Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why I am Not Renewing my Membership in the Organization of American Historians

Today I received a mass email from David Hollinger, current president of the Organization of American Historians. It was an email to lapsed OAH members such as myself, asking us to renew. The tone of the email was fairly dire: "Since 2006, more than 1,000 colleagues with academic affiliations have allowed their membership in the OAH to lapse," Hollinger writes. "This continued decline in what has long been considered our core membership constitutes a serious threat to the viability of our organization."

I explained my decision not to renew with an email that I had first sent in reply to a similar plea from OAH Executive Director Katherine M. Finley, which I offer (slightly edited) to the public below. Yet I am feeling a twinge of email remorse. Am I doing the right thing here? Should I rejoin the OAH? Help me out, dear readers. Review my reasons and let me know in the comments if you agree.

Dear David Hollinger:

I will not be renewing my OAH membership. Here is why:

1. The OAH offers no lobbying or leadership in history-related public policy. When the stimulus bill was being created, the OAH and AHA made no efforts that I am aware of to secure funding for history. I blogged about the opportunity (1, 2, 3, 4) and also contacted your organization and the American Historical Association. I was told by the executive leadership of both organizations that the National Coalition for History does their lobbying for them--but the NCH did nothing either so far as I know. A once-in-two-lifetimes opportunity passed us by due to a lack of leadership from your organization. Now it looks like the Obama administration is about to eliminate the Teaching American History grants, which have pumped almost a billion dollars into history education. I have received no communication from the OAH about this, and there is not a word about it on your new website.

2. The OAH is largely unresponsive to the changing nature of the profession. I sent a long critique of the OAH Draft Strategic Plan and posted a version of it here on my blog. After the report was finalized I asked what changes had been made in response to member feedback and was told that there was no record of what had been changed. I can't see that anything was changed.

3. The committee that was supposed to issue guidelines for tenuring public historians (3 years ago?)  has not completed its work and even the draft report is no longer available. Some of us are going up for tenure and could use the voice of the OAH to convince our more traditional colleagues that our work should count in this process.

I am sorry if this is all too blunt, but I thought it would be better to explain my departure than just to drift away. When I think of the OAH I think of an uneven annual conference and--well, that is it. The conference is the tail that seems to wag the dog. I don't see where the OAH has any voice at all in the digital history world of blogs and news feeds and such, and I don't see where it does any meaningful advocacy for the profession. If I am not going to the conference, I can't see why I would join.




Larry Cebula said...

I should add that I received a nice, if unconvincing reply from Katherine Finley. I wish I could post it here, but if I have learned anything from the life of Benjamin Franklin it is not to make public private correspondences!

Tim said...

Your letter to the OAH makes some excellent points. I belong because as a student it is reasonably cheap (I am an older student).

Your points about lobbying and advocacy make a lot of sense. The organization should at least be a sounding board for those issues.

Whether to re-up? Your call, but I can see both sides. Maybe the only way to get the point across is to stay out for a while.

By the way, thanks for the blog, it's a great resource.

Susan said...

I've let membership in a couple organizations slide as I've grown as a professional and my interests and career path has changed. I've never considered actually replying with why I'm not renewing when I get those emails.

You've presented some valid points and maybe more people need to give reasoned explanation the way you did.

Tyrie said...

I think you make a good case - my initial thought was, "no, renew and then make it a point to improve the organization." However, it seems you've already done that. You aren't on the sidelines complaining, but have made proactive moves to bring these issues to the attention of the organization's leaders in more than one medium. At some point you have to stop running into that brick wall or you'll wind up with a concussion. You tried, they didn't respond. You've done what you could. Don't lose any sleep over it.

Unknown said...

I'm sure you made your decision by now... sorry but I'm late to this discussion... however I would like to second many of the points you offered about the OAH and AHA... neither have been responsive enough to the death of the historical profession.. or at least the ability for one to make a living at it. From all indications the OAH and AHA are doomed to die a slow death as full-time teaching in the academy dies and public historians have no real connection to the decades upon decades approach offered by the two organizations. I say good riddance to them! They have done nothing to ensure the standing of the profession. I am mad!! While I am at it lets complain about the AAUP!! No, I'll save that for later... but they too have been as quite as a church mouse as higher education has and continues to dismantle academic teaching.