The text that follows was presented to the SHEAR leadership on June 15, 2020. We are sharing it today with the SHEAR community in order to launch a broader discussion of the steps necessary for the organization to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Here you will find a set of guiding principles, recommendations for possible initiatives, and a number of open questions about SHEAR’s pathways towards undoing the structural racism of the organization, the historical profession, and the academy as a whole.
Work on this document began in the summer of 2019 when Dr. Seth Rockman wrote to the organization’s leadership to inquire whether SHEAR had any kind of diversity/equity/inclusion action plan guiding its various undertakings. With a loose charge from the Advisory Council, Rockman received approval to prepare findings to be presented for discussion at the 2020 annual meeting. While the intervening months— especially in the midst of the covid crisis— did not lend themselves to a complete organizational audit or a membership climate survey, it was possible to survey current practices, consult with various stakeholders in the organization, and investigate measures that similarly-sized scholarly societies had undertaken. Drs. Vanessa Holden, Jen Manion, and Rockman worked collectively on this text and believe it possesses a number of recommendations that will have value for SHEAR’s membership and leadership.
This report was written in June 2020 and is very much in conversation with that moment’s outpouring of popular resistance to anti-Black police violence. The report does not speak directly to the panel of July 17, 2020, specifically related to racist remarks about Indigenous people and disparaging attacks on women and junior scholars. That event, however, has created a new urgency for SHEAR to confront the embedded structures of exclusion that have limited—and will continue to limit— its capacity to produce the fullest accounting of the American past. We believe it is urgent to make this report available to the entire membership now and to ask our colleagues to think with us—and ideally, beyond us— in how best to design initiatives that will allow SHEAR to become a truly anti-racist organization.
We urge the Executive Committee and the Advisory Council to consider the many questions posed by this document and to establish implementation mechanisms to put the most promising initiatives into effect. The Executive Committee and the Advisory Council will benefit from hearing from members of our community in the next few weeks. Please share any feedback you have about this document and the future of the organization with them directly via this link or by emailing President Amy Greenberg and Advisory Council members directly. We believe the collective energy of our membership— especially at this crucial crossroads for the organization itself— will generate a pathway forward.
Vanessa Holden, Jen Manion, and Seth Rockman
Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within SHEAR, June 2020
Organizations and institutions benefit from explicitly stating their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This document seeks to identify areas where SHEAR can make the most robust interventions on behalf of its membership, the historical profession, and most broadly, an American society whose current structures of marginalization and exclusion are legacies of the anti-Black racism and settler colonialism of the early republic itself.
As an organization approaching its fiftieth year of existence and with some of the profession’s most accomplished historians among its members, SHEAR has the institutional profile to leverage its resources not merely towards becoming “more welcoming” to scholars from a wider range of backgrounds, abilities, subjectivities, and career tracks, but rather towards opening new pathways into the profession for those who have been historically under-represented; creating a professional space that allows every participant to flourish; resisting the reproduction of embedded forms of inequality in the production of historical knowledge; promoting a more comprehensive and rigorous encounter with the fullness of the American past; and actively endeavoring to be an anti-racist organization that affirms the lives and work of Black scholars.
The fundamental goal of this document is to mobilize the collective energies of the organization, its leadership, and its membership toward the broader anti-racist transformation of the academy and other sites of historical knowledge production. By identifying specific strategies for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within the organization, this document suggests initiatives for SHEAR in its several different incarnations: as an annual conference, as the publisher of a peer-reviewed journal, as a social media presence, and as a collective enterprise constituted of a dues-paying membership.
Several principles have guided this endeavor:
Diversity should be defined broadly, even as we recognize that specific forms of historical marginalization require more immediate and urgent redress within the context of the structural racism that organizes American society. Likewise, we recognize diversity as an intellectual endeavor in which the heterogeneity of voices within our community sustains the most rigorous engagement with the American past.
Equity speaks to making sure that ability, identity, embodiment, or other categories of social difference are never used to disempower members of the organization or participants in its events. Equity also conveys a commitment to challenging the status hierarchies of academia that have often determined access to professional opportunities, visibility, leadership positions, and support.
Inclusion conveys the goal that scholars of every background see themselves as stakeholders in the organization by virtue of seeing people like themselves in roles of leadership and seeing scholarship produced by people like themselves respected and acknowledged in the programming and publications of the organization. Ideally, SHEAR would “belong” to all those working collectively in pursuit of the goals outlined in this document.
It is important to make sure that the institutional work in pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion does not fall disproportionately upon scholars from historically underrepresented groups. We recognize diversity, equity, and inclusion as the responsibility of all members of SHEAR and as a central goal of the organization.
Governing Statement: Many of our departments, universities, and institutions have “diversity, equity, and inclusion statements” that articulate principles, commitments, and goals. These statements might seem cliché, and are easily mocked as empty rhetoric. However, they can be useful if written in a way to govern and align decision-making in every segment of the organization. The question can be asked again and again, “Is this prospective action or activity in accordance with the commitments we’ve made? Does it further those goals?” SHEAR does have its 2019 “Statement of Values about Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment” but this does not function as a touchstone for decision-making up-and-down the organization. Is the absence of such a statement detrimental to SHEAR’s goals? A statement can also be embedded within an action plan, which has the added benefit of promoting accountability in regard to discrete initiatives and tasks.
Membership: SHEAR does not collect demographic information on its membership. Would it be useful to allow members to self-identify such that we could assess the diversity of the organization? Data might include not only traditional demographic categories, but also for example, “first generation college student” or “community college graduate.” We could also query regarding membership in other organizations to determine if, for instance, there are many people who belong to both SHEAR and Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), or SHEAR and the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). Such information would not only allow the organization to track different kinds of diversity over time, but also to locate collaborative possibilities derived from the memberships’ multiple scholarly affiliations.
Leadership: SHEAR has worked diligently to overcome its one-time reputation as a very male-dominated organization. This is clearly visible in the organization’s leadership—its presidents and its elected Advisory Council—over the past decade. An equally aggressive effort will need to be made in order to see scholars of color occupying leadership positions. The Nominations Committee is undoubtedly committed to this goal, but so long as the number of scholars of color who consider SHEAR their primary scholarly affiliation remains small, the pool of potential nominees also remains small. The SHEAR president does have significant appointive powers, including the naming of book prize committees and the program committee chair(s). In turn, the program committee chair has significant appointive power to bring 10-12 scholars into visible leadership roles each year. These appointive powers should be used aggressively to bring new voices into the operations of the organization.
Committees: Should a sub-committee of the Advisory Council be convened to oversee and report annually on the organization’s d/e/i efforts? Should a separate (appointed) standing committee be formed to steward these efforts? Would such a committee also function as the primary venue for members to bring concerns and issues about d/e/i to the attention of the organization?
Peer Organizations: It would behoove SHEAR to track the initiatives of similarly-sized professional organizations. What is the charge of SHAFR’s “Committee on Minority Historians,” for example, and would such a committee be beneficial to SHEAR? What did the History of Science Society find in its 2014 audit and which of their diversity goals did they achieve six years out? Have organizations like Sixteenth-Century Studies or the Society for French Historical Studies used climate surveys to query their membership, and if so, have those surveys proven useful?
Program Committee: The program committee chair(s) should constitute a diverse committee that is able to utilize committee members’ connections to different scholarly communities as a mechanism for generating a diverse pool of panel proposals. Committee members can be authorized to organize prospective panels that will support the d/e/i goals of the organization. Contribution to the d/e/i goals can be one of the evaluative criteria the program committee uses to rank proposals. The program committee should aggressively recruit proposals in the same way that hiring committees seek to generate diverse applicant pools: they should write to faculty members training graduate students of color; they should scour the recent programs of conferences like Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) or the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and write directly to scholars with work relevant to SHEAR and encourage them to apply; they should advertise the conference on announcement boards that extend beyond the typical SHEAR-zone. The program committee should engage in outreach to craft the conference program, and not passively wait to see what comes across the transom at the application deadline.
Sponsored Sessions: It is not uncommon for conferences to make space for other organizations to place a panel on the program. This isn’t “sponsored” in a financial sense, but simply in the sense that an adjacent society—say, the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH)—organizes the panel and has its name included in the program. This could be a very quick way to create more exchange between SHEAR and other organizations.
Diversity Statements for Panel Proposals: For its 2020 conference, SHAFR required all panel proposals to include a statement on how the panel would advance the diversity goals of the organization. SHEAR members Emily Conroy-Krutz and Konstantin Dierks served on the program committee and would be in a position to evaluate the success of that initiative and its suitability for SHEAR.
Conference Fees, Membership Dues, and Travel Funds: Costs are a significant obstacle to conference participation. Would a policy like “first time free” make it easier to bring new scholars into SHEAR? For scholars at under-resourced institutions and contingent faculty, summer conferences can be tricky due to funding cycles, the end of the previous fiscal year, etc.: can there be particular funds devoted to support travel (beyond those dedicated to assist current graduate students)?
Professional Development Opportunities: the SHEAR conference is already well-regarded for the way professional development is built into its structure, especially the Dissertation and Second-Book workshops. Could other similar “amenities” be developed further—a mentor-match program, a clearinghouse for meeting with book editors, for example—to make SHEAR a desirable investment of time for scholars new to the conference?
Conference Coordinator: A key player in SHEAR’s efforts to meet its d/e/i goals is the conference coordinator. This will bring additional responsibilities and time commitments, and SHEAR should commit to offering additional support to this officer. Because conference organizers have always worked to hold events at historically significant sites, it’s important that coordinators apply a d/e/i lens to the site selection process for off-site programming. Second, the conference coordinator must think expansively about accessibility issues with regard to audio amplification and signing, physical mobility, bathroom access, and dietary restrictions. Expectations about accessibility are consistently evolving, so the conference coordinator needs to be attuned to the broader cultural conversation around ability and access. Ideally, the conference coordinator will advocate for colleagues who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized on account of, for example, the lack of microphones, all-gender bathrooms, wheelchair ramps, and so forth.
Local Arrangements: the Local Arrangements Committee must make sure its work is aligned with these larger goals and must assist the Conference Coordinator in these efforts.
Journal of the Early Republic (revised subsequent to June 15, 2020 submission)
Editorial Practices: By the SHEAR Constitution, the journal editors are “responsible for the editorial content of the Society’s journal.” The recognition and protection of their editorial autonomy is crucial, and although the JER editors are obliged to report annually to the President and the Advisory Council, those entities (or subcommittees they create) do not possess the ability to dictate editorial practices. The journal editors can nonetheless be encouraged to think creatively and critically about the JER’s contribution to the overall d/e/i efforts of the organization. For example, editors should continue to keep diversity in mind as they recruit new members to the editorial board. It should go without saying that the books that are chosen for review, the reviewers who are chosen for those assignments, and the referees who are solicited to participate in the editorial process all have some bearing on the overall d/e/i profile of SHEAR.
Recruitment of Submissions: Editors and editorial board members should continue their efforts to recruit submissions from scholars who might not otherwise have the JER in their sights. To publish more scholars of color in the JER requires active efforts to locate potential submissions, and editors should be encouraged to reach out to scholars whose work might surface first in other venues (on the AAIHS’s “Black Perspectives” blog, for example, or on the annual ASWAD conference program). Editors might consider language for the JER webpage (under “About” or “Author Guidelines,” for example) that could signal receptivity to scholarship produced by scholars of color or about the experiences of historically-underrepresented populations. An article prize could also serve as a signaling mechanism.
Citational Practices: There is a broader conversation in the academy regarding citation patterns, particularly the omission of women and scholars of color in the scholarly apparatuses of many peer-reviewed journal articles. Does the JER need to take a position on this, specifically in the guidance it offers to potential authors or referees? It is important to avoid promoting gratuitous and tokenistic footnotes, while at the same time protecting the journal from being complicit in the marginalization of scholars who aren’t white men.
Self-Study: Absent a self-reporting mechanism, there is not a straightforward way to report on the demographic diversity of authors, reviewers, or referees. Still, it would presumably be useful to know whether the JER receives two submissions from Black scholars a year, or twenty. Any journal should want to know if there are vast disparities in acceptance rates that correspond to authors’ demographic characteristics– and indeed, SHEAR should want to protect itself from this being the case. It could be instructive to know whether white men are doing 40% or 80% of the refereeing. The journal editors should be encouraged to think about ways to monitor the different and multiple kinds of diversity that authors, reviewers, and referees bring to the process, perhaps through the creation of a self-reporting mechanism.
The Panorama: This site (and its associated twitter feed) are increasingly the public face of the organization. It would be hard to ask its editorial team to produce additional content. However, it would make sense to continue to support this endeavor and to encourage a robust social media presence—perhaps on other platforms—to make SHEAR’s commitment to a full and inclusive American history known to a wider public.
Building a Scholarly Pipeline
Interdisciplinarity: SHEAR’s d/e/i efforts will need to take into account the fact that an increasing amount of historical scholarship on the early republic period is being produced outside of History departments. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that one can find more eighteenth and nineteenth-century historians of color working in Africana Studies, American Studies, Performance Studies, and Public History programs than in History departments; museum professionals would tip the scales ever further. To that extent, SHEAR will need to think carefully about its disciplinary borders and its openness to historical work by scholars whose disciplinary homes are outside History departments. Programming that promotes interdiscinarily may be key to promoting diversity within the organization.
Research Funding: Is it possible to set up a competitive funding program to support graduate research, or even advanced undergraduate research? Awards of $350-$500 could be targeted toward specific topics not yet prominent in the field (e.g. Latinx Studies) or to specific institutional profiles (e.g. students and faculty at HBCUs or HSIs).
Conference Funding: Could a conference travel fund support SHEAR graduate student members who have been accepted to present their work at such conferences as NAISA, ASALH, AAIHS, or ASWAD? From the other direction, could SHEAR offer travel support to members of those organizations who have been accepted to the SHEAR conference?
Collaborative Institutional Relationships: There are several established programs that support scholars from historically-underrepresented groups working in the early republic era: the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, for example, the Newberry Consortium in American Indian Studies, or the Colored Conventions Project at Penn State. Does SHEAR have anything to offer these enterprises? Can SHEAR underwrite programming? Or provide opportunities to graduate student alums of these programs? Or support SHEAR graduate members who need to travel to participate in programming sponsored by one of these entities (e.g. to one of the NCAIS annual workshops)?
Undergraduate Support: What resources can SHEAR provide to undergraduate students from historically-underrepresented groups who are considering doctoral work in History? Identifying such students is one challenge, but if SHEAR had a cadre of faculty mentors at the ready to consult on applications, it could pitch its services to the Leadership Alliance, the Mellon-Mays program, or other enterprises seeking to open pathways into graduate school. Is there annual programming that SHEAR could support akin to the American Philosophical Association’s PIKSI initiative? One could imagine a week-long Zoom summer seminar, for example, that would bring together faculty and undergraduates to read and discuss historical materials.
Graduate Support: In addition to conference travel subsidies for the SHEAR annual meeting, how else can the organization support graduate students, especially those from historically underrepresented groups? Can SHEAR match faculty with graduate students for year-long (or longer) mentoring relationships? Can SHEAR sponsor “Graduate Research Workshops” throughout the year (not just at the conference)— perhaps regionally to facilitate easy day-trips, or via Zoom (which would make it virtually free)?
Junior Faculty Support: Insofar as many new faculty members may find themselves isolated on campuses with few other faculty of color, SHEAR could promote networking and mentoring for scholars along the tenure track. The Renaissance Society of America provides one model with its year-long Professional Development Discussion Groups. Again, our increasing comfort level with Zoom opens new opportunities for constituting new communities, collaborations, and mechanisms of support.
Public History Support: Are there ways that SHEAR can marshal resources to support scholars of color who are employed in museums, rare books libraries, and similar enterprises? Certainly museums and libraries have seen internal conversations in recent years around decolonizing institutional cultures, reforming curatorial practices, and reaching different publics. SHEAR might be able to offer additional professional development opportunities to curators and cataloguers of color, whether in the form of research grants to visit other institutions or travel grants to attend SHEAR’s annual conference.
Contingent Faculty: Career diversity has been a concern for many SHEAR members, all the more so in an era of diminishing tenure-track positions and increasing insecurity for those employed as lecturers and adjunct faculty. There isn’t data for the SHEAR era (1776-1860) to indicate whether scholars of color are disproportionately represented among the so-called “academic precariat” dependent on short-term teaching contracts. Regardless, contingent faculty could be supported via any of the other initiatives listed above: specific research funding opportunities, mentoring networks, travel support, and so forth.
Vanessa Holden Jen Manion Seth Rockman
June 15, 2020