A lobby is pictured with a grand staircase and a mezzanine.

Indiana Historical Society, host of the History Leadership Institute


Last year AASLH reimagined the former “Seminar for Historical Administration” as the History Leadership Institute, an identity that more closely aligned with the program’s increased forward-looking focus on major challenges and critical issues. That name change marked the beginning of a process to evaluate the program and ensure it continues to serve emerging leaders in the history field as effectively as possible. As part of this ongoing effort to make HLI more effective and accessible, we have decided to move the program currently scheduled for November 2019 to June 2020 and to hold the program each June thereafter. Below, I explain a bit about how we came to this decision.

Since 2004, the program has been offered over the course of three weeks in November, making this the first time in fifteen years the program has undergone a major structural change. So over the last few months, we conducted research on similar professional development programs in the field and completed a survey on the needs, interests, and motivations for potential applicants considering HLI. Our quasi-experimental survey presented respondents with descriptions of three program scenarios in random order and asked about their likelihood to apply. Without explicitly referencing HLI, the survey described: the program as currently offered, with two participants sharing a 1-bedroom suite; a November program in which each participant has a private suite but pays significantly more for lodging; and a June program in which participants share a 2-bedroom suite, with costs remaining what they are now. The survey also asked respondents to rate the importance of several factors when considering applying to a residential professional development program.

We distributed the survey to a stratified (based on budget size), random sample of staff members at AASLH member institutions. In our sample group, 53 percent of respondents represented institutions with budgets of $250,000 or less; 69 percent represented institutions with budgets of $1M or less, making sure we captured the feedback from professionals at small institutions. The survey results indicate that across all budget levels, including institutions with budgets of $250,000 or less, history professionals are more likely to apply to the June program than to either of the November options. They indicated that, in addition to overall quality and relevance of sessions, cost and length of program are the two most important factors when considering applying to a professional development opportunity of this kind. While more than 80 percent of respondents said cost and length were either “Important” or “Very important,” only 52 percent of respondents rated “Time of year offered” as such.

This shift to a summer schedule opens a host of new possibilities for enhancement of the program. We have an opportunity to improve lodging arrangements, build new partnerships with colleagues at local universities, experience sites like Conner Prairie during their peak operating season, and much more. We’ll also be using this intervening period to consider new ways to expand HLI beyond the annual seminar and connect it more closely with AASLH’s new continuing education framework. As we prepare to re-launch HLI over the next fifteen months, we’ll be examining a wide range of ways to make the program more inclusive and accessible.

As many know from experience at your own institutions, programs—even much beloved ones—must sometimes change as we respond to and anticipate the needs of our audiences and the field. We are very grateful to have had the guidance of alumni, including those represented on AASLH Council and the HLI Advisory Board, as we considered these decisions. We hope these changes will allow HLI to continue to help new generations of history professionals develop the perspective and skills to lead the field.

To view the full survey and proposal report, click here.