Historical Research: A Thematic Analysis of Convention and Conference Themes for Selected Professional Health Education Associations from 1975 to 2009

Article excerpt


Interest in the history of health education and the role and development of professional associations is an important but often overlooked topic in the literature. As a profession, we are often limited by what materials exist, whether or not the data have been collected, organized and presented, the perspective and interpretation of the author of those materials, and by our ability to actually access or obtain copies of these materials.

Purpose of Study

Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to provide a listing of the data collected and an historical review of annual meeting themes for four of the more prominent health education professional associations; the American Association for Health Education (AAHE), the American Public Health Association (APHA), the American School Health Association (ASHA), and the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE). This review includes a thematic content analysis of all health education conference themes between the years 1975 and 2009.


Qualitative research offers an opportunity for in-depth examination of information. Polkinghorne (1) argued that conducting qualitative research primarily focuses on data generation and much less on the procedures for analyzing the data. Researchers often search for systematic procedures for data collection and data analysis, including guidance for interpretation of the data. (2) There are several reasons for these perceived difficulties in qualitative methodologies, such as the intuitive process used by researchers working with their data and because methods developed for one area of work may not be easily translated or applied to another. Hence, a research method may not have precedence in the literature (as in the case for this study), because it may require some combination of research steps to achieve the desired results.

Historical research gives perspective. Best and Kahn (3) defined history as a meaningful record of human achievement, not merely a chronological record of events but a truthful account of the relationships among persons, events, times, and places. A historical research method applies to all fields of study because it encompasses their origins, growth, theories, personalities, and crises.

Wiersma (4) defined historical research as the process of critical inquiry into past events to produce an accurate description and interpretation of those events. Historical research uses no single method because of its complexity and all-encompassing nature. (5) Barzun and Graff (6) added that history is not a subject unto itself but rather a mode of thinking that incorporates reflection upon the past.


Research Design

Busha & Harter (7) (p.91) described the basic steps of historical research as a rigorous collection and organization of the information, data, or evidence; verification of the authenticity and veracity of information and its sources; critical analysis of the data; selection, organization, and analysis of the most pertinent collected evidence (data synthesis); and development and recording of conclusions in a meaningful manner. We endeavored to follow these steps in the current study.

Data Collection

Data for this study were gathered through a review of the health education literature, (8-10) a review of professional association web sites, interviews and communication with professional association staff members, interviews with current or past historians, and archivists for the different professional associations. Specific data sought included conference and convention themes between the years 1975 and 2009, including the city and state where the event took place. Data were organized and presented in Table 1.

Data Analysis

Textual analysis (a qualitative, non-traditional component of content analysis) examines the words and phrases that are used in a message. …


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