Advocacy: What Historians Do

Last week, CMU professor Dr. Jonathan Truitt published "A Cry for Help" advocating that universities offer their resources to help displaced Puerto Rican students continue their education. Two weeks ago Dr. Andrew Wehrman issued different call to action by tying the history of statistical analysis to address public health crises with today's gun violence. With that inspiration, this week [Re]collection offers a glimpse of other advocacy efforts by historians and published by AHA.


September 5, 2017 - In preparation for the Supreme Court's hearing of Gill v. Whitford, a group of 15 historians, including 11 AHA members, filed a brief of amici curiae that laid out the history of equal representation in early American voting systems and why the Court should strike down Wisconsin's district maps. The historians are joined by numerous other organizations, many of whom agree that Wisconsin's 2010 redistricting plan contains a statistically significant bias towards the party that drew it. A decision on the case is expected by June 2018. 

August 2017 - The tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, have re-ignited debate about the place of Confederate monuments in public spaces, as well as related conversations about the role of Confederate, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist imagery in American political culture.The AHA has released the following statement about the role of history and historians in these public conversations. Rather than seeking to provide definitive answers to the questions posed by individual monuments, the AHA emphasizes the imperative of understanding historical context in any consideration of removing or recontextualizing monuments, or renaming public spaces.

April 6, 2017 - The AHA Council signed on to a letter from the Coalition for International Education urging members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to reject the Trump administration's proposal threatening to reduce or eliminate funding for the US Department of Education's International Education and Foreign Language Studies Programs. After this mobilization, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill on May 4, 2017, which kept these programs funded at previous levels through September 30.

April 5, 2017 - AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman sent a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson urging him to reject HB 1834, which would prohibit any Arkansas public school from using materials authored by Howard Zinn in their courses. Grossman denounced the measure as an "egregious micromanagement of the work of Arkansas teachers." The measure was dropped shortly afterward.

March 16 and May 23, 2017- Following the Trump administration's proposals to eliminate funding for programs imperative to the work of historians, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, Title VI, and Fulbright-Hays, the AHA issued action alerts on March 16 and May 23 calling on members to express their concerns by contacting their congressional representatives. Our early efforts were rewarded when the FY17 omnibus appropriations bill, passed on May 4, 2107, included a modest increase in the NEH budget through September 30. As the appropriations process begins for FY 18, however, and the threat against humanities programs renews, the AHA will mobilize our partners and members again to resist any cuts.


This is a small representation of different advocacy efforts by historians, particularly through AHA. Historians can be important advocates for academic freedom, access to education and resources (therefore budgetary concerns), and public policy based on consideration of past efforts and prejudices. AHA has provided a statement called Guiding Principles for Taking a Public Stance.