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Mission & History


The Association of Historians of American Art (AHAA) is a membership organization and an affiliated society of CAA—Advancing Art & Design. Founded in 1979, AHAA fulfills its mission of promoting scholarship on art of the United States from the European encounter with Native peoples to contemporary practice through several means. The organization provides a forum for presenting and advancing new approaches to the subject; for examining problems that confront the field; and for identifying scholarly needs and opportunities to its members. AHAA fulfills these goals through its annual meeting and periodic symposia, along with its e-journal, e-newsletter, and website. We invite you to join our collegial international community of scholars by becoming a member of AHAA as we seek to develop a lively and accessible forum for the exchange of information and ideas.


The Association of Historians of American Art was founded in 1979 at the University of Illinois at Chicago under the direction of David Sokol in response to the need for an advocacy group that would promote scholarship in American art. Since then the organization has held sessions annually at the College Art Association meeting and has published a newsletter.

In 1988 AHAA moved to the University of Delaware , where it was led by William I. Homer. Under his direction the meetings became a forum for presenting organized panels dealing with scholarship in the field, and the newsletter was expanded. In 1993 AHAA was turned over to Ann Gibson and Michele Bogart, both at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The newsletter was published by Helen Harrison at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center.

In 1998 Mary Ann Calo and David Brigham accepted responsibility for AHAA. Calo agreed to edit the newsletter and Colgate University made a commitment to provide a student assistant to help with that publication. Brigham and Calo shared responsibility for programming at the annual meeting. In response to members' interest, AHAA became an affiliated society of the College Art Association and drafted its first set of bylaws.

Diana Linden and Andrew Walker became co-chairs of AHAA in 2001, when Wendy Greenhouse began editing and publishing the newsletter, with the assistance of Ilene Susan Fort between 2002 and 2006. In 2002 Charlene Garfinkle became the organization's first secretary as well as serving as treasurer. In 2003, AHAA sponsored a symposium jointly with the Terra Museum of American Art and the Art Institute of Chicago on the subject of "Collecting America: Museums, Patrons, and the Meanings of Objects." During Linden and Walker's tenure, AHAA increased its membership and began discussion of not-for-profit status for the organization.

Sarah Cash and Elizabeth Kennedy were elected co-chairs in 2003, when Kimberly Orcutt joined the board in the newly created position of membership coordinator; as a result, membership rolls increased significantly.

Under Charlene Garfinkle's leadership, AHAA established 501c3 designation, and in 2005 an annual directory of members was first issued. A survey of members undertaken in 2004 provided input on AHAA's chronological and geographical parameters. That year, a reception in Chicago honored AHAA founding chair David Sokol and furthered discussion about future direction of the organization. In 2006 responsibility for compiling information for the newsletter was divided among additional volunteers, with Sally Anne Duncan undertaking the new publications list and Isabel Taube gathering information for the exhibitions listings. Under the guidance of Katherine Manthorne and Leo Mazow, book reviews were introduced in the newsletter. AHAA's bylaws were revised to allow a staggered rotation of new co-chairs, and the organization's new website was launched under the leadership of Wendy Greenhouse.

2007 marked the first year of AHAA's travel grant to defray expenses for graduate students presenting papers on the history of American art at the annual College Art Association conference. In 2009 Web Coordinator Isabel Taube facilitated an expansion of the website, adding numerous resources for members, such as an online membership directory, an e-newsletter, searchable career, exhibition, and publication listings, and hundreds of links to web resources, generously provided by AHAA member Jeffrey Weidman.

Under the leadership of Theresa Leininger-Miller in 2010, the number of African American members in AHAA quadrupled. With Jennifer Wingate, Leininger-Miller also co-chaired the "Current Research in American Art" national symposium at St. Francis College in Brooklyn in October, 2010, the first in a series of biennial events. Other changes were implemented to enable the organization to enter the digital era and be environmentally friendly, including the online publication of the biannual newsletters. Further improvements included the implementation of a lifetime membership category and the use of PayPal to facilitate membership services.

As 2011 Chair, Peter John Brownlee worked to expand international membership in AHAA, helped to coordinate efforts to formalize AHAA symposium protocols, and led a sub-committee charged with developing and launching an electronic journal.

In October 2012, during Jenny Carson’s tenure as chair, the second AHAA symposium was held in Boston on the theme of "The Academy, Museums, and the Market.” This successful event attracted nearly 150 participants, with almost 25 speakers. In addition to presentations from a range of emerging to senior scholars, ten Ph.D. candidates presented their research during a lightning round, continuing a tradition established at the Brooklyn symposium of 2010. Planning also began for the 2014 symposium in Philadelphia.

As chair in 2013, Sarah Kelly Oehler continued to promote the debut of the electronic journal, now named Panorama, and worked with the Philadelphia Museum of Art to inaugurate the first graduate student travel grants for the AHAA symposium in 2014. She also spearheaded the transition to a new AHAA online presence.  AHAA’s Facebook page was launched, and development of a new website got underway, all intended to facilitate member interaction and communication.  The number of Lifetime members continued to grow, with seven new memberships added during the year.