Arnita Jones first encountered federal history and federal historians in 1977, soon after she had signed on with the American Historical Association to staff a new consortium--the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (NCC)--aimed at expanding employment opportunities for new graduates of history doctoral programs. At that point Jones had completed a BA degree at Vanderbilt University, earned an MA and PhD in modern German history at Emory University, and gained experience teaching at Waynesburg College, the University of Louisville, and Indiana University Southeast.
The NCC mission to identify a wider variety of jobs for historians began with the creation of advisory groups led by practitioners in several fields, among them federal history, chaired by Richard G. Hewlett at the Department of Energy. Under his leadership, the NCC undertook an effort to identify and describe the work of federal historians, which led in turn to the production of the first survey and directory of Federal Historical Offices. Not long thereafter, the relatively new federal National Endowment for the Humanities, also concerned about the labor market for history and other humanities doctorates, established a new Planning and Assessment Studies Program. Jones was tapped to lead that program and thus became a federal government historian for the next five years. A family move back to Kentucky led to new opportunities, including several projects at History Associates Incorporated, and eventually the chief executive position at the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Jones remained at OAH until 1999, when she became director of the American Historical Association, from which she retired in 2010.
Jones was also a founder of the Society, as well as the National Council on Public History, and the International Federation for Public History, organized in 2012.