Announcing a New Partnership between SHEAR and the Omohundro Institute

An image combining the logos of SHEAR and OIThe Society for Historians of the Early American Republic is pleased to announce that the organization will join a new Virginia Consortium for Early American History and move its administrative home to the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture next year. For details, see the full statement issued by SHEAR President Serena Zabin.

July 5, 2023

Dear SHEARites,

I write with important and excellent news for our organization. With the warm support of the Advisory Council, SHEAR will join a new Virginia Consortium for Early American History and move its administrative home to the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture next year.

This change is not unconnected to the fact that is a challenging time to be a historian of the early American Republic. As we negotiate attacks on our shared past, dwindling numbers of undergraduate majors, and ongoing budget cuts, our organization is also shrinking. In the last twenty years, our membership has steadily declined from nearly one thousand members in 2004 to just over six hundred in 2023. The members we have, however, care deeply about SHEAR and have high expectations for what we as an organization can do for each other and for the field of early American studies in general.

Over these decades, the scholarly landscape has also shifted and become more complex, with the rise of new forms of scholarly production, online conferences, and heightened awareness of the need to grapple with past and present injustices. Each of these changes has created an accompanying increase in an administrative burden that has become unsustainable within the confines of our current arrangements with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. In the twenty years since SHEAR moved from Purdue University to the McNeil Center, MCEAS also has grown in the scope and complexity of its offerings. Our organization has needed more support from the McNeil Center just as the demands on its own staff expanded. Moreover, while our membership rolls have shrunk, the costs of running our organization, including our conference and journal, have remained constant or grown.

The financial issues facing SHEAR have been a central topic of discussion for years, and a number of efforts have been made to address the fundamental issues. None of them, however, has offered a long-term solution. As we look ahead, it is clear that our current financial model is not sustainable. SHEAR’s income is based almost entirely on memberships, registration for the annual conference, and gifts. As increasing numbers of historians are in jobs that no longer pay for conference travel or memberships in professional organizations, we cannot depend on other institutions to continue to provide the funds via our members that they once did. We are fortunate to have been able to build up a small endowment over the years, but we made the difficult decision this year to pull $30,000 from it to pay the deficit in last year’s budget. At that rate, it will be entirely gone in fifteen years, if not sooner.

Faced then, with the challenges of finding a more stable financial foundation on which to fulfill our core mission, to meet the needs of our members, and to open new possibilities for growth, the Advisory Council has spent many meetings this spring contemplating our options. Countless hours of thoughtful and iterative consultation have gone into these conversations. Over the last few months, I have engaged in discussion with a variety of former SHEAR presidents, Advisory Council members past and present, and many current members, as well as with the leadership of the McNeil Center. Throughout this process, I have been grateful for the zeal and clarity with which people have expressed their sense of how much SHEAR matters to them and how important it is that SHEAR remain a vibrant home for both present and future scholars.

Backed by the strong and enthusiastic recommendation of the Advisory Council, I am pleased to announce that SHEAR will be establishing a new relationship with the Omohundro Institute at the College of William and Mary. This new partnership will directly benefit the long-term financial and scholarly health of SHEAR by allowing us to contract services from their staff and office at a very reasonable cost. As a part of this arrangement, the Journal of the Early Republic will move from Penn Press to the University of North Carolina Press. SHEAR will also join a new Virginia Consortium for Early American History. SHEAR members will be familiar with the Omohundro Institute as a research institute that focuses on early America, and we look forward to collaborating with them through the Virginia Consortium. But rest assured: just as our contract with MCEAS did not mean that the McNeil Center had any control over SHEAR, this new administrative arrangement will not limit SHEAR’s independence in any way.

In announcing this new partnership, I also gratefully acknowledge the deep connections we share with the McNeil Center and Philadelphia more largely. Since SHEAR came to Philadelphia in 2004, this city and its institutions have nurtured our organization. Under Emma Hart’s inspiring and energetic leadership of the McNeil Center, the Philadelphia Consortium has seen a recent revitalization through the cooperative efforts of the American Philosophical Society, the Library Company, the Museum of the American Revolution, and the McNeil Center itself. Although we will no longer contract with the McNeil Center to support our administrative needs, SHEAR will continue to benefit from the crucial scholarly resources, exhibitions, and programs that showcase Philadelphia and its early American history. We will also continue to hold our conferences in Philadelphia every three years; indeed, three of the next four conferences will be in Philadelphia.

Coming to this decision has been a slow and painstaking process, and none of the many individuals involved in it has taken this responsibility lightly. Through these conversations, however, we have also learned how many people and institutions are committed to creative and forward-thinking visions for nurturing early American history. New possibilities for collaboration have emerged as a result of these conversations, including ones that will allow SHEAR, the McNeil Center, and the Omohundro Institute to work together.

I am confident that this new partnership with the Omohundro Institute is an exciting opportunity that can sustain us in doing the things that matter to us the most: producing, sharing, and exploring new knowledge about the Early American Republic in a welcoming and diverse community of supportive scholars. I look forward to sharing further details at the annual business meeting (7:45 on Sunday morning; there will be coffee!). Until then, please feel free to peruse the FAQ sheet and reach out to me with any questions.

I thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy message, and I am grateful for your continued commitment to the health of SHEAR and to the field of early American history.

Sincerely,

Serena Zabin

President, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic

A document responding to frequently asked questions regarding SHEAR’s new partnership is available here.

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