Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Western History Association: Who Should I Vote For?

I love the Western History Association. Their journal is generally interesting, the conference is a lot of fun, and the associated H-Net listserv, H-WEST, is one of the more interesting and active H-NET lists. That said, the WHA like all of our other professional organizations is defined by the 19th-century model of academic societies--it is largely a conference, a journal, and a newsletter. (Tomorrow I will post a few thoughts on possible new directions for th WHA.)
I just received my ballot to vote for new members of the Council and Nominating Committee. And the positions actually seem to be contested, so the vote matters. The ballot helpfully pointed me towards the 2011 WHA Spring Newsletter as a source for more information about the candidates.

Alas, the candidate biographies are just that--prose versions of the professional vitae of the candidates, with no hint of why any of them want to hold WHA offices. We get their academic affiliations, their publications, the length of time they have been members of the WHA, and sometimes a bland statement of their desire to serve. The candidates truly are an impressive group of women and men. I am sure they have specific ideas for the future of the WHA. I wonder why the WHA did not ask them to include such information in their biographies? As is, I have no reason to vote for or against any of them. I probably won't send in the ballot at all.

This is particularly disappointing because the WHA is making a very serious attempt to explore the future of this scholarly organization. In 2010 a "Next Fifty Years Committee" issued a report [PDF] with recommendations. They invited member reaction and received many thoughtful comments, which they compiled and shared.

So where do these candidates stand on such issues as the shift to digital publication, expanding the WHA membership, lobbying, supporting graduate students and independent scholars, etc.? It would be nice to know.


Kelly in Kansas said...

Larry - I usually scan the bios to see who has serious interest in reaching out to all audiences, especially teachers. PLUS, they need to have actually done so. But you are right, we need to find different ways to elect officers to manage an organization. Writing good books is not necessarily the best or only qualification for leadership. Having said that, the WHA seems to be the best organization reaching out to teachers. I think it's based on their heritage of reaching out to the larger public history community and not just ivory tower historians.

I look forward to your next post.

Larry Cebula said...

Thanks Kelly. I agree that the WHA has done a better job than most in welcoming teachers into the organization.

Mary Greenfield said...

Yes, thanks for this, Larry. My perception is that this is an extremely pivotal moment in the WHA's history. Is it going to be a traditional academic organization, or keep the broader orientation that it has historically had? I would welcome statements from the candidates about their visions for the WHA going forward.

Larry Cebula said...

Mary, I think this is a pivotal moment for all of our professional organizations. The question is--which ones are capable of pivoting, and which are mired in tradition and will be left behind? I think that the WHA has the best chance of almost any of the historical organizations to maintain its relevance in the changing information landscape.