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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 18, 2004

Kerber Named President Of American Historical Association

Linda K. Kerber, chair of the University of Iowa Department of History in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and a lecturer in the UI College of Law, has been voted president-elect of the American Historical Association, the country's largest and oldest organization for professional historians.

Kerber, the May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, will be the first president from the UI in the 120-year history of the AHA. She serves as president-elect for one year, and as president for one year beginning in January 2006.

"This is a critical moment for the historical profession," Kerber said. "Among the issues facing us are the replacement of full-time faculty by part-time and adjunct faculties, the need for equitable workplaces, and for fresh energy to expand and sustain diversity. We shall be engaging in debates on the direction of federal support for historical projects, about the declassification and access to public documents, the most appropriate education in historical matters from K-12 through the Ph.D., and trying in many ways to strengthen Americans' understanding of the past."

Dean Linda Maxson said that Kerber deserves the honor in light of her "rich background of scholarship and service. She will certainly bring to the American Historical Association presidency great leadership and vision."

The AHA is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research. As the largest historical society in the United States, the AHA serves as the umbrella organization for historians working in every period and geographical area. Among its 15,000 members are faculty at secondary schools and two- and four-year colleges and universities, history graduate students, independent historians, and historians in museums, historical organizations, libraries and archives, government and business.

"This is a great honor," AHA Executive Director Arnita Jones said. "And it's usually reserved for someone whose scholarly work is extraordinary."

Jones said Kerber has had a distinguished career in the field of American history dating back to the 1970s, when she published pioneering essays on U.S. women's history and served on one of the first committees on the status of women in the historical profession. Kerber's fields of interest include U.S. women's history, U.S. legal and intellectual history and the history of the early Republic.

Kerber, who has been at the UI since 1971, holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, an M.A. from New York University and an A.B. from Barnard College. 

She has published widely, both books and journal articles, including, notably,  "No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship." The book, published in 1998, won two national awards: the AHA's Joan Kelly Memorial Prize for the best work in women's history and/or feminist theory and the Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in any subject on the history of American law and society.

"No Constitutional Right to be Ladies" is an exhaustive look at the ways in which throughout American history women have been held to different obligations of citizenship than men. Only in the last generation has the country abandoned the practice of excluding women from jury service, a practice that left women defendants to be judged by male-only juries. For most of American history, women's obligation to pay taxes was not accompanied by the right of representation; deep into the 20th century the obligation to be loyal to one's husband superceded the obligation to be loyal to the nation.

Kirkus Reviews called the book "A tour de force in every respect, and required reading for American historians and legal scholars" and "stunning."

Kerber has won many other awards and honors. In 1999 she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2001 she was named Outstanding Mentor in the Humanities by the UI Graduate College. And in 2003 she was named a fellow in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

She has held leadership positions in other professional organizations. She served as president of the American Studies Association (1988) and the Organization of American Historians (1997). She currently serves on the U.S. federal commission on educational and cultural exchange with Japan.

About her scholarly work, Kerber wrote in a profile submitted to the AHA as part of the nomination process that "In my writing and teaching I have been drawn to the history of citizenship, gender and authority. Asking deceptively simple questions -- What's fair? What counts as equal protection of the laws? -- has opened up hidden asymmetries and unrecognized transformative moments, inspiring the rewriting of much inherited narrative. Trying to clarify assumptions that Americans have made about men, women and the state has led me to seek the grounding of gender relations in law as a cultural formation that both reflects and expresses the construction of identity across race and class."

Jones said that as AHA president, Kerber will oversee an organization with a budget in excess of $3 million, a third of which supports the publishing of the American Historical Review, the leading scholarly journal in the field. The AHA also publishes a monthly news magazine related to professional issues for historians and organizes an annual meeting that draws 4,000 to 5,000 participants. Kerber will officially preside over the January 2007 meeting in Atlanta, where she will give the annual presidential address.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

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