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News in American History


Advocacy news and important action alerts.

OAH LGBTQ Committee Issues Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Obergefell v. Hodges

The Organization of American (OAH) Historians Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Historians and Histories celebrates the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, declaring same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states and making marriage equality a reality.


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Posted: June 29, 2015
Tagged: Advocacy, News of the Organization, News of the Profession

U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Same-Sex Marriage

In a historic civil rights ruling issued today in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage a right available to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation. The OAH Executive Board submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the petitioners written by historian and OAH member George Chauncey on the history of discrimination against gay men and lesbians in America. This brief was cited specifically by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion in today's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, as was the historical scholarship of OAH president-elect Nancy Cott and other prominent American historians.

Read the OAH LGBTQ Committee statement here.

Read the U.S. Supreme Court decision here.

Read the amicus curiae brief here.

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Posted: June 26, 2015
Tagged: News of the Organization, News of the Profession, Advocacy

National Coalition of History Updates

Ask your Representative to join the Congressional History Caucus. The caucus aims to provide a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill.


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Posted: June 8, 2015
Tagged: Advocacy

OAH Members Respond to the Redskins Name Debate

During the business meeting at the 2015 OAH Annual Meeting, members voted to pass the following resolution asking the Washington Redskins to change their name. 

The Organization of American Historians hereby adds its voice to the growing demands by Native American organizations, our sister disciplines, and conscientious people of all ethnic backgrounds, to change the name and logo of the Washington "Redskins."

In a subsequent meeting, the OAH Executive Board voted to let the resolution stand as passed by the membership.

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Posted: June 6, 2015
Tagged: Advocacy

OAH Executive Committee Issues Statement of Opposition to Indiana's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act"

On Thursday, March 26, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" despite exceptionally strong protests of the Republican Mayor of Indianapolis, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis), Visit Indy (the Indianapolis convention bureau), churches, and many individuals presenting multiple petitions. As the statements of these individuals and groups indicate, the Act does not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of Indianapolis and Bloomington residents or of Indiana's many other cities that have worked hard to welcome residents of many backgrounds and views, creating a highly diverse state. The OAH Executive Committee has issued the statement below regarding the Act and is writing the Governor and the leaders in the Indiana House and Senate indicating its strong disapproval of this Act.

"The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians, headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana, strongly urges the Indiana Legislature and Governor Mike Pence to repeal the 'Religious Freedom Restoration Act' signed into law March 26, 2015. The Act carries alarming potential for abuse in the form of discrimination on many grounds--religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation. The OAH strongly condemns any legislation that can be employed to discriminate against any person, whether on the basis of 'any exercise of religion' or simple personal ethnic or racial prejudice. The OAH Executive Committee urges the immediate repeal of this Act to ensure fair and equitable treatment of all residents of the State of Indiana and visitors to the state."

An article was written in The New York Times on the reactions of Indiana citizens and businesses. That article can be read here. 

The Organization of American Historians is an external agency of Indiana University and is housed on the Bloomington, IN campus. The President of IU, Michael McRobbie, issued a statement about the passing of the new law. It can be read here.

In an unusual move, the Indianapolis Star on March 31, 2015 placed an editorial on its front page demanding that this bill be fixed - read more here.

Earlier articles in the Indianapolis Star about the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act":

The text of the new law can be read in full here.

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Posted: March 28, 2015
Tagged: News of the Organization, Advocacy

OAH Amicus Brief Filed in Same-Sex Marriage Case

The OAH has submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the same-sex marriage case, James Obergefell, et al. vs. Richard Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Public Health. Written by OAH member George Chauncey, professor of history and American studies at Yale University, the brief focuses on the history of discrimination against gays. Opening oral arguments are expected to be heard in the last week of April, with a decision to be issued the last week of June. 

Read the brief in full.

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Posted: March 9, 2015
Tagged: News of the Organization, News of the Profession, Advocacy

Historical Organizations React to the AP U.S. History Debate


In recent months, the newly developed framework for the Advanced Placement (AP) in U.S. History exam issued by the College Board has sparked an unexpected controversy. The AP U.S. History exam is meant to provide high school students who have already displayed an advanced level of knowledge in the subject the opportunity to earn college credit at many institutions. The Republican National Committee (RNC) recently adopted a resolution criticizing the revised versions of the framework and exam, and went so far as to demand a congressional investigation into its development. 

To read Lee White's AP US History Debate article in full, go to: http://www.oah.org/programs/news/historical-organizations-react-to-the-ap-u.s-history-debate/

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Posted: October 24, 2014
Tagged: Advocacy

NCH Advocacy Roundup

The National Coalition for History has been busy this summer working on a number of public policy initiatives relevant to U.S. historians. Here is a summary of that news from NCH Executive Director Lee White:

Federal Funding for the Humanities:
On July 15, The House Appropriations Committee adopted the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies FY 15 funding bill which includes $146 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Coalition for History and the National Humanities Alliance had issued an advocacy alert urging support of increased funding, and the Committee responded by adding to the $138 million amount recommended by the Interior appropriations subcommittee.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission could receive its first increase in six fiscal years in the FY '15 budget, albeit a modest one. Both the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill passed by the House and the one considered by the FS&GG appropriations subcommittee in the Senate include an additional $500,000 for the NHPRC, up to a level of $5 million.

On July 18, the NCH submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Education requesting that history and civics education be included as priorities in determining where to focus federal financial assistance through the agency's discretionary grant programs. The Department of Education had proposed repealing its 2010 list of supplemental priorities which would remove history and civics education and replace it with new priorities. The Organization of American Historians and other history groups put out a call urging members to express support of history and civics funding. Thank you to those who responded! More than 1,600 citizens had submitted comments by the July 24 deadline.

National Women's History Museum Commission:
On May 16, the NCH sent a letter to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) regarding bill S.398 which would establish a commission to study the creation of a National Women's History Museum. NCH strongly supports forming the commission, as well as the ultimate goal of building the museum, but expressed concerns that the current legislation leaves out expert historians and the public from the deliberations of the commission and endorses a problematic fundraising plan. The nonprofit group National Women's History Museum, Inc. originally promoted the idea in 1996, but has faced difficulty raising funds and has also been criticized for the quality of the women's history exhibits on its website. In May, a companion bill (H.R. 863) passed the House by a vote of 383-33. S. 398 has not yet been scheduled for markup or consideration by the Senate.

Boston Public Schools History and Social Studies Education
The Boston Public School System on May 30 responded to a letter written by the NCH, giving assurances that its history and social studies department was not going to be eliminated. "We are glad you reached out to us," stated Interim Superintendent John McDonough, "and we are even happier that there is an organization such as yours to advocate for the preservation and expansion of History instruction." Rumors had surfaced on the internet earlier that month, followed by an online petition that went viral throughout the historical community. BPS issued a statement indicating that an upcoming reorganization had been misinterpreted.

To read Lee White's Advocacy Roundup article in full, go to: http://www.oah.org/programs/news/tag/advocacy

Posted: July 31, 2014
Tagged: Advocacy, News of the Profession

Open Discourse and Academic Freedom

From the OAH President. In his February 2014 column in OAH Outlook, OAH President Alan M. Kraut stresses the importance of open scholarly discourse when historians debate the issues surrounding important subjects. Read more >

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Posted: February 18, 2014
Tagged: Advocacy, News of the Organization, News of the Profession

House Passes Major Presidential Records Reform

National Coalition for HistoryFebruary 1, 2014. Inscribed at the entrance to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library is this declaration by Truman: "The papers of the Presidents are among the most valuable sources of material for history. They ought to be preserved and they ought to be used." Since those words were spoken many years ago, experience has taught historians that President Truman should have added "and the government should make them accessible to the public as soon as possible."

For more than a decade, the National Coalition for History has been a lead advocate for Presidential Records Act (PRA) reform. The Organization of American Historians joined along with the American Historical Association as plaintiff, along with other historical and archival groups, in a federal lawsuit that sought to invalidate Executive Order (EO) 13233, issued by President George W. Bush, which severely limited public access to presidential records.

On January 21, 2009, in one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama replaced Bush's executive order with his own, EO 13489. Obama's EO is similar to one issued by President Reagan in 1989, which was also in effect during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but was superseded by President Bush's EO 13233 in November 2001.

After the Watergate-era battles over President Nixon's papers, which pitted the judicial and legislative branches against the president, it became obvious that a law was needed to prevent similar constitutional conflicts. In 1978, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA), in an attempt to clarify legal issues surrounding presidential records preservation and maintenance.

The PRA governs the official records of presidents and vice presidents created after January 20, 1981. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of a president from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which presidents must manage their records. The PRA also defined what qualified as a presidential record, detailed guidelines for the management and custody of presidential records, established procedures for restricting access to presidential records under certain circumstances, and granted the archivist of the United States the authority to promulgate regulations enforcing the PRA.

What has proved to be the most vexing part of the PRA for historians, archivists, political scientists, journalists, and authors is the process established by the statute for restricting access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to presidential records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the administration, but allows the president to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to 12 years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty day notice period to the president involved.

The PRA did not, however, provide a procedure allowing former presidents to request continued restricted access to presidential records created during their respective administrations beyond 12 years. This flaw in the statute in effect leaves it up to each sitting president to interpret the law and impose restrictions as he or she sees fit through the issuance of executive orders. As noted above, several presidents since the passage of the PRA have issued EOs to change the request procedure and define the limits of such requests. This includes abuses such as George W. Bush's attempt to broaden the authority of those able to make a privilege claim and potentially restrict public access indefinitely beyond the 12-year period in the law. The Bush EO for the first time gave the heirs or a representative of a former president authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely.

President Obama's EO revoked the onerous restrictions placed by Bush 43 and restored the standards established by President Reagan. However, without the passage of legislation, there is nothing to prevent a future chief executive from reinstituting burdensome restrictions on access or extending the privilege beyond that of the incumbent and former president, as President Bush did.

To address this issue, the House of Representatives has passed, on a vote of 420–0, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendment of 2014 (HR1233), creating a framework that would enable former presidents to request continued restricted access only on a very narrow basis, in essence codifying the Reagan and Obama administration rules.

The bill, passed on January 14, imposes a time limit within which a former president may assert a claim of privilege. It also establishes processes for managing the disclosure of records upon the assertion of privilege by a former president, and grants to the incumbent president the power to decide whether or not to uphold any privilege claim of a former president, absent a court order to the contrary.

The bill also requires federal employees who create or send a federal or presidential record from a nonofficial electronic messaging account to forward a complete copy of the record to an official electronic messaging account within five days. In cases of intentional violation of this disclosure requirement, the section authorizes disciplinary action as determined by the appropriate supervisor.

While the House vote is good news, two similar bills were overwhelmingly passed in the 110th and 111th Congresses only to die in the Senate. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGA) cleared PRA reform bills in the past, only to have holds placed on them by various Republican senators, most notably Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), that prevented consideration on the Senate floor.

Thus far this session, a Senate version has not yet been introduced. NCH has reached out to several senators, urging them to introduce a companion bill and bring it before the HSGA for consideration. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen, even if such a bill is introduced and marked up in committee, whether Senator Sessions will once again single-handedly stymie this much-needed reform.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. Sign up to receive the National Coalition for History (NCH) Washington Update,  a weekly electronic newsletter that provides information on legislation, hearings, markups, and regulatory issues of concern to historians, archivists, and other stakeholders. 

Posted: February 10, 2014
Tagged: Advocacy, News of the Profession

Support for History in the Fiscal Year 2014 Funding Bill

National Coalition for HistoryFebruary 1, 2014. 
President Barack Obama has signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (Public Law 113–76), which will fund the federal government through the rest of fiscal year (FY) 2014. The table below, prepared by the National Coalition for History, provides the budgets of all major federal agency programs affecting history, archives, and education.


FY 2013

President’s Request

FY 2014

Difference 2013 to 2014

Institute of Museum and Library Services

$ 219.8

$ 225.8

$ 226.8


Library Programs





Museum Programs





International Education and Foreign Language Studies





Title VI-A&B (Domestic Programs)





Fulbright-Hays (Overseas Programs)





Library of Congress





National Archives & Records Administration





National Historical Publications & Records Commission





National Endowment for the Humanities 





National Park Service





Historic Preservation Programs





National Recreation and Preservation*





Smithsonian Institution





Salaries & Expenses





Facilities Capital





Wilson Center for International Scholars





Prepared by the National Coalition for History. Amounts are in millions of dollars. FY 2013 amounts reflect 5% mandatory sequester cuts. *Includes $18.3M in FY 2014 for Heritage Partnership Programs.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. Sign up to receive the National Coalition for History (NCH) Washington Update,  a weekly electronic newsletter that provides information on legislation, hearings, markups, and regulatory issues of concern to historians, archivists, and other stakeholders. 

Posted: February 10, 2014
Tagged: Advocacy, News of the Profession

Oppose Cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities

August 12, 2013. Shortly before departing Washington for its summer recess the US House of Representatives took action that constitutes a crisis for American historians and all of our colleagues in the humanities. The House completely eliminated funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

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Posted: August 29, 2013
Tagged: News of the Profession, Advocacy

Advocacy Alert: Oppose Funding Cuts to the NEH

July 24, 2013. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee released its FY 2014 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that includes a 49 percent—or $71 million—cut in funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The Organization of American Historians urges you to contact your representative TODAY and have them oppose these reductions in NEH's funding. If enacted, this funding level would devastate an agency that has already been reduced by nearly 20 percent since 2010.

The proposed cuts would end vital NEH programs that provide critical support for humanities teaching, preservation, public programming, and research, and would have a devastating impact on nearly every community in the country.

The current Appropriations Bill also proposes a 19 percent reduction — or $155 million — for the Smithsonian Institution, and will completely eliminate funding for the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

Please contact your Representative today and urge them to vote against these funding cuts. We have made it easy to send a letter to your Representative. Simply follow this link to have your voice heard or call your member of Congress by dialing the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Thank you for taking action on this important matter!

Posted: July 24, 2013
Tagged: News of the Profession, Advocacy