Monday, December 21, 2009

Administrative Note 6

This blog is still on its winter vacation, but I have good news to report. Dr. Michael Creswell, who wrote a "guest column" for "In the Service of Clio" back on April 16, 2009 in Blog VI has had that essay published in the American Historical Association's newsletter, Perspectives on History. His article "Navigating the Graduate Admissions Process" is in the December 2009 issue. For those of you you who are not AHA members, the article version of this essay can be accessed at:

Creswell's success in getting published in this widely consulted forum reflects well on this blog, and I believe a number of other essays that first appeared on "In the Service of Clio" will eventually find publication in other print outlets.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Administrative Note 5

The holiday season is upon us, and that means it is final exam time. Everyone, students and faculty, earn that time off. As a result, the "In the Service of Clio" blog is going to going on vacation for a few weeks. Please return on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 when the blog starts up again with more enteries on its series on alternative forms of employment for the history Ph.D. Until then, enjoy this festive time of the year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blog XXXV (35): The History Ph.D. in the Museum

The "In the Service of Clio" blog returns to its focus on alternate forms of employment for the history Ph.D. In the following post, Geoffrey P. Megargee discusses his employment at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. A military historian, Megargee earned his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. He is the author of three books. His first was a highly revisionist book on the efficency of German strategic leadership, Inside Hitler's High Command (2002). He also wrote War of Annihilation: Combat and Genocide on the Eastern Front, 1941 (2007). His most recent work is editing The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945 (2009), which has led to television appearence on C-Span's Book TV and PBS's Newshour. Since January 2000, he has been an Applied Research Scholar with the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a Presidential Counselor for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Here is his guest blog:

The process by which I came to work at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the work that I do here, forms a tale that has both cautionary and encouraging elements. It’s encouraging, in that it offers hope for those people (like me, circa 1997) who believe they are professionally doomed because they study dead white European guys, and soldiers to boot. On the other hand, there was a good deal of luck involved, and readers should also be aware of the potential pitfalls in this line of work.
I received my undergrad degree in history from St. Lawrence University in 1981. Following service as an army officer and some time in the civilian business world, I returned to school in 1989, first at San Jose State University, where I received an MA in European History, and then at Ohio State, from which I received my PhD in Military History in 1998 (with subfields in early modern and modern European history).
Just at the end of my graduate studies, my advisor was able to get me an inside track for a job with a federal commission in Washington. That was interesting work, and did call upon my skills as a researcher and writer, but it had little to do with history. After a little over a year with the commission, I saw an announcement for a position at the Museum. Since I knew the commission job was going to disappear shortly, I applied, and got the job as an Applied Research Scholar with the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies (CAHS). My primary duty is to serve as project leader and editor-in-chief for the Museum’s seven-volume Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945.
Why did I get the job? Well, I can say confidently that it had nothing to do with my knowledge of the Holocaust, or of putting together a multi-volume, multi-author work, since I was woefully ignorant in both realms. It also had nothing to do with my expertise in military history, since that is largely irrelevant to my main job. It had far more to do (as far as I can tell) with my ability to express myself verbally and in writing, my interpersonal and organizational skills, and my fluency in German. The fact that some enthusiastic and persuasive people served as references was a key advantage, too.
What does my work involve? Our Encyclopedia attempts to provide information about each individual camp or ghetto that the Nazis or their minions ran; we try to explain each site’s purpose, the kinds of prisoners it held, what kind of work they did, how they lived and died, and who guarded them, among other things. The process for completing the volumes entails creating a comprehensive list of sites; identifying and recruiting contributors; maintaining a complex database to track authors and entries; editing the entries for content; translating many of the entries into English; working with the authors on revisions; carrying out in-house research; writing entries for which we could not find contributors; identifying and preparing photographs; creating maps; working with the publisher on design, copy editing, proofing, indexing, and marketing; and managing the project’s finances. Naturally, no one person can do all this; the job involves working with or supervising dozens of Museum staff members, research assistants, interns, and volunteers, as well as others outside the Museum, especially the hundreds of contributors. Progress is slow – we worked on our first volume for eight years – and there are a nearly infinite number of frustrating little details to manage. But at the end of it all there’s the satisfaction of having created something significant and useful.
As for other duties and opportunities, I do also get to go out and give guest lectures and conference presentations several times a year, around the country and overseas. Some of these have drawn on the encyclopedia work, while for others I have simply added to my expertise on the German army by concentrating on the army’s role in the Holocaust and other crimes. On an informal basis, within the Museum I am also the “go to” guy on questions relating to military history. Additionally, my work has given me the chance to keep my German fluent, since most of my correspondence has been with German contributors.
So, the nature of the work is a plus. It is challenging and varied, as well as important: I come in every day knowing that, by working where I do, I am contributing to something larger than my own paycheck. The people with whom I work are great, as well, and that is a factor that no one should underestimate when considering job satisfaction. The main disadvantage to the job, at least for me, is that I can only teach and write on my own time. I do almost no research for the Encyclopedia, and the only things I have written for it have been short introductions, funding applications, and the like. There is no teaching involved, unless you count the occasional guest lecture (but hey, there’s no grading, either!). And, at least in this institution, one is bound by federal regulations that can be irksome at times. All things considered, however, this is a great place to work, and I encourage everyone to explore museum work as an employment option. There are museum job listings on the Chronicle of Higher Education website(, the American Association of Museums also has jobs on their website(, and the government also hires museum people (go to
Lastly, I should point out that my experience is probably not typical of museum work. The USHMM is somewhat unusual, in that it has its own scholarly center. CAHS functions, in some ways, like a professional organization for the field of Holocaust Studies: we publish an academic journal, support fellows, and host seminars and symposia, as well as answering inquiries from the public and working on our own research projects.
Outside of CAHS, as in other museums, there are also other trained historians here at USHMM who serve as curators, educators, archivists, and librarians. Their duties are many and varied. A curator, for example, is responsible for the selection and incorporation of artifacts, researching and writing exhibition text, handling all issues and inquiries pertaining to the exhibition, and often writing the exhibition catalog. Such a job requires both broad historical knowledge and familiarity with the relevant artifacts, and historians are often the first choice for museums whose subject matter is historically based.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blog XXXIV (34): The Plight of the Adjunct

The "In the Service of Clio" blog returns today from an extended Thanksgiving Day holiday. This blog entry originally appeared as a guest editorial in today's (November 30, 2009) issue of The Providence Journal. Tim Norton, an adjunct professor of writing at the University of Rhode Island, is the author of "Adjuncts are the Real Indentured Servants on R.I. Plantation," which is a play on the legal of name of the smallest state in the union, "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation." This essay raises some of the issues that I discussed on April 6, 2009 in Blog IV.

Although some of the issues Norton discusses focus on matters relevant only in the Ocean State, he touches on important employment concerns to scholars in all fields. Since these topics are highly relevant to the readers of this blog, I am reprinting it here in its entirety. "In the Service of Clio" will return to its previous series on alternative forms of employment for the history Ph.D. next week. Here is Norton's editorial:

Imagine going to work in the morning with no guarantee that you will have that job in four months. Imagine working for one third of the pay that your colleagues receive without benefits. Consider never getting a raise no matter how excellent your performance may be. Welcome to the world of the college adjunct instructor.

“Adjunct.” The word itself gives the ring of an extraneous and forgotten part, the appendix of some hulking machine. As an adjunct writing professor at the University of Rhode Island, I am one of 450 part-time faculty who do 40 percent of the teaching at that institution. Part timers brought in over $52 million of tuition income in 2007-08 and we were paid a scant $3.98 million from that overflowing pot.

Adjunct instructors are the chattel on the academic plantation, and we make tenure, great pay, sabbaticals and health care realities for the full timers, the faces on the university brand. Adjuncts are the silent, quivering caste, hiding in plain sight and praying that we will be thrown the same insufficient crusts in the next semester. In that ivy-covered ecosystem, adjuncts are the plankton, upon which everything else in the chain depends.

Union abuses define Rhode Island. Public-employee unions run the Rhode Island legislature and the majority of citizens pay for the comfort and reward of the few who are on the state gravy train. That said, adjunct college and university instructors are hired semester to semester, they have no health care or benefits, and good performance is unrelated to future employment. The Dickensian treatment of part timers at URI is criminal, and these abuses are what unions should seek to remedy.

Recently, Rhode Island College ratified an agreement with the state Board of Governors for Higher Education. It represents the first contract ever given to adjunct faculty members in Rhode Island and it gives a dash of hope to a long-aggrieved class. RIC adjuncts will now receive academic freedom, course-assignment rules, a grievance procedure, job security, leave of absence for jury duty and a retroactive pay raise of 3 percent. Some 60 percent of all teaching at RIC is done by adjuncts.

It was my bad fortune to work at the University of Rhode Island, with its medieval policies regarding part-time teachers. The administration has been stonewalling a part-time faculty union for years now but it cannot long ignore the evolution taking place right before it. Without equitable treatment backed by a union and the rule of law, fear inevitably fills the vacuum. Fear drives profits, but you will not find that fact noted in the annual report. Union abuses are regrettable and should be reined in, but the lack of a union for the right reasons is nothing but de-facto endentured servitude. All work has dignity, but living as most adjuncts do is a disgrace.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Administrative Note 4

The "In the Service of Clio" blog is taking a short vacation due to the Thanksgiving holidays. A new essay in the alternative employment opportunities is coming on December 3. Until then, please enjoy reading some of the earlier postings.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blog XXXIII (33): The History Ph.D. at the Service Academies

In this entry, Dr. Robert Wettemann, Jr. discusses employment at the service academies. A military historian, Wettemann has been a Fellow at the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. He also taught for two years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He previously taught at McMurry University. Wettemann currently serves as an historian with the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, NC. He is the author of Privilege vs. Equality: Civil-Military Relations in the Jacksonian Era, 1815-1845 (2009). His current writing projects concentrate on the evolution of U.S. Army Special Forces education and training, and the field adaptation and modification of military technology to better meet military operational needs. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in history from Texas A&M University and a B.A. with Honors in history from Oklahoma State University. He has also written on various aspects of public history and vintage base ball. Here is his guest blog:

When it comes to military history, it does not get any better than going at one of the service academies. Although I later had the opportunity to do some research at
West Point, the closest thing I ever had to a real introduction to life at a service academy came in 1999, when I attended the Summer Seminar in Military History at the United States Military Academy. Based upon the caliber of military professionals that I came into contact with (no pun intended), I knew that it would be an interesting place to work if I ever had the opportunity.

I received a phone call from the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in October 2006, asking if I was interested in serving as a visiting professor. Although I was not that far along in my academic career (I was up for tenure in Spring 2007), I jumped at the opportunity, and with the support from my university administration, managed to secure what would become a two-year leave of absence and ultimately would lead to my departure from civilian academia altogether. Beginning in the summer of 2007, I had the pleasure of spending two years at USAFA as a visiting professor in the History Department (known at the Academy as DFH).

Arriving at USAFA, I quickly discovered that the internal dynamics of the department were different from anything I had encountered elsewhere, in terms of both organization and climate. At Air Force, the permanent professor, a PhD-holding colonel, functions as the head of the department. The department’s senior staff was comprised of a handful of senior lieutenant colonels, who possess Ph.D.s, and the permanent civilian faculty (about 25% of the faculty at USAFA is civilian) who are master educators and scholars in their own right. The remaining members of the department, lieutenant colonels, majors and captains, all have M.A. or M.S. degrees and varying levels of teaching experience. Some have never taught before, others had been at the Academy for a number of years. As a visiting professor, I stood outside this “chain of command,” but found myself considered as a valued member of the department, always free to provide my input on issues of teaching, research, curricular development, and assessment.

As a visiting professor, I had a dual function at USAFA. On the one hand, I was there to teach and conduct my own research and writing, and bring a civilian perspective into the classroom by providing coursework and insight in my area of specialty. On the other hand, I was also there to extend my teaching and research expertise to cadets and other members of the department. With regards to teaching, I had the opportunity to teach four different courses during my tenure at USAFA. My first semester, I taught three sections of History 202: Introduction to Military History, that is part of the Core Curriculum that all cadets would take while at the Academy. The other courses were upper division courses either required for history majors, as was the case with History 330: Historiography and Methods, or were electives, like History 483: Great Americans, or a special topics course of my own design, History 495: The Era of the American Revolution. There are some similarities about all classes, most notably the small class size. Air Force (along with the other service
academies) try to limit class size as much as possible, so that there are never more than twenty cadets in a room at one time. This allowed for a greater degree of dialogue between student and professor than you might find in a typical university. It also allows you to do some creative things in the classroom, like simulations and small group activities. In “Great Americans” I shaped the course around a series of “diametric duos,” individuals who opposed each other at critical phases in American History, with Sam Adams and Thomas Hutchinson, Thomas W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, and Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur serving as examples. In the classroom, these debates played out as “historical deathmatches” with cadets taking on the roles of these individuals and playing out these debates, with the remainder of the class posing questions and serving as a jury. In teaching the Historiography and Methods course, I introduced USAFA to team-teaching methodology used at my home institution, in which two published scholars worked with students to produce well-researched scholarly papers based upon primary sources. This was an alternate approach from previous efforts that concentrated more on historiography, but based upon the success of the course, it has since been used by instructors who continue to teach the course at USAFA.

When it comes down to teaching cadets, one can say, with tongue firmly in cheek, that they are just like other college students, except that in the near future they will be able to call in an air strike or artillery support. While part of the military education process centers around teaching future combat leaders, you should not think of teaching at a service academy as simply educating better killers. There are special needs and considerations that you need to recognize in a military environment. Unlike traditional college students, who may have jobs and will shape their coursework around their own schedule, cadets share a tightly regimented schedule that offers little in the way of flexibility, either in what they do in a given day or in what courses they take in a given semester. They will, for the most part, particularly in upper division classes, come prepared and ready to engage at levels I was not accustomed to at a traditional institution. In teaching them, I viewed my greatest challenge as forcing them to embrace notions of ambiguity, and force them to recognize that answers in the world were often comprised of varying shades of gray, something they did not always get at an answer that often emphasized formulaic thinking and finding the “approved solution.”

In addition to contributing to the education of future officers of character for the U.S. Air Force, I also had the opportunity to help advance the quality of teaching and research carried out by members of the department. At the beginning of each academic year, I both participated in and assisted with new instructor training within the department, observing mock lessons prepared by instructors with limited teaching experience, offering suggestions and recommendations as to what they could do to develop and improve their own educational style. Members of the department were also strongly encouraged to visit other instructors in the classroom and evaluate their teaching in preparation for identifying outstanding educators within the department. In addition to teaching evaluation and critique, I also had the opportunity to assist in the education of young officers who were interested in making history a more significant part of their military career. This mentoring not only included discussion of future research and dissertation topics on either a formal or informal basis, but the reading and critiquing of papers and book chapters. This exchange went both ways, as I also had members of the department read and comment on my own work, as I not only completed a manuscript but started on another, while I was at Air Force. This is something that any faculty member should take advantage of at an institution like a military academy. Rarely will you have an entire department full of subject matter experts willing and able to critique your own work.

The faculty I encountered were easily some of the best scholars and educators I have ever had the opportunity to work with. Recognizing that in some academic departments, a faculty may be balkanized based upon their historical disciplines and political views (and may, in some cases, not even speak with each other), I was constantly amazed by both the high degree of collegiality and the overall social cohesion within the department. I am not sure whether or not that was a product of the environment or the fact that 75% of the department was military and possessed a set of shared experiences, but I have rarely seen this degree of collegiality in and out of an entire department. It certainly made my two years at Air Force memorable.

Many people have asked me about what I liked most about my time as a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. It is difficult to isolate my single favorite experience. Just being in a department like DFH ranks among the best time of my career (thus far). My time in a military environment prompted me to make a complete change in my career path and seek out a way to make a greater contribution to the nation’s uniformed services. From an educational standpoint, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with cadets. I periodically had cadets over to my home, and spent time on weekends assisting with the USAFA History Club. I also had the opportunity to take cadets on a tour of Boston, MA in conjunction with my course on the American Revolution. I know they enjoyed recreating the revolution at the Old State House, Boston Massacre site, Old South Meeting House, Boston Tea Party site, Bunker Hill, and U.S.S. Constitution, as well as spending a day retracing the British retreat from Concord to Lexington. While those were great times, as were Friday nights at the Falcon Club and joining my DFH colleagues at Society for Military History meetings, my favorite time at USAFA was my ten days I assisted in Basic Cadet Training for the incoming cadets. As part of the training cadre for “Operation Warrior,” I assisted in familiarizing incoming cadets with the rudiments of airbase defense and attack, and played a supervisory role for an operational force detachment in the field. Each day, I drew a weapon and blank ammunition, then headed off into the woods, ambushing squads of anxious “basics,” then assisting them as they made their own assault on positions occupied by their fellow incoming cadets. It was hot, heavy work, as I carried weapons, ammunition and personal gear all over the Cadet training facilities in Jack’s Valley, but it is an experience I will never forget, especially when I am laboring over a book review or compiling another index in a windowless office.

My path to a service academy teaching experience was certainly not a traditional one, and it prompted me to make employment decisions that I never would have considered prior to my time there. However, I regard my time at Air Force as one of the greatest developmental opportunities in my professional career, and given the opportunity, would do it again. Giving up the comfort of tenure at a civilian institution was certainly a gamble, but based on the growth experience that I had at USAFA, I would do it again in an instant.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Blog XXXII (32): The History Ph.D. at the Public Policy School: Swimming in a Sea of Numbers

The next essay in this blog comes from Jeffrey A. Engel. In this blog posting, he writes about working at a public policy school. Engel is an assistant professor of history and public policy at Texas A&M University's Bush School of Government and Public Service. He also directs the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs. A graduate of Cornell University, he received his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is author of Cold War at 30,000 Feet: the Anglo-American Fight for Aviation Supremacy (2007), which was awarded the 2008 Paul Birdsall Prize from the American Historical Association. He also edited The China Diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President (2008), the private diary of former President George H.W. Bush while de-facto United States Ambassador to Beijing in the 1970s. He is a member of the editorial board of Diplomatic History and of the Executive Council of the Transatlantic Studies Association. Here is his guest blog:

I teach history in a public policy school. It is not for everyone, demanding both a thick skin and a willingness to forgo students who reflexively believe the study of history matters. But I would be hard-pressed to want to teach anywhere else.

I came to this strange new world of the professional school largely by accident. As with everyone else in this field, I needed a job. We all blanket the country with application letters when in search of our first gig. Among my blizzard of letters and vitas was one addressed to the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. I told them I longed to teach at such a prestigious school with such a distinct mission of service. I lied (or at least, cribbed liberally from their website), having in fact never actually heard of the Bush School before cutting and pasting its address into my boiler-plate letter. (When seeking an historian, most policy schools advertise in venues historians already know well, including H-Net, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the American Historical Association’s publications, and so on.)

This was the best cut and paste I ever did. In the past five years I’ve come to appreciate in depth the real advantages and merits of teaching students outside of a traditional history department. Our program exclusively delivers a master’s degree in international affairs. All of our students desire a career outside the academy. More accurately, they have enrolled in a terminal master’s program because they desire a career, end stop. Most want to work in the national security field, broadly defined. They seek employment with the federal government, or with the ever expanding legions of private contractors whose existence belies the idea that the era of big government could ever actually end. Some work for non-governmental organizations and non-profits. All desire to serve the public good in some way.

Few, if any, have their heads in the ethereal clouds of academic minutia in the way I fondly recall of myself and my graduate-school colleagues. They want to know with every class why the material they are studying matters; how it will help them in their careers; how it will help them better the public’s interest. Such practicality is innately foreign to me, and I admit, at times grating. Fascination with Bismarck’s strategy seems to me reason enough to study and dissect his every move. But I’ve learned to appreciate their desires, and thus their point of view. I’ve grown, granted at times kicking and screaming along the way, to appreciate that every lesson can have a point, even if our understanding of that point frequently differs. For many of my students the study of realpolitik, or economics, or strategy, is an end to itself: we study such things to become more proficient at them. For me their study trains the mind to better appreciate the world’s complexity. We agree that study itself is useful; and we proceed, largely amicably and with no small amount of bemused befuddlement at the other, on our mutual journey of understanding.

And I love it. I genuinely enjoy teaching students who want to learn, and professional students most certainly fit that bill. They are largely paying for their education, and they expect their investment to pay off, not only in terms of their enhanced marketability post-graduation, but also in terms of their improved skills. I don’t teach them how to destroy Al-Qaeda or to protect fissile material, to their frequent frustration. Would that I knew such practical things. But I like to think I teach them to think better, to solve problems more efficiently and creatively, and thus to be better prepared to find solutions for whatever the world throws at them. As the child of two teachers, having been educated myself at a series of land-grant
institutions, I take seriously the perhaps old-fashioned (perhaps even progressive) notion that the people of those states invested heavily in me and my education, so that I might serve the public good. I relish the notion that I repay their investment—granted, the investment of peoples from a different state, but such is the reality of the national job-search—daily when I educate the current generation of students and the next generation of policymakers. This is a thrill indeed. It is also a thrill with little pain. For one thing, our program teaches only graduate students, and only master’s students at that. Other policy schools teach undergrads and PhD’s. So far, we do not, and one might well argue that master’s students lie in that particular sweet spot, from a pedagogical perspective, between ignorance and utter passion. They are, by and large, more knowledgeable and interested in their subject matter than undergraduates fulfilling a humanities requirement; yet they do not rain draft chapters upon me as a doctoral candidate might. I have not altered my syllabi or reading assignments much (perhaps 25%) from what I would teach in a “traditional” history department. Yet I have altered every lesson and classroom game-plan, every one, to better suit my student’s needs.

Why then the requirement of a thick-skin, as mentioned above? Two reasons, the first already mentioned. I appreciate the practical approach of my policy-students through force of will and a conscious recognition of their devotion to public service. It does not come naturally to someone as academically-inclined as I, believing again reflexively, that history might indeed be studied merely because it is fascinating. This point has been made.

Of equal importance is the notion that I exist as not only the school’s sole historian, but also its sole humanist. The economists and political scientists surrounding me find the study of history quaint and amusing. To their eyes, historians are largely good only for stories, only infrequently with a point. I don’t do numbers. They spend liberally on new data-crunching programs and research assistants eager to enter numbers for purposes not altogether clear. I use Microsoft Word, and not well at that. One must be thick-skinned to withstand the friendly (and frequently, not so friendly) barbs of social scientists who care passionately about statistics and methodology, and who argue with great vehemence that quantitative analysis—which they describe as the only really “rigorous” analysis, explicitly devaluing all else—is the only type worth doing.

But I have the last laugh, because they also use their impressive statistical skills and quantitative conviction budget-season comes round. Professors in professional schools are routinely paid more than equally-trained colleagues located in traditional academic departments. So too are our research and travel budgets significantly higher than most historians are allowed. I’m willing to thicken my skin quite a bit indeed for these benefits. Plus, to be honest, we eat better on this side of campus, though my doctor and wife would each prefer I did not indulge in this particular perk. Most important of all beyond these material and culinary advantages, teaching in a policy school offers the opportunity to be around colleagues and students who desire to make a difference. That is worth more than I could possibly hope to quantify (lacking the methods to do so to their statistical satisfaction anyway).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blog XXXI (31): The History Ph.D. as a Librarian

In this posting, Dr. Mark H. Danley discusses the career options open to historians in libraries. Danley currently serves as Catalog Librarian at the University of Memphis Libraries. He has previously worked at the University of Southern Mississippi, the Jackson Barracks Military Library in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the U.S. Cavalry Association Library at Fort Riley, Kansas. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Kansas State University. His dissertation was "The Theory and Practice of Strategy in the Eighteenth-Century British Army." He also holds an M.L.I.S. degree from Louisiana State University, an M.A. in history from Virginia Tech and a B.A. in history from the University of Richmond. A specialist on the British Army, he is currently editing with Patrick J. Speelman a collection of essays on the Seven Years’ War, tentatively titled The Seven Years' War: Global Perspectives. He has also written on the technical aspects of cataloging eighteenth-century military works, and on issues in the naval history of the Korean War. Here is his guest blog:

When a history Ph.D. casts around the professional universe for one of the many so-called “alternate careers” beyond teaching in a history department a 4-year college or university, “librarian” does not usually appear on the results lists. Librarianship is, however, an option for the holder of history doctorate. Librarianship is also a wide field with a wide range of jobs in it. Admittedly, many library jobs open today are hardly more desirable than the adjunct teaching circuit to which so many new history Ph.D.s find themselves relegated. Yet some library jobs are interesting and pay the bills, and a very few of which are relatively lucrative and intellectually engaging.

There are a lot of ways to put the knowledge one gains from a history doctoral program to good use working in an academic library – especially an academic research library. I doubt many history graduate students look forward to becoming a reference librarian, but on the other hand many literate people find that sort of work interesting and intellectually invigorating. Admittedly, reference work can call upon the skills the research skills that one gets in graduate history work. Some academic libraries have librarians whose primary role is specialized research assistance for the humanities, and historians might find that work interesting. My own interests lay in technical services – specifically cataloging. That is another area of academic librarianship where the critical thinking skills gained from graduate work in the humanities can be quite useful. The design and maintenance of large bibliographic databases, with the complex syndetic structures of catalog headings and the interrelationships between descriptive conventions and encoding schemes can get quite technical yet still require analytical abilities familiar to historians. Perhaps the area of academic research library operations traditionally most attractive to the humanities Ph.D. is special collections and archival work. The decisions that special collections librarians make about preserving and providing access to primary source materials, which we so often tell our students are the raw material of history, are easily enhanced by a historian’s understanding of the significance of those materials. More than a few history graduate students survey the realm of teaching opportunities (or lack thereof) that await them when they finally get their Ph.D. and decide happily that they’d rather be an archivist. There was a time when an advanced degree in a humanities field was indeed recognized as a qualifying credential to work as a manuscript curator, archivist, or perhaps as a rare books curator. That is not the case anymore.

The first thing a history graduate student interested in a library career must accept is that a history Ph.D. by itself is not going to get you a desirable job in an academic library. (I expect some people will throw up their hands in frustration here but I encourage brave souls to read on.) In order to work as an academic librarian you need a Master’s degree from a library science, library and information science, information science graduate program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Some history Ph.D.s (or Ph.D.s in other humanities fields for that matter) have no problem with this reality when they decide they want to go into the library field. They proceed to find a Master of Library Science (MLS), Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) or equivalent ALA-accredited program, complete it, and start a career in librarianship. Other holders of a history doctorate cannot accept the reality that they need yet another degree to work in a library and they try to circumvent it. There are several reasons for this. First, some historians just don’t believe they really need another degree to work effectively in a library. The culture of graduate school does not really inculcate historians with a high view of librarianship as a profession. The experience of earning a graduate degree in history almost always does convey the importance of libraries – but not always librarians. At best most scholars see academic librarians as skilled helpers, people with arcane knowledge to assist navigating the maze of a research collection and for which scholars should be grateful. But they’re just that – helpers – not the people doing the work themselves. In other words, they’re not scholars. At worst they see librarians as a sort of clerical servant, not a collaborator, not a professional, and certainly not a colleague. Fortunately, that “worst” is not something one encounters too often. Yet, the fact remains that many professional historians do not see librarians as their equals. They do not articulate or make explicit this view because they don’t have to – it never comes up. It’s just assumed.

So the implication for many new Ph.D.s is that they really don’t need a library degree because a history doctorate so immerses them in the library that they could certainly do anything a “mere” librarian could. In the case of many academic library operations – collection management, cataloging, et. al. that’s not true, but both bright-eyed doctoral student and senior professor are not always likely to realize it. Further compounding the problem of disbelief that one really needs another degree is the low academic quality of many MLS/MLIS programs. Many are not intellectually rigorous. On the other hand, most MLIS programs have at least some classes that are challenging and deal with topics of substantive importance. And in better academic research libraries you will find people who need and put to use the knowledge they gained from classes like that. Further, even classes that aren’t rigorous in the sense of a humanities graduate program teach you things that you need to know. Some of the best examples come from the technical field. Doctoral programs in history nowadays are a lot better about exposing students to technology, such as that used to digitize primary source materials, than history graduate programs were about a decade ago when digitization hit the historical community. Yet most recent history Ph.D.s do not know much about what it takes to make and manage a digital collection. This is the kind of thing you can and must learn in one of the more serious MLIS classes. Other examples come from some of the better cataloging, special collections, and archives courses. (Quality and seriousness of cataloging classes, however, varies highly across MLS/MLIS programs.) Further examples of classes that contain things you need to know but did not learn in history classes come from collection management operations of an academic library. How many history graduate programs teach about dealing with vendors and managing a large budget? Again, many of the weaker MLS/MLIS programs will not do that well either, but a good library school class will while a good history graduate class almost certainly won’t.

This takes me back to one of the points above. The necessity of the MLS/MLIS is especially pronounced if the new history Ph.D. is interested in going into the field of special collections librarianship. Many new historians look at the market for teaching jobs and make a (usually uninformed) decision that life as an archivist would be more appealing and a great way to use their historical knowledge outside of teaching. It can be. Yet things have changed considerably in the past 20 years or so. Twenty years ago, it was not unreasonable to maintain that a humanities doctorate – especially a history doctorate – was an appropriate qualifying credential to be an archivist. This is no longer true. The special collections field today – especially the archives and manuscripts part of it – demands a very technical education. Unless your history graduate program gave you a good practical introduction to the use of open-source archival management systems, standard XML encoding schemes like TEI, MEP, and MODS and the basics of MARC21 it did not give you enough to be an archivist today.

The importance of the MLS/MLIS and its relationship to a history Ph.D. brings up the issue of how holders of each degree relate to holders of the other in library organizations. If you read blogs, journal articles, etc. on the subject of humanities Ph.D.s in academic libraries inevitably you will come across discussions of how and whether the librarians without the Ph.D.s are resentful of, disparaging of, or antagonistic to the occasional Ph.D. who is working as an academic librarian. This is an interpersonal dynamic you may encounter and you should be aware of it. It does not, however, have to stop you from finding a good job in a library and making great colleagues and friends in the field.

First, you should accept openly that while other degrees (like your doctorate) are useful, at the end of the day the MLIS/MLIS is the terminal degree in the library field. Neither a Ph.D. in history nor anything else (no matter how great your dissertation was or who your adviser was) nor a Master’s degree in anything else is the qualifying credential to become a professional librarian. I have worked for several librarians who do not have a Ph.D. but they have years of experience as a catalogers, have the well-developed, comprehensive knowledge and experience to manage a department, do it well and deserve their positions.

Second, much of the resentment against Ph.D.s in academic libraries comes not from the degree itself but from librarians’ encounters with the arrogance of a few bad apples. In other words, act collegially and often you will have no problem. Respect the knowledge of others and often you will have no problem. Sometimes, of course, no matter what you do someone else will have a problem with you. When you interview for an academic library job, try to keep an eye out for librarians and library staff who might have the “resent-the-doctorate” attitude. In most cases, however, you will not even get that far. So, if you find yourself having difficulty finding a library job, before you get discouraged and angry at not even getting an interview for a job for which you were clearly qualified, recall one thing: you might not want to work there anyway. There is always a chance that if you did get that particular job, you would have all kind of difficulties with people resentful of the doctorate. There is a bright side. Not all academic libraries are like that. There are a large number of academic research libraries where people are secure and professional enough that they’re just interested in building a collegial productive environment. They will see a doctoral degree as an advantage and an asset that they can build upon. There are great libraries out there and if you develop your skills well, write strong cover letters, build a good set of references and interview well, you’ll likely find one.

The library blogsphere has seen a lot of hand-wringing about the professional overpopulation of librarians and how library schools produce far too many MLS graduates than there are new jobs. Sound familiar? Well, there is some truth to that claim that the American Library Association trumps up the supposed “need” for new librarians to replace expected upcoming retirements. It is also true that many new graduates from library science Master’s program have a difficult time finding jobs. But most do not have the MLS/Ph.D. combination. It’s not as if that will guarantee you a job. You will have an easier time than most new MLS/MLIS graduates and most new history Ph.D. graduates. Blogs and list-servs (yes there are still some list-servs out there) abound with new librarians complaining that academic library jobs are out of their reach, and for many of them it’s true. Many of the choicest academic library jobs are going to find attractive someone with the critical thinking and research skills that one gets from completing a Ph.D. program. You will also have an advantage in that you will be set apart from a much more common type found among the hopefuls for an open position in a good library –the ABD who never finished his or her doctorate and then migrated over to librarianship. While people leave history doctoral programs for multiple reasons, and while some of those reasons are good ones, the fact remains that someone who actually finished the doctorate and then earned a library degree will attract more and better job offers. Be wary, however, of a library’s motives for hiring you. Some academic librarians will want humanities Ph.D.s for the right reasons (e.g. someone who has a doctorate understands the research process better and therefore can help researchers better, etc.) Some academic libraries will want them for the wrong reasons – they think, for example, that having more Ph.D.s among the library faculty ranks will increase the librarians’ credibility with the teaching faculty. In some cases that can work, but in other cases it won’t.

I also recommend that when looking for jobs, consider carefully not just the library in which you will be working, but the overall university environment and especially the history department. Regarding the overall university environment, one thing to consider is whether librarians have faculty appointments or are considered staff. Working at a university where librarians are faculty and working at one where they are staff each has advantages and disadvantages of course. When you are staff it means you have a regular job. It’s less likely that you will be pulled into extensive (and time-consuming) university-level committee work) and it means you have both the freedom and the constraints of a 9-5 Monday through Friday work week (although if you work in reference, for example, you may be working a lot of evenings and weekends. Technical services, including cataloging jobs like the one I have, tend to be regular business hours though.) It also means you will have both the freedom and the constraints of a regular holiday schedule, and if your library is well managed you’ll have an unambiguous chain of command. The disadvantages are applicable if you want to remain active in your history research. If your vision for putting your doctorate to use in a library is simply to apply the knowledge to professional library work, then a staff position may be just fine. Staff may have less access to university resources to support research, for example, although this is something to ask about at the interview stage. But if you are research-inclined and you find a job you like that is a staff appointment, don’t just assume that your research will end. Some universities for example do indeed provide professional travel and development support for staff, including librarians.

The advantages and disadvantages of the faculty position follow from some of the comments above about the image of academic librarians among history professors and graduate students. To be blunt, the main disadvantage of having a library faculty appointment is that most other faculty will not take your own faculty status seriously. Regardless of what a few grumpy naysayers at your university might think, you will still have a faculty ID, and be able to check the “faculty” box on various forms. This will open up doors to both internal and external funding to your research and do things like get you faculty reciprocal borrowing privileges that many research libraries offer to each other.

Suppose you do get the MLS/MLIS or equivalent Master’s, find a great library job and get started. I also recommend that anyone who earns a history Ph.D. and then becomes a librarian stay active in your historical research. You will find that having a foot in both the history camp and library camp, so to speak, serves you well. At history conferences you will be often the only librarian, and at smaller library conferences you will often be the only history Ph.D. (you will not be the only one with a history Ph.D. at the American Library Association Conference, though, which I consider a good thing.) I have been amazed sometimes to hear professional historians say things about libraries that simply cannot be substantiated, and yet will all the great minds around there is hardly anyone to contest the claim. (And I hardly consider myself a “great mind”.) Likewise, I have seen academic research librarians attempt to make major decisions about the allocation of resources or the building of a collection say things that no actual researcher ever would. So there is a real need for professionals with a foot in both the library camp and the historian camp. Be one of them and you can make a real contribution. But you don’t necessarily have to keep up with your historical scholarship if you’re less inclined. That would never be my choice, but it is the choice of some. There are people out there who write a good dissertation and graduate but for whatever reason just don’t want to continue historical scholarship. Maybe the dissertation was enough research and writing for one lifetime. Maybe they enjoy the reading and thinking but the research and writing less so. Maybe they just don’t want the pressure. Sometimes a library career can be good for a history Ph.D.s of that inclination. The doctorate plus the library science master’s will have given them skills to apply and a meaningful career applying them can follow, whether or not they continue with their historical scholarship.

If you have a history Ph.D. and work in an academic library, it’s nice to have a good relationship with the history department at that university. You’ll have colleagues to talk with about your history research (if you keep up with it) and hear about theirs. You might also find some adjuncting opportunities if you get the teaching itch. Sometimes your relationship with the history department can get tricky. You might find, for example, that you get job offers for academic library jobs at universities whose history departments wouldn’t give your cv a second look if you applied for one of their openings. Suppose you take such a library job – depending on the personalities involved you might find at best polite brush-offs and at worst outright disdain from the history department. I suspect that situation is rare, however, unless one of the proverbial bad apples is involved. One thing that weighs in your favor is that at a larger university you may not be the only history Ph.D. outside the history department. Take a look at the American Historical Association's Directory of History Departments and check out the “non-departmental historians” section under each university’s listing and you will see what I mean. You may be fortunate enough to get hired for a library job at a university whose history department is interested in your historical work. In that case, they will view you as a kind of “freebie” – they get an extra historian with a specialty that complements their department but the salary isn’t on their budget line. If that happens, you’ll have to manage your time carefully to exploit your opportunities, as the job the library hired you to do will obviously take most of your time and by rights should be your priority. Good communication with your history colleagues and your library administration, however, can lead to some mutually rewarding collaboration.

Libraries are older than universities themselves, and professional librarianship dates from roughly the same time that historian became a recognizable profession. Despite the doom and gloom some of my comments may seem to cast upon the aspiring historian-librarian’s prospects there are indeed great career opportunities to bring together what you learned from your Ph.D. program with the challenges of contemporary academic library work. I hope that you’ll consider the good as well as the challenges. Get the library science Master’s, choose your job carefully, cultivate good relationships with all your colleagues, and a world of intellectually invigorating and sometimes lucrative career opportunities await.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blog XXX (30): The History Ph.D. as a Foreign Service Officer

Aaron P. Forsberg earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas at Austin. He entered the Foreign Service in March of 2001 and has served in Qatar, Thailand, Washington, D.C., and Japan. Prior to entering the Foreign Service, he taught history in the University of Maryland system and worked as a translator for the Tokyo office of the law firm White & Case LLP. He is author of America and the Japanese Miracle (2000). The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States Department of State or the U.S. Government.

What's it like to train as a historian specializing in a certain field and then go to work as the ultimate generalist, a diplomat? In our increasingly specialized world, it's certainly a counterintuitive career move. When you’re riding in a jeep bouncing down a one-lane road somewhere in Timor-Leste off to yet another camp for internally displaced persons, for example, your first thought probably won't be how working on that Ph.D. in history prepared you for a career in foreign affairs. Yet as a Foreign Service Officer working for the Department of State, it is precisely post-conflict spots like the former East Timor and other assignments on the periphery far removed from what you studied that provide opportunities for a graduate education to pay off professionally early on. Speaking from my own experience, this blog entry describes a Foreign Service career with students of history in mind. To provide some useful context, I also touch on other careers in international relations.

Who among you should consider a career in the Foreign Service? Obviously, if the idea of representing the United States overseas is at all alluring, you should consider it. There's a certain exhilaration to being in the thick of the action. For students of foreign policy especially, a basic question to consider is whether to be an observer or a participant. The common assumption is that by choosing to train in history you have already chosen the former. That need not be the case. (Full disclosure: I was inclined toward a career in international relations beginning in high school, but jumped at the opportunity to earn a doctorate in history straight out of college because I welcomed the intellectual workout and thought it might prepare me to compete with Washington's policy wonks.) As I searched archives for documents on postwar U.S.-Japanese relations while turning my dissertation into a book, the policy fray beckoned so I decided to register for the Foreign Service Officer Test.

The particulars of the Foreign Service Officer selection process vary somewhat each year, but at its core it consists of an online exam and an oral interview. If you pass the online exam and complete all of the related submissions satisfactorily, you will be invited to take the all-day oral assessment, usually held in Washington, at your own expense. If you pass the oral, then your name is placed on a rank-ordered register for hiring. You must also undergo medical, security clearance, and suitability reviews. Hiring plans and budgetary resources (or the lack thereof) drive much of the process. I had to wait to take the test because one consequence of the budget battles of the mid-1990s was that the Department did not hire for a while. Then, starting even before 9/11, the Department hired aggressively for a period. We appear to be in another hiring surge. The selection and review process has shortened considerably in recent years, but it still takes several months at a bare minimum, so in that respect it is not unlike an academic job-search. You can learn more about the FSO selection process here:

When discussing the Foreign Service, the word "generalist" deserves special emphasis. It is the word used to describe the officer career track that can lead upward to appointment as an ambassador or other high position. Like the military, assignments last for specified periods and the promotion system is up-or-out. As a Foreign Service generalist, you will work at many different jobs over the course of your career. When registering for the Foreign Service exam you must specify what "career track" you prefer (political, economic, public diplomacy, management or consular), but you will not always serve in that career track. You will acquire topical and regional experience, and you will become extraordinarily knowledgeable about issues you cover that are in play. But the press of events will often determine those issues, and they will change along with your assignments. With rare exceptions, diplomats do not plow the same fields year after year.

Moving from the academy to the Foreign Service thus entails leaving a world emphasizing depth and continuity for one where breadth and flexibility get you noticed. In other words, a graduate education is potentially useful not for certifying an area of expertise, but for how it enables you to stand out as a generalist in some way. The specifics will vary depending upon you, your past course of study, and your future assignments.

Not all government careers relating to foreign affairs entail such a stark shift in paradigm from specialist to generalist. There are many analyst and other positions at departments and agencies (including Civil Service positions at State) that require advanced degrees in the social sciences. The expertise sought tends to be clearly defined and the employment is position-specific (meaning that you will not move to another position unless you apply for it). Likewise, professional staff positions on Congressional committees also tend to be somewhat specialized. Career staffers play a vital role in policy-making, and working for a committee represents an attractive career opportunity. Non-governmental organizations also hire Ph.D.s, often for director-level positions with administrative responsibility. More Ph.D.s than you might expect live and work in Washington.

Falling somewhere in the middle of the generalist-expert spectrum are the academics or policy specialists--often employed at think tanks and public affairs schools--who fill appointed positions at all levels in every administration, from cabinet secretaries to the special assistants to ambassadors at large embassies. There is no set of requirements for landing such a position, but as with so many things political Washington is the focus of attention. The logical starting point for academics is to become an authority on a policy-relevant issue through publications and networking, but there's an undeniable element of serendipity. One possible hook is a fellowship or grant to study something or somewhere that has policy relevance. Such a life requires vigorous self-promotion and active participation in the public discussion of your issue (read: media exposure). Besides becoming known, part of the job involves cultivating sponsors on Capitol Hill and in the administration (or up-and-coming players who will attain high office in the future).

So, what can a Ph.D. do for you? While an advanced degree is not required for entry into the Foreign Service, all of that reading you did for major and minor exams should prepare you reasonably well to pass the written sections of the Foreign Service Officer Test. The job knowledge component contains questions about American history, political institutions, the Constitution, literature and culture. You will also need to be familiar with economics, geography, communication, and management, among other subjects (for more detail, consult the Department's website link noted above). Experience grading papers and dealing with editors may also help to prepare you for the English expression and usage test component of the written exam. The degree itself may also land you a slightly higher starting salary compared to someone starting with a B.A. or M.A., but that is not the main thing it can do for you.

The real value of a graduate education is the training in analyzing complex issues, whether political, economic, social, or some combination of various factors. Being accustomed to bringing a high degree of analytical rigor to problems and having read widely contributes to making a person a quick study--a capable generalist. In practical terms, this means being able to make sense of particular or specialized issues and their connection to policy, probing in depth as necessary, and then explain them in comprehensible terms to others. This is true whether you are working overseas or in Washington. Proficiency in a hard foreign language acquired before, or as part of, your graduate study can also serve you very well.

Obviously you don't need a graduate education to be able to differentiate the what from the so-what in most instances. But some foreign policy issues are very complex and history generally looms larger for most peoples than it does for Americans, both on the macro level and on the level of institutional memory. I believe that my training in history and economics has enabled me to deal with some issues far more effectively than if I did not have such background. It is not just the knowledge I picked up along the way, it is the sense for what questions to ask, or what to read, or whom I should seek to consult regarding some aspect of the problem. One of the first things I do in a new assignment is to trace the history of the issues I'm covering to discover who follows them and knows them well. Like the best historical writing, standout political or economic reporting draws its strength from its sources. I have also found that in much of the world high-level bureaucrats and senior political leaders have studied abroad, often at the graduate level. Raising the subject of graduate school life in conversation is a natural way to build rapport.

Returning to the example of Timor, the young democracy's implosion in 2006 only four years after regaining its independence raised basic questions about state formation and the requirements for stability. One of the obvious sources of instability was the rivalry among leaders at the top, which quickly I learned had roots extending back as far as the declaration of independence from Portugal in 1975 and subsequent invasion by Indonesian military forces. As the desk officer in Washington covering the country, my job was to make sense of what was happening and take the lead in finding a way to assist the Timorese pick up the pieces and make a go of it again. (We did not have an ambassador in country for about nine months from late 2006 to mid-2007.) While I had studied decolonization and was broadly familiar with the problems of newly independent states, Timor-Leste was new to me and traveling in country the times I did was very different from making a trip to the archives. It was an exciting assignment involving engagement on fundamental issues in a very challenging particular context as I described in a 2007 article for State magazine (pp. 20-27 in the PDF file available here: Without discounting the difficulty of the long-term development challenges ahead, Timor’s peaceful elections and the launch of a popular new government that year enabled the country to move beyond the crisis. It's often said that the Foreign Service is not a job but a lifestyle, so I would be remiss if I did not touch on the adjustments you will need to make if you join. Three deserve separate mention. First, writing. Turnaround in the Department is fast and the style concise. The rhythm, the pace and the purpose all differ from the sort of writing one may do elsewhere. With a little humility and willingness to learn, however, this adjustment need not be difficult. That is not to understate its importance, however. Particularly for political and economic work, you are what you write, a point historians should grasp intuitively. I still recall an afternoon at the National Archives when I was reviewing some Department of State files from the early 1950s containing memos by George Kennan. I had always wondered why Kennan attracted as much notice as he did, because his writings seemed to me to give expression to views that many others shared. As I leafed through dozens and dozens of memos that afternoon, I got it. The clarity, temerity, and persuasive power of Kennan's writing set him apart from his colleagues.

Second, the operational aspects of any Foreign Service job are just as important as the policy element, sometimes more so. Whether arranging some aspect of the logistics of a presidential visit overseas or the mundane task of making sure that you have the keys to a meeting room so that negotiations can continue beyond their scheduled time, diplomats spend a lot of time attending to details that historians never mention. Effectiveness in completing such work is critical to both advancement and one's reputation; it's not optional or incidental.

Additionally, every Foreign Service Officer spends at least one year, and often two or more, doing consular work overseas, usually issuing visas or assisting American citizens in dealing with emergencies (I did my consular tour in Bangkok, Thailand). Even though some such duty will be in places you might not have ever thought of visiting, it will rank among the most memorable experiences of your career. It may not be immediately apparent, but the pace and style of decision-making required in entry-level consular work also serves as useful training for subsequent assignments dealing with policy issues, both overseas and in Washington. While Malcolm Gladwell does not discuss either consular work or diplomacy in Blink, the links he draws in that book between experience dealing with a matter and the accuracy with which we grasp the reality of the situation on first glance could easily apply to Foreign Service work. The point to highlight is that such operational work is no less real as far as a Foreign Service career than policy analysis, and your likely effectiveness in such capacity will be something the examiners consider during the selection process.

Finally, how much you like change and where you want to live are relevant questions to think about, because moving abroad is part of the Foreign Service experience. Everyone registering for the Foreign Service Officer Test should at least browse books like Realities of Foreign Service Life, by Patricia Linderman et al., which is readily available online. Regardless of your age or what you have done before, all generalists joining the Department begin at the entry level. Most assignments are for two or three years, and being worldwide available means that some of your assignments will be in places you might not have ever contemplated visiting. Qatar was certainly not on my radar screen until my first week of orientation. Over the course of a career most officers tend to focus on a region or two, but you don't have much control over where you go for your first assignment, and location is only one of many factors to consider when arranging subsequent assignments. Of all the jobs available, an ever-shrinking proportion is located in Western Europe, and everyone serves at one or more hardship posts sooner or later. Those who think moving to someplace new is exciting and challenging tend to thrive in careers that involve frequent moves. For me, getting paid to move and tackle something new every few years was in fact one of the chief attractions of this career. As with many things, it is a matter of degree. But you should consider where you fit on the spectrum between global nomad and person of place. A related issue is foreign language. One need not be a linguist to succeed in the Foreign Service, but proficiency in one or more foreign languages is essential for advancement and for enjoying life abroad to its fullest. Proficiency in a hard or rare language is one skill that former academics can and do leverage to stand out. If you don't come in with language, you will have the opportunity to receive training. Either way, learning and using a foreign language is part of living and working in the Foreign Service.

In closing, if you’ve gone to graduate school and are looking for a career outside of the university setting, the Foreign Service and other government careers are worth considering. This is not to understate the adjustment necessary. At times you will find yourself having to deal with problems and situations that are entirely new to you. While taking your Ph.D. to Washington may not be the typical move, the Foreign Service--and the Federal Government generally--cast a wider net in hiring than is commonly assumed. You will find that many of your colleagues have professional education or unique experiences upon which they draw at different points during their career. After successive tours dealing with Southeast Asia, I sought to put my Japanese language and Japan experience to use. I started working at the Embassy in Tokyo in July 2009, one month before the Democratic Party of Japan unseated the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power almost continuously since 1955. As someone who has researched and written about Japanese politics and foreign policy, it is hard to imagine a more interesting time to be assigned to Tokyo.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blog XXIX (29): The History Ph.D. as a Government Historian: Still the “Improbable Success Story”?

The next guest essay comes from Sarandis "Randy" Papadopoulos. A graduate of the University of Toronto, he did graduate work at the University of Alabama and the George Washington University. For the last decade he has been a historian with the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. A specialist on naval warfare during World War II, he has been an on-camera commentator for documentaries that have appeared on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the DVD version of the film Tora, Tora, Tora (2001). After the terrorist attack on the Pentagon of September 11, 2001, he collaborated with the Department of Defense team that conducted thousands of oral histories of individuals that had been in the building on that day. He also co-authored Pentagon 9/11, the official history of the attack and response in the building. His comments are his own, and not those of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or United States government. Here is his guest blog:

I drew my title from an essay by Ronald H. Spector, my dissertation director at the George Washington University (GWU), in a piece he had written twenty years ago. With the essay in mind (and no further consultation with him on this blog!), what I’d like to do is highlight some of the key characteristics of being a government or “official” historian. In particular, I’ll try relating why I became one, and how this type of work has played out for me in the decade since I received my doctorate.

My B.A. was from the University of Toronto, a large, urban research institution in Canada’s biggest city. After graduation and non-academic employment at the university I applied for a Masters in military history at several U.S. schools (I’m an American citizen). Accepted to the University of Alabama, I completed an M.A. in Military and Naval History, and began a doctorate at GWU. Eight years later I earned the Ph.D. with a dissertation on German and American submarine logistics. A year of contract teaching followed, both at GWU and the University of Maryland, College Park. In spring 2000 I began working as a historian in what is now named the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), and have been there since.

Why make the move from teaching at good schools to U.S. government employment? What could possibly motivate such a personal change? My personal answers were rooted in several elements, for I wanted permanent full-time work as a historian, preferably in my chosen field of military history (broadly defined) and, having been raised in a big city, wanted to live in such a place during my working years. I already knew what the Navy’s historians did, having met them while using the service’s library and archives, and the chance to learn more and write about the service seemed interesting. Employment by the U.S. Navy’s history shop, in Washington, D.C., therefore satisfied all my constraints, and quite handily.

I can hear a question come speedily: what about teaching? My response is equally quick: I have taught as often as my time permits and hope to teach in the future. After starting full-time with the Navy, and not including my first post-doctoral year, after-hours I taught seven history classes at GWU and Maryland. These classes ranged from a lecture course in U.S. diplomatic history, to undergraduate research seminars and graduate readings’ seminars in the history of strategy and policy. I have also guest lectured at four universities, supervised an undergraduate’s independent studies program and an M.A. student’s Capstone paper, graded two Ph.D. students’ comprehensive questions in military history, served as outside reader for four M.A. theses and one Ph.D. dissertation, and contributed to a faculty tenure review. Given my location in Washington I could have done more teaching, but my time and energy didn’t permit it.

So what does a U.S. Navy historian do? Fundamentally the answer is research and writing, or much what other historians do. I co-authored Pentagon 9/11, a book on the 2001 terrorist attack, drafted another monograph yet to be printed, published essays, delivered scholarly conference papers derived from my dissertation, book or other research, contributed book reviews, peer reviewed articles submitted to scholarly journals, and authored essays for reference works. I have also written museum scripts for the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, answered history reference questions from service personnel or the general public and processed documentary collections to establish intellectual control of NHHC archival records. Most recently my official work took me to the Pentagon, where I served as the historian attached to the Navy’s Quadrennial Defense Review office. There I offered historical context for a process balancing U.S. Navy strategy, force structure and programs within the limits of Department of Defense constraints.

Are there drawbacks to being a government historian? Perhaps the foremost challenge to official historians stems from their parent organization: the U.S. government, especially its armed services, is ever-changing at a rapid tempo. The expectations for answers and products to support changes are, consequently, for very fast results. While my work primarily addresses the post-1945 world, it has covered the diplomatic roles of Cold War navies, complexities of multinational operations and the difficulties Pentagon victims faced in confronting the terrorist attack of 9/11. Few historians would publish on such diverse subjects over a career, but to support current policy discussions I have also answered enquiries on past U.S. Navy shipbuilding, personnel policies and strategic concepts. Other perennial reference questions are the Second World War’s U-boat campaign, the Pearl Harbor attack and the 1967 U.S.S. Liberty strike. Academic scholars are rarely asked to research and answer questions on such diverse questions on short notice, postponing their long-term research in the process to satisfy such requests for information, yet this is exactly what government historians must do.

More generally, the quick pace of change in government demands official historians pick and choose products to best serve our employer, in addition to academic historians and the general public. The desire to provide research and context that are relevant to current concerns means we are constantly searching for the closest historical approximations to today’s issues. While every historian views the past through a contemporary lens, the concerns of official historians often track definitions of importance defined by others, rather than an individual intellect. Fortunately each official historian retains full autonomy to shape their arguments as they see fit, and doing so without pressure to sugarcoat conclusions or avoid controversy. As further professional security, official historians may withhold their names from any product with which they disagree.

Working for the government opens a key opportunity we “official” historians enjoy, with the chance, sometimes, to speak to service-member military practitioners. The chance to learn directly from enlisted personnel and officers in the military, as well as from veterans, opens possibilities to understand how they think as individuals, to ask questions of technical detail and discern how their institutions function. One key method for gaining such understanding is the use of oral histories, which we employed heavily in the book Pentagon 9/11, formal interviews conducted by historians throughout the Defense Department. Such a grasp of the world view of military service-members also lends my own work greater depth, something our non-governmental colleagues must expend even greater effort to gain without benefit of a face-to-face conversation.

In addition to interview sources, government military historians also employ the records held in libraries, archives, curatorial holdings and art collections. Many of these materials are available to researchers of all stripes whose investigations often benefit from formal military records. Where official historians enjoy a further advantage, however, is in holding the security clearances needed to read still-classified records. Such classified archives especially apply for events and people for the period after 1945. Addressing many subjects from that era, at the depth they deserve, makes access to classified materials essential. The work of recent members of the military is hard to grasp without seeing such sources, and official historians’ ability to read them complements the other sources available to the general public, making the narrative more complete. These advantages allow official historians to be historiographic pioneers, creating works that set the path for other writers to follow, while teaching members of the government, including members of the armed services, about their history.

At least for the first decade of the 21st century, then, and as unlikely as it may seem, at least one military historian can find every element of the professional scholarly experience working for the U.S. government.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blog XXVIII (28): The History Ph.D. at a Community College

This next guest entry in this blog discusses the career options for the history Ph.D. while working at a community college. The author of this entry is Hal M. Friedman, a Professor of Modern History at Henry Ford Community College. He earned his B.S. from Eastern Michigan University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. Friedman is the author of three books: Creating an American Lake: United States Imperialism and Strategic Security in the Pacific Basin, 1945-1947 (2001); Governing the American Lake: The US Defense and Administration of the Pacific, 1945-1947 (2007); and most recently Arguing over the American Lake: Bureaucracy and Rivalry in the US Pacific, 1945-1947 (2009). Here is his guest blog:

I am the Associate Chair of the History Department at Henry Ford Community College (HFCC) and came to HFCC in a rather roundabout way, as I guess most Ph.D.s do to community colleges, so I'd like to give some background information on myself and illustrate what historians can accomplish in terms of careers at community colleges. My background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science and History (I couldn’t decide on which one to major in) from Eastern Michigan University in 1987. I began graduate school at Michigan State University, finishing my M.A. in the History of International Relations in 1991 and my Ph.D. in the same field in 1995. Like now, academic jobs at that time were hard to come by, so when HFCC offered me a full-time, tenure-track position starting in January 1996, I jumped at it.

To set the context, some description of my college is necessary. Henry Ford Community College is both a typical and atypical community college. HFCC is typical in that the majority of its students come from working class, economic underclass, and/or immigrant backgrounds. The vast majority of its students are first generation college students. They also work part-time, full-time, or near full-time at various kinds of jobs, primarily low wage positions without benefits or much security. Working hours range between 10 and 50 hours per week and students attempt to complete between 6 and 15 credit hours per semester while simultaneously working at these jobs.

HFCC is also fairly typical in terms of the age, time constraints, and skill levels of its student body. Students are typically older, with an average age of 27, though the daytime students which I teach are primarily 18-20 years of age. Day and night students are also many times involved in family activities which detract from the amount of time that they can devote to studies, activities such as providing child care or helping to operate family businesses. Moreover, while skill levels may not differ greatly between day and night students, motivation levels and seriousness about studies certainly does. Students over the age of 21 appear in class on a more regular basis, complete assignments more regularly, and contribute to class discussion on a more substantial scale than do younger students. Probably most importantly, the majority of our students, quite typical for community colleges (and increasingly for four year colleges as well), come to the College grossly unprepared for college level work, especially in reading. In the fall of 1997, for instance, 1/3 of the History Department’s first semester students taking daytime history courses were reading at a junior high school level! I have also increasingly found students unwilling and/or unable to do assigned readings. Worse, I have found students reluctant to take notes on the assigned readings, even after I instruct them to do so on the first day of class. Moreover, I have found that many students' notions of what constitutes “effective note taking” is seriously lacking in rigor, with many failing students merely taking down outlines from my computer-generated lecture transparencies or being satisfied with a page or two of notes when much more detailed information is needed for study purposes.

Finally, HFCC is typical in that the majority of its resources are increasingly being focused on “workforce retraining” for the 21st Century, catering to Detroit area corporations to fulfill employee training of various kinds, and participating in community projects across the spectrum. Though the goal of transfer to four year institutions is still the objective of the largest single group of students at the college (about 40%), a majority of our students are actually attending classes for technical certificates, terminal associate degrees, or other types of job training. HFCC as a “comprehensive community college” is, in fact, a junior transfer college, a technical institute, a remedial academy, a center for lifelong learning, and a commercial college, all in one.

HFCC is an atypical community college in that it is over 70 years old. Most community colleges in the United States started as recently as the 1960s. In addition, HFCC is fairly large for a community college, averaging between 10,000 and 15,000 students (and currently pushing 18,000), depending on the state of the economy, with enrollments lower during more prosperous economic times. Moroever, the College is atypical in that its administrators unionized in the early 1970s, and it is one of the few community colleges in the country today to practice Shared Governance on a significant basis.

The College is located in a highly urbanized area, and is therefore a crossroads of sorts between several major universities, archives, and museums. In addition, the College is also located in a vibrant, culturally diverse area, which has had a significant impact on the curriculum. Dearborn, Michigan, is home to the largest community of Arabic peoples outside of Southwest Asia and North Africa, and, as of the spring of 2000, the College’s student body consists of 60% European-Americans, 20% African-Americans, and 20% Arab-Americans. Because of these realities and opportunities in teaching comparative cultural history, HFCC’s History Department dispensed with Western Civilization decades ago and has been teaching World History courses for over 40 years. This comparative focus, along with a strong tradition of academic freedom at the College, allowed me to redesign the Early American Survey from an Anglo-centered political history to a comparative cultural history course.

My teaching duties at HFCC have included the Early American, Modern American, and Modern World History survey courses, also typical at community colleges where the teaching is primarily, though not always, at the survey level. Not surprisingly, my teaching has caused me to spend significant amounts of time reading in areas of American and World History that I was not exposed to in undergraduate and graduate school. These readings at times have been part of the assigned texts to the students, but more normally have equated to additional readings on my part in the New Social and Cultural History that has so significantly and positively changed the American historical profession since the 1960s. These additional readings have, in particular, included texts in Modern World History, an area that has become so prominent in the field since the 1990s.

I have spent a great deal of time on professional development because I am convinced that my continued development as a professional historian outside of the classroom has an immediate and positive impact on my ability as a history instructor in the classroom. I have been able to serve as an article and textbook reviewer for a number of professional journals and publishing houses. HFCC’s funding for professional development has also allowed me to attend a variety of conferences on both research and teaching subjects in a number of roles, including as a presenter, a session chair, a session commentator, and a member of the Program Committee organizing the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians earlier in the decade. All of these activities have been bolstered by participation in a number of local academic study groups and national professional organizations.

I have been fortunate in having a highly supportive environment at HFCC in which to research and write history, in large part because of professional development funding built into the local union contract. Given this support, I have been able in the last 14 years to produce 12 scholarly articles, 4 encyclopedia entries, a book review essay, a film review, 24 critical book reviews, and works for two essay contests, one of the latter receiving an Honorable Mention. Moreover, I have found time and encouragement to transform my doctoral dissertation into a monograph and write two subsequent books which together comprise a trilogy on US national security policy toward the Pacific Basin immediately after World War Two. These books explore how and why the United States sought to turn the Pacific Basin into an exclusive American strategic preserve after the Second World War, Americanize the indigenous populations of selected island groups, and project American power toward East Asia.

I am in the process of writing a second trilogy of monographs. In 2010, the U.S. Naval War College Press will publish Digesting History: The US Naval War College, the Lessons of World War II, and Future Naval Warfare, 1945-1947. This book explores how the Naval War College (NWC) reacted between 1945 and 1947 to the lessons of the Second World War and especially to what NWC personnel thought the naval aspects of a Third World War might look like. In short, I investigated "imaginary war" as the United States Navy transitioned from the Second World War to the Cold War.

A career at a community college can be tough. The student body is very often less than motivated, has numerous outside distractions, and resists the changes necessary to digest higher education. At times, one also finds oneself fighting the college administration, something not exclusive to community colleges but something they are also not immune to. In fact, since community colleges have very heavy teaching loads, usually about 5 courses per term, one is usually on campus 4-5 days per week, so if there are problems with the administration, the students, the local community, or even among the faculty, there is no escaping it.

On the other hand, it can be a fascinating career with highly collegial colleagues who are free from the "publish or perish" pressures and the concern about "status" that is sometimes typical of four year colleges. The students who are interested and skilled are some of the best and most interesting students one can encounter. There is also the opportunity to make an impact in the local community and with the college itself if one is lucky enough to land at a college with a unionized and shared governance culture. Also, scholarship is possible depending on the type of pedagogy one pursues and how good one is at organizing time and priorities.

Graduate students and recent PhDs have to realize that a career at a community college is drastically different than one at a four year college or a research institution. Instead of focusing on research and the teaching of specialized topics to future history majors and graduate students, one is largely teaching to a general public who will never encounter scholarly history again. A career at a community college, however, is much preferred to failing to find a history teaching position at all and having to find an alternate career. It's not the best of all worlds, but it's far from the worst.