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President’s Letter

by Anne Valk, Williams College

I write this only days after Cliff Kuhn’s sudden death.  I cannot imagine the Oral History Association without Cliff’s commanding presence; this sentiment has been echoed by many people who have communicated similar shock and grief.

As the reality of this loss sets in, OHA members have begun to share their recollections and stories about Cliff.  My own memories span more than 20 years, my entire professional career. We met when I was in graduate school at Duke and Cliff was finishing his Ph.D. down Tobacco Road at UNC.  He immediately treated me like a colleague and friend, revealing the egalitarian nature that made him such a good oral historian.  One of our first meetings ended outside a restaurant during an Atlanta storm.  I was soaked, waiting to get in a car and out of the pouring rain.  I no longer recall exactly what we discussed (I am sure that Cliff would have remembered), but I vividly recollect Cliff’s intensity as he continued talking, either oblivious to the downpour or content to get wet for the sake of a good conversation.  In such moments Cliff’s lack of attention to bad weather and other discomforts could be exasperating; but I never doubted his intentions and I always admired his spirit.

His passion for his work and his enthusiasm never seemed to flag; he was energetic in 2015 as he was in 1993.  I was reminded of this when we met recently in New York City for an American Council of Learned Societies-sponsored workshop.  The event assembled executive directors and incoming presidents of professional associations to enhance team building in our organizations and encourage more productive practices among governing boards.  We shared many ideas that day and anticipated the opportunity we would have to work together this year.  Sadly, we didn’t have time to put those plans into action.

Cliff was exceedingly proud of how OHA has grown and how it has changed since moving to Georgia State University, including an expansion in membership and better member services, a new strategic plan and updated logo, acceptance into the ACLS, investment in conference management software that smoothed the process of submitting and reviewing proposals, and the launch of an endowment campaign.  He certainly would want the OHA to continue its many activities and become an even stronger force.

In the coming year, OHA will coordinate ways to collectively remember Cliff and to commemorate his many contributions to the association.  For now, I want to call attention to many initiatives that Cliff helped to launch. Chief among these is the commemoration in 2016 of the OHA’s 50th anniversary.  Under the leadership of past-president Mary Larson, a large task force is planning special projects to honor OHA’s history and strengthen its future.  At the same time, OHA has started a campaign to expand its endowment.  In keeping with OHA’s democratic spirit, the Council and 50th anniversary task force hope all members will contribute to these efforts.  Stayed tuned for more details about these plans.

​I hope you will get involved in other ways, too. Those who stayed in Tampa for the Sunday business meeting heard about several matters for which members’ input is sought.  The Council has proposed a new process for bringing public resolutions that lengthens the time between their introduction and discussion at the annual business meeting. The proposed change is posted at http://www.oralhistory.org/new-oha-policy-on-public-resolutions/.  In addition, a new task force is developing recommendations to guide the selection of future conference sites and to formulate language for hotel contracts that increase OHA’s flexibility to respond if labor actions take place at the chosen conference hotel.  And, most recently, the Council has appointed a group to begin the process of selecting a new executive director.  Please send comments and ideas about any of these issues to me or members of the Council.

I launch my term as president tremendously saddened by Cliff’s absence but optimistic about OHA’s continued growth and the vitality of the larger field of oral history. I look forward to moving ahead together during this 50th anniversary year.