Advisory Boards, H-Net and the Examined Life of a Scholarly Community

Randolph Hollingsworth's picture

Recently the H-Net Council has been discussing the vital role that advisory boards might play as our networks settle in to the new platform of the H-Net Commons. As an H-Net Editor myself, I often take the wonderful H-Kentucky advisory board for granted, leaving them to remain out there unacknowledged until I need them (thinking of the great blues song - You only need me when you're down  by Danielle Nicole).

Note: Danielle Nicole's music video is embedded here. If you don't see it, click on the song title above.

So, this is a post to celebrate and thank all the H-Net advisory board members. You can see the long list of them all in the "people" section of the H-Net website.

Sometimes an advisory board can serve as a sort of "brains trust" of retired H-Net leadership for current network editors to turn to when needing context and creative ideas in a pinch. They also serve as a "critical public" -- the kind that is described by the great historian Mary P. Ryan, the kind that is needed when we are constantly building (and re-building over time) a vibrant, democratic civic-minded community. Sometimes they might seem like an academic department's external program review committee. These kinds of committees take a lot of work on the part of the department faculty leadership, but if handled in the right way, allows the faculty, students and staff to describe what they do and why they do it that way.

Articulating in a public forum what is usually kept internal, self-referential, helps clarify in one's own mind what's happening in a particular phase of program development. It can clear out what others might interpret just as smoke and mirrors. It can expose those ticklish spots that, if we're honest with ourselves, we really wanted to scratch anyway. Conducted in a way that encourages a kind of detached overview based on reasonable and evidence-based decisionmaking, advisory boards can serve as that moment where network editors can tackle some hard truths ... about themselves and about their networks.

All this should uphold why each one of the H-Net networks are supposed to have an advisory board - according to Section III of the H-Net By-Laws which were voted on and are upheld by all the H-Net editors. The role of H-Net advisory boards is explained in many different parts of H-Net Council policies and anchored in Section 2.01(c):

"H-Net networks must have an advisory board of at least six active members, including the editorial staff, all of whom should be field experts and a majority of whom may not concurrently serve as officers, board members, directors, or managers of the same outside organization.  Advisory boards should devise and publish guidelines for the replacement of inactive members.  Advisory board members must be certified by the Executive Council..."

An example of their role as a critical public is described in H-Net Council policies that help maintain a network's healthy civic climate:  advisory board members could be consulted by the network editor(s) if there are any "complaints or comments about editorial policy or practice" (Section 2.02).

The examined life -- something that scholars are trained to do and compete with each other to do it best -- is what H-Net advisory boards can do for all of us in this international community we call the H-Net Commons.



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