Historian of the United States House of Representatives
The Historian of the United States House of Representatives is an official appointed by the United States House of Representatives to study and document its past.
The post was first created in 1983 and its first holder was University of Maryland, College Park historian Raymond W. Smock. In a move that was seen by many as politically motivated, Smock was fired by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995 when the Republican Party took control of the House. Gingrich appointed Christina Jeffrey, a political scientist from Kennesaw State University, to the post in January 1995. However, a controversy arose over comments Jeffrey had made in 1986, while evaluating a program called Facing History and Ourselves for the US Department of Education. She wrote "The program gives no evidence of balance or objectivity. The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented, nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan." Democrats and Jewish groups expressed outrage at the comments, but Jeffrey stated that the allegations against her were "slanderous and outrageous." Nonetheless, Gingrich dismissed Jeffrey a few days after she took up the post. After meeting with her several months after her dismissal, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, wrote that the ADL was "satisfied that any characterization of you as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Nazism is entirely unfounded and unfair."
The post was vacant for the next decade until House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a former high school history teacher, appointed Robert V. Remini. Prior to his appointment as Historian of the House, Remini was commissioned by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to write the first comprehensive narrative history of the House of Representatives for the general reader, as provided by the House Awareness and Preservation Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-99). The Librarian also appointed Remini as the Distinguished Visiting Scholar of American History in the Library's Kluge Center so that he could research and write the book at the Library. The Society for History in the Federal Government awarded Remini's "The House: The History of the House of Representatives" its George Pendleton Prize given for an outstanding major publication on the federal government's history produced by or for a federal history program. The Pendleton Prize commemorates Ohio Senator George H. Pendleton, sponsor of the 1883 civil service reform act that bears his name.
Following the retirement of Professor Remini in 2010, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with the cooperation of House Minority Leader John Boehner, appointed a panel of historians to conduct a search for his replacement. Their unanimous recommendation was Dr. Matthew Wasniewski, then serving as the historian in the House Clerk’s Office of History and Preservation. At Speaker Pelosi's request, the committee also recommended merging the two historian's offices as an efficiency and cost-cutting measure. Dr. Wasniewski's appointment was announced in October, 2010. He earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in history at James Madison University, and his doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park.
List of House Historians
- Ray Smock, 1983 – 1995
- Christina Jeffrey, 1995
- Robert V. Remini, 2005 – 2010
- Matthew Wasniewski, 2010–Present
- Facing History and Ourselves
- Abraham H. Foxman, National Director (August 22, 1995). letter to Christina Jeffrey. Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved July 16, 2011.