Monday, January 3, 2011

History Job Market Looks Bleak . . . Again

Randall Stephens

There is nothing like ringing in the near year with bad news . . . But, here goes.

The history job market is still bleak. (Not really news to anyone, I suppose. We're used to this. It's like watching the film Groundhog Day.) As it stands right now, the number of jobs listed through the American Historical Association is at a 25-year low.

Scott Jaschik reports at Inside Higher Ed: "The reality of radically differing job markets may be especially clear as 2011 begins with disciplinary associations gathering for job interviews at annual meetings and releasing data on the number of available positions." There will be many sad faces at this year's AHA meeting in Boston. (If you are on the market, and would like to improve your odds, see John Fea's interview advice at the Way of Improvement Leads Home and Claire B. Potter's suggestions at Tenured Radical.)

The number of new history PhDs rose to a 9-year high in 2009. You don't need any training in economic theory to know that there's something wrong with that picture. (Speaking of economics . . . the American Economic Association announced that its job listings have recovered from a 21% dip in 2008.)

Could it get worse? Maybe. The Inside Higher Ed piece draws from Robert Townsend's AHA report on the job market. (You may need to sign in to your AHA account to read this.) Townsend, assistant director of research and publications at the AHA, writes about long-term concerns in the new issue of Perspectives on History:

In addition to the chairs’ general concerns about what lies ahead for hiring in their departments, there are demographic reasons for viewing the coming decade with caution. First, the number of faculty approaching retirement age in the next 10 years is reaching the lowest level in 30 years. Currently, only 40 percent of the full-time faculty in history departments are 20 years or more from the time they earned their degrees.

Townsend wraps up his article with a note of caution. "Most history doctoral students are being trained for an academic job market that is now beset by crises," he observes. "Departments should begin to carefully reflect on the type of training they are providing their students and the number of students they are admitting to their programs."

See these related articles for more:

Eric Kelderman, "Colleges to Confront Deep Cutbacks. In states where new governors pledge no new taxes, higher-education budgets will suffer," Chronicle, January 2, 2011

Christopher Phelps, "A Move Abroad: Travels and Travails," Chronicle, January 2, 2011

Samuel Wren, "Rule Britannia. Being a job candidate in a British faculty search is a curiously different experience," Chronicle, April 10, 2010

Anthony Grafton, "History under Attack," Perspectives on History (January 2011)

Robert B. Townsend, "History under the Hammer: Department Chairs Report Effects of Economic Woes," Perspectives on History (January 2011)

Scott Jaschik, "No Entry," Inside Higher Ed, January 4, 2010

Hannah Fearn, "Shrinking job market sees nearly 70 applicants vie for every graduate job," THE, July 6 2010


Unknown said...

As a grad student, I wonder what this will do to the range of work and the type of work being done, by the people who manage to find jobs in the academy?

And I wonder what the effect on society will be, if a bunch of people with graduate degrees end up in careers outside the academy? Will this be a little diaspora of historical thinking into the world at large? Will some grads with ideas they want to share find other ways of communicating them?

Sal Khan doesn't have an advanced degree, but he is the top educator on Youtube, getting over 70,000 hits a day (2x UC Berkeley). It's a new world...

Lisa Clark Diller said...

Dan's point is something I frequently talk about with my undergrads who want to go to grad school. They should be able/willing to parlay their degree into non-academic settings. Think about all the people who went to law school but who don't practice law. I think universities would need to widen the kinds of training Ph.D candidates are given, but the future could be wide open and much more flexible than we imagine. And what a great world if there were lots of people with history training running cities or businesses or public school systems.

Steve said...

I think Lisa makes a wonderful point. As a UMass undergrad, I am horrified that many who are unemployed in the history field are even considering stepping in front of students. Just because you love history, does not mean you are qualified to educate students. I have had professors who love their material, but for the life of them can not lecture or communicate why myself as student should care. At least now, colleges can choose the best of the best, from a wide pool. Nevertheless, these unemployed history scholars are at least educated and being an educated person in an uneducated world has great potential - perhaps it will be the only way for America to reboot.

hcr said...

I'll add my voice to the chorus suggesting that this is not necessarily a bad thing... for anyone willing to think outside of the academy.

Historians need to stop thinking institutionally and start to think nationally. What are our goals? How can they best be accomplished?

If your only goal is a paycheck and the privilege of reading stuff you like, the chances aren't good you're going far in the new economy. But if your goal is to change the way people think about some topic, you have far more opportunities than people did even twenty years ago.

Blogging, for example! (And yes, I know that's not exactly a paying job-- although it was for Joshua Marshall over at TPM-- but there are plenty of other opportunies out there.)

Unknown said...

Getting paid for reading stuff you like. What a world it was!

Morgan Hubbard said...

Seems to me that UMass Amherst is ahead of this ugly curve with its Public History program, which aims to train students to work with history in a range of jobs outside the academy. This solves two takes history to a broad public, and it gives students of history the chance to pursue their passions without getting sucked into the mire of an abysmal job market. I think there's also something to be said for a two-year Master's degree in history, if one of our goals is to increase the number of trained historians working in the public sector.

Randall said...

I think, along the lines that some of you indicate here, programs really need to think about the broader application of history. Faculty need not try to replicate themselves. Public history and museum and archive work should receive more attention.

Bland Whitley said...

While more attention to public history will certainly help this problem, it won't make that big of a dent. It's important to realize that field as one equally fraught with budgetary quandaries (quagmires?). Graduating ever more public historians will ultimately replicate the same supply and demand problems besetting academia. There need to be better ways of connecting history graduates (B.A. to Ph.D. levels) to jobs that aren't obviously relevant to their course of study. Otherwise, we're just at the mercy of the beancounters only interested in some metric of "usefulness."