taught to consider political subjects in school, who is led to look at matters historically, has some mental equipment for a comprehension of the political and social problems that will confront him in everyday life, and has received practical preparation for social adaptation and for forceful participation in civic activities.... The pupil should see the growth of the institutions which surround him; he should see the work of men; he should study the living concrete facts of the past; he should know of nations that have risen and fallen; he should see tyranny, vulgarity, greed, benevolence, patriotism, self-sacrifice, brought out in the lives and works of men. So strongly has this very thought taken hold of writers of civil government, that they no longer content themselves with a description of the government as it is, but describe at considerable length the origin and development of the institutions of which they speak.

The association also played a decisive role in lobbying the federal government to preserve and protect its own documents and records. After extensive lobbying by AHA Secretary Waldo Leland and Jameson, Congress established the National Archives and Records Administration in 1934.

As the interests of historians in colleges and universities gained prominence in the association, other areas and activities tended to fall by the wayside. The Manuscripts and Public Archives Commissions were abandoned in the 1930s, while projects related to original research and the publication of scholarship gained ever-greater prominence.

Recent developments

In recent years, the association has tried to come to terms with the growing public history movement and has struggled to maintain its status as a leader among academic historians.

The association started to investigate cases of professional misconduct in 1987, but ceased the effort in 2005 "because it has proven to be ineffective for responding to misconduct in the historical profession."

Recent presidents

Selected awards

For publications For professional distinction

Past presidents

Presidents of the AHA are elected annually and give a president's address at the annual meeting:

Affiliated societies

See also


  1. ^ "Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct (updated 2011)".
  2. ^ "American Historical Review – AHR".
  3. ^ "Perspectives on History – AHA".
  4. ^ "AHA Today". American Historical Association.
  5. ^ "Annual Meeting – AHA".
  6. ^ "Data on the History Profession".
  7. ^ "Jobs & Professional Development – AHA".
  8. ^ "AHA History and Archives – AHA".
  9. ^ "GI Roundtable Series".
  10. ^ a b "AHA Grants and Fellowships".
  11. ^ "AHA Awards and Prizes".
  12. ^ Sheehan, James J. (February 2005). "The AHA and Its Publics, Part I". American Historical Association. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  13. ^ "Brief History of the AHA". American Historical Association. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  14. ^ Grigoli, Renato (January 16, 2023). "Deeply Rooted: Meet Thavolia Glymph, the 2024 AHA President". Perspectives on History. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  15. ^ "The First Black Woman to Serve as President of the American Historical Association" (Online). The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. January 29, 2024. ISSN 2326-6023. Retrieved February 3, 2024.
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b "The Study of History in Schools (1898)".
  18. ^ Orrill, Robert; Shapiro, Linn (June 1, 2005). "From Bold Beginnings to an Uncertain Future: The Discipline of History and History Education". The American Historical Review. 110 (3): 727–751. doi:10.1086/ahr.110.3.727.
  19. ^ Ronald W. Evans (January 1, 2004). The Social Studies Wars: What Should We Teach the Children?. Teachers College Press. pp. 10–16. ISBN 978-0-8077-4419-2. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  20. ^ "Policy on Professional Division Adjudication of Complaints".
  21. ^ "AHA Council – AHA".
  22. ^ "Martin A. Klein Prize". American Historical Association. 2022. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  23. ^ "Martin A. Klein Prize Recipients". American Historical Association. 2022. Retrieved November 16, 2022.
  24. ^ "Nancy Lyman Roelker Mentorship Award Recipients". American Historical Association. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  25. ^ "AHA Council". American Historical Association. Retrieved May 15, 2018.

Selected bibliography

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