Selecting OAH Distinguished Lecturers

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Distinguished Lectureship ProgramAnnette Windhorn has coordinated the OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program since 2001.

This month we will announce the new speakers who’ll join the OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program roster in 2015-2016. Check out www.oah.org/lectures for further details.

As the lectureship program coordinator, I’m frequently asked how new OAH Lecturers are selected.

In the early 1980s, OAH President Gerda Lerner and the OAH Executive Board created the lectureship program with the twin goals of providing underfunded history programs with cutting-edge history content and historians while enhancing the resources of the OAH. Appointees in the first decade of the program included Stephen Ambrose, Clayborne Carson, William Chafe, Eric Foner, George Frederickson, Stan Katz, Linda Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris, Lawrence Levine, Gary Nash, Mary Beth Norton, Nell Painter, Robert Remini, Anne Firor Scott, Kathryn Kish Sklar, David Thelen, Maris Vinovskis, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, and Mary Young. Many of the early OAH Lecturers were former Executive Board members and Lerner herself served as an OAH Distinguished Lecturer until 2004.

Today, OAH Distinguished Lecturers are appointed annually by the President-elect, based on recommendations of a subcommittee of the OAH Nominating Board. The nominating subcommittee seeks great speakers who are doing exciting work in any aspect of American history. Recommendations from OAH Lecture hosts, other OAH Lecturers, and OAH staff are often helpful. OAH Lecturers agree to serve 3-year, renewable terms, donating the fee from one lecture per academic year to the OAH.

“The key is to begin the new lecturer selection process with a Nominating Board that is composed of people with diverse scholarly interests who thus tap in to different networks,”  says Stephanie McCurry, OAH Nominating Board chair, leader of this year’s lecturer nominations process, and an OAH Lecturer since 2006.

“When I appoint the nominating subcommittee for OAH Lecturers,” McCurry continues, “I choose people from different parts of the country and different institutions who work in different periods and fields of U.S. history. Then the brainstorming starts in a marathon phone call where the subcommittee members share their ideas about who would make great additions to the lectureship program. It is a really fun part of the job and believe me, there are so many talented people in our profession that the list just writes itself. We do try to recommend people whom we have heard speak because, no matter how great someone’s work is on paper, we want to make sure they are also great speakers.”

OAH Lecturers are distinguished historians whose work has been widely recognized. Most have published at least one book and many have won awards from the OAH and others, including the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes. Some have been recognized for outstanding teaching. Others have been involved in creating digital history projects, curating exhibitions, writing exhibition catalogues, consulting with the staff of national parks or other historic sites, advising documentary film makers, working with teachers, and contributing to print, broadcast, or online mainstream media. Our cohorts of African American history and women’s history speakers have been well developed for years, and more recently, we’ve sought out additional speakers who study the Civil War and Reconstruction or the War of 1812. Some of our speakers have pioneered new areas, such as evolutionary history or the history of capitalism.

“The new OAH Distinguished Lecturers exemplify the continuing explosion of talent and insight in a dynamic profession,” says Jon Butler, OAH President-elect and an OAH Lecturer since 2001. “The OAH is extraordinarily fortunate in their willingness to share their achievements with so many, benefiting their audiences and the OAH simultaneously.”

Volunteers and nominations for future years are welcome. Please contact me at awindhorn@oah.org.

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