Historians, War, Responsibility debated at the AHA Business Meeting (Account by Inside Higher Ed)

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Sometimes it’s not just what you are against, but how you are against it. On Saturday, every member who spoke at the business meeting of the American Historical Association expressed opposition to the war in Iraq and support for free speech.

But there was fairly intense debate on how to express those ideals. In the end, the association’s members at its business meeting backed a resolution calling on members to “do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.” Supporters said that the war is a national crisis that calls for a response from historians, but critics said that the association was risking its political stock by taking a stance that could appear to be dictating what professors should think about a controversial issue.

In an unusual move, however, the AHA’s Council, which reviews and typically accepts resolutions passed by the members, on Sunday ordered an e-mail vote of all members on the topic.

On speech codes, the association debated with some skepticism a resolution that would have put the historians on record against speech codes. Proponents of the measure said that the codes infringe on academic freedom, while critics said that the resolution oversimplified the issue. The association ended up stripping most of the resolution, leaving a measure (passed unanimously) that criticized “free speech zones” — in which some colleges limit some forms of protest to specific areas on campus.

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