It is a beautiful spring here on the Gulf of Mexico. I know, however, that the lives of many of our friends and colleagues have been direly affected by the recent rash of tornadoes that have changed forever towns such as Smithville, Mississippi, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Sanford, North Carolina. Also, as I write, floodwaters are affecting towns and rural areas along the lower Mississippi River. Keep everyone in these affected regions of the Southern U.S. in your thoughts as they head down what will certainly be a long path to recovery.
The call for papers for the Baltimore meeting is open, and I hope you are planning a session, paper, poster, forum, or simply to attend what promises to be yet another really great SHA conference. I have visited the venue, and I promise it is outstanding. The committee, led by Julie Schablitsky and Susan Langley, has been working very hard to put together a very special meeting and I have every confidence that Baltimore will be outstanding! See you there!
The Board of Directors is preparing to convene in Alexandria, Virginia, for our mid-year meeting. A few of us will be visiting Capitol Hill in the days prior to the meeting in an attempt to promote support for legislation to protect the Titanic–2012 is the 100th anniversary of its sinking and we hope this will help to inspire protection.
Our attention at the mid-year meeting will be focused on a number of items, key of which is a gradual decline in membership that we have seen over the past several years. There are a couple of factors that may, partially, help to explain this decline. First, in 2007 we enjoyed an historically high attendance at our conference in Williamsburg–we all suspect that many individuals joined SHA because of this conference and that we have been suffering past several years. Second, of course, is the economy, or more specifically its pitiful state. While these factors may help to explain our decline in numbers, they do not prevent us from taking robust action to reverse this trend. Membership recruitment and retention has not been a focus for a number of years and that alone is without doubt part of the reason our numbers are faltering. Fortunately, due to an incredible local volunteer effort over the past several years, our conferences have provided revenue that has kept SHA accounts in the black (thank you, Amelia Island and Austin committees!!).
A healthy membership is critical to SHA. We are a relatively small-membership organization with a very robust schedule of expenses and benefits. The cost of operating SHA, including paying for our management services, publications, website, board travel, etc. must be offset by revenue, either from dues, conferences, or something else. Although our conferences have saved our bacon in the past few years, this revenue has historically been extremely variable. Hence, SHA has opted through the years to offset the cost of operation with membership dues. With a declining membership, this cost is spread between fewer members, and recently it alone has not been sufficient to pay the bills.
The SHA Board is looking to correct this recent imbalance through membership recruitment and retention, and not through a dues increase. We have also sought to address the cost of operation by raising money to endow certain programs; we are currently nearing completion of a campaign to endow our various student awards. (Thanks to all who have given so far, and if you have not yet given to support student awards, please consider doing so by visiting http://sha.org/index.php/view/donate/educationAwards. Working under the guidance of Chair Barbara Heath, the Membership Committee will be working with the board to develop a strategy for recruitment and retention in time to make a difference in membership year 2012. If you are interested in helping with the work of this committee, please contact Barbara at email@example.com.
Another item that will receive attention at the mid-year board meeting, and one that certainly dovetails with membership, is the website. Our Website Editor Chris Merritt will be joining us in Alexandria for this important discussion. Over the past several years, the SHA web presence has grown robustly and quickly and now www.sha.org is replete with amazing information of interest to the public, to our members, and to our colleagues. From my perspective, one thing that is needed is a clear pathway for members to find what they need, for the public to find what they need, and for prospective members to find what they need. And as we talk about membership, we certainly will have a discussion about what parts of the SHA website should be accessible only to members. Here we will confront the tension between wanting to make available to the interested public as much information as possible about historical archaeology, and wanting to increase for professionals the value of being a member of SHA.
Beyond SHA, the economy remains the top concern here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. The U.S. Congress has been and will continue to grapple with economic issues that may ultimately affect the nature of our national historic preservation program. State legislatures, dealing with individual economic crises of varying proportions, have also worked to close budget deficits and I know in many states this has meant the loss of support and funding for programs of importance to historic preservation and to programs of instruction in higher education. As long as the economy remains in the tank, and as long as "new revenue" is not accepted as an option among our elected representatives, many hard-fought gains will be eroded, and we will face a future marked by a change in the historic preservation landscape. I expect that one of these changes will be the shift of responsibility for preservation to the local level, which offers major challenges and opportunities.
With those thoughts, I close by wishing all of you a productive summer. For those affected in the United States and elsewhere by natural disasters or political upheaval, I hope that every day brings hope and improvement.