When Gabrielle Spiegel learned she’d been elected president of the American Historical Association, she was enormously pleased. The AHA is the largest and oldest association of historians in the United States, and its presidency represents the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon an American historian.
“What makes it especially poignant and rewarding is the fact that I initially went to school in America without speaking English,” says Spiegel, dean of faculty and History Department chair. “I think it says something quite marvelous about America, and America’s educational system, that someone like me could be elected president of the American Historical Association.” Past presidents of the AHA include Henry Adams, Herbert Baxter Adams, Charles Homer Haskins, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.
“Needless to say, it also is quite daunting!” says Spiegel, whose fascination with medieval history began in 8th grade, when her teacher gave her Henri Pirenne’s Mohammed and Charlemagne for extra reading.
The AHA represents all historians in the United States—university and college professors, as well as K-12 teachers, public historians, archivists, and “anyone else interested in history,” Spiegel says. In representing them, Spiegel says, the AHA advocates on behalf of history—as the only professional organization in the country chartered by Congress—ensuring the historical record is maintained in a way that is accessible, and taking stands on various policy issues affecting history and historians.
As president, Spiegel will help set AHA policy and direct its activities, and will organize its annual meeting, which is attended by some 4,000 historians.
Spiegel, a Krieger-Eisenhower professor who received her PhD from Hopkins in 1974, is a historian of the Middle Ages and the author of four books and more than 40 articles, including “History, Historicism and the Social Logic of the Text in the Middle Ages,” which has been cited as one of the most important analyses of medieval historiography ever written.
She will serve aspresident-elect of the AHA during 2007 and will formally assume her duties as president at the group’s conference in Washington in January.
“Gabrielle Spiegel has provided extraordinary academic leadership at Johns Hopkins, both as chair of the Department of History and as dean of faculty of Arts and Sciences,” says James B. Knapp Dean Adam Falk. “In these roles, she combines keen and bold strategic thinking with unparalleled sensitivity to the values and mission of the school. The membership of the AHA have made a terrific decision in electing her to its presidency.”
Because of the added responsibilities that accompany such an honor, Spiegel will step down from her role in the dean’s office at the end of the spring semester, though she will remain chair of the History Department for another year. “To do all this and continue on as dean of faculty simply would not be possible,” she says.
Falk says he is grateful for Spiegel’s service and that he will continue to benefit from her valuable insight and judgment. “She has been a terrific colleague,” he says.
“What makes it especially poignant and rewarding is the fact that I initially went to school in America without speaking English. I think it says something quite marvelous about America, and America’s educational system, that someone like me could be elected president of the American Historical Association.”
Photo by Will Kirk/HIPS