The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History

By Richard S. Kirkendall | Go to book overview

4
The OAH in Troublesome Times,
1980–2000

Arnita A. Jones

The history of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) since 1980 offers an extraordinary amount of continuity, even as there has been, inevitably, substantial change. I speak from some experience on this point, for I first became closely acquainted with the OAH more than thirty years ago, in 1977, when I was appointed the staff associate for the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History. Housed at the American Historical Association in Washington, the NCC, as it soon came to be known, was a new, cooperative effort on the part of AHA and OAH, and several other major historical associations to address several problems besetting the historical profession, chief among them the lack of jobs for new PhDs and the sorry state of teaching in the nation's school.

It did not take me long to realize that the problems the NCC was established to address were not new, nor was the fledgling coalition the first effort to address them. History instruction in primary and secondary schools had, for example, been a serious concern of the old MVHA until midcentury. Attacks by Allan Nevins and others in The New York Times in 1943 prompted OAH to form a joint committee with AHA and the National Council on Social Studies to defend history, just as criticism of textbooks during the McCarthy era created another round of concern. However, at most, these episodes were passing distractions while the great expansion of higher education in the early postwar decades focused historians' attention further away from the problems of the schools.

By the 1970s, however, under the leadership of Richard Kirkendall, the OAH had begun again to focus serious attention on the problem of history teaching in the schools. A new Committee on the Status of History in the Schools completed a major report in 1975, which drew the attention of many academic historians back to K-12 education. When I began my term as executive secretary at

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