Monday, May 31, 2010

Blog LIII (53): Stephen Ambrose: A Counterargument

There are always two sides to any story. A few weeks ago, an article in The New Yorker magazine exposed the fact that historian Stephen Ambrose had exaggerated his association Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said he had interviewed Eisenhower, but the former president's appointment records show that Ambrose was no where near Ike on several of the occasions the historian claims in his footnotes. As I explained in Blog XLVIII several Ambrose books were critical in my own intellectual development and I was extremely disappointed in his actions. I also thought Ambrose's career served as a good model for a new historian. Much of that seems suspect now. Needless to say, Hugh Ambrose, the son of Stephen Ambrose and a writer in his own right, views things differently. He offered a defense of his father in this essay appeared on the History News Network under the title "Eisenhower and My Father, Stephen Ambrose". Here is his take on this recent controversy:

The recent accusation that the late historian Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose, the author of numerous national bestselling books, was guilty of “fabricating” a relationship with former President Eisenhower has left readers to ponder its meaning. An examination of the evidence reveals a few mistakes which, while regrettable, hardly outweigh a towering legacy: through decades of scholarship, Ambrose pioneered the evaluation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s career as a general and as a president.

In early 1964, at the start of his career Steve Ambrose (my father), accepted a prestigious appointment as a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and as the Associate Editor of the Eisenhower Papers. The latter job involved combing through thousands of documents encompassing Eisenhower’s distinguished career to create a multi-volume reference work for use by scholars. At the end of 1964 Ambrose had a meeting with Eisenhower.

Thirty years later, my father often said that the meeting had come about because Eisenhower had read one of his books, about a Civil War general named Henry Halleck, and had thought so highly of it that he had called the young historian to determine his interest in writing a history of his service as the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II. The story contained an unfortunate exaggeration, since it is clear that Ambrose initiated the idea of writing the book in a letter to the president.

The story’s main point, however, is true. Before their first meeting on December 14, 1964, Eisenhower replied on October 19 to the young historian’s letter. The president liked Ambrose’s approach because “From the nature of your suggestion I recognize that your interest is only in the truth. This, together with the confidence I have derived from your work by reading your two books—especially the one on Halleck—give the reasons why I should be ready to help out so far as I can.” In short, the president had taken the measure of Stephen Ambrose and had decided to trust him to write his military biography.

The relationship between the former president and Ambrose lasted for several years. In their written correspondence, the historian asked detailed questions and Eisenhower gave substantive replies. These letters indicate that they also spoke on the phone. On at least one occasion Eisenhower encouraged Ambrose to “give me a ring.” The two men also met at the president’s home in Gettysburg. How many times they actually met is in dispute. Six discrepancies between the president’s schedule and Ambrose’s footnotes exist. As proof that the daily schedule was sacrosanct, an archivist at the Eisenhower Library recently claimed that Eisenhower’s “full schedule demanded that anyone wanting an appointment with him needed to begin the process months ahead of time.” In February 1967, though, three years after their relationship began, the president instructed Ambrose: “If you will call Miss Brown in my office I think we could set up an engagement on twenty-four hours notice.”

The six discrepancies (in a book containing 1,153 endnotes) remain a problem and the critics have made the most of them. Based upon some records that he acknowledged are spotty, the archivist proffered his opinions about what Eisenhower may have or may not have told Ambrose. The reporter, who wrote the story about the archivist’s allegations, included these speculations to prove that Steve Ambrose “fabricated” his relationship with Eisenhower. The reporter, however, admitted to me later that he had not examined all the evidence—he published what he had before someone else beat him to the punch.

The career of Stephen Ambrose deserved better. Two years after they met, Eisenhower wrote a forward for Ambrose’s book, Duty, Honor, Country, in which the former president praised his scholarship. Having one of the world’s most respected and popular men add his name to the cover of one’s book is the kind of thing all young historians covet, even though prominent historians of the day ranked Eisenhower’s importance near the bottom of the list of U.S. presidents.

An equally important contribution came a year later, in 1967, when
Eisenhower read the draft of Ambrose’s first work to emerge from his years of research: Eisenhower and Berlin: 1945. In it, Ambrose began a reassessment of General Eisenhower’s handling of the end of the war. Ambrose challenged assertions made by the eminent historians John Toland and Cornelius Ryan. This was big time scholarship for a young historian. He was moving from assembling Eisenhower’s papers to interpreting them. General Eisenhower went through the manuscript line by line, writing notes in the margins. “I have written them very frankly and with no thought of modesty,” he wrote to Ambrose. The former president offered to show his notes to Ambrose so he could revise his book—but “only,” however, “after you have agreed to read them and then return them to me, without transfer of my notes anywhere else.” Since Ambrose had no copy he could not cite his source. In sum, Dwight Eisenhower was secretly helping Steve Ambrose take a big step forward in his career. It would be difficult to imagine a more emphatic endorsement.

It is clear, though, that Ambrose did not spend “hundreds of hours” with the president. This quote, used by the reporter, struck me and others who had worked with Steve Ambrose as strange, because we had never heard him say it. Both the reporter and the archivist told me where to find the quote. Ambrose said it to a group of high school students in 1998. He should not have said it. Like many an embarrassing moment, it lives online. Readers can decide for themselves, whether, out of a hundred TV appearances and a thousand more on radio and in print over the course of forty years, one exaggeration in an interview Ambrose did as a courtesy for some young people should be the measure of the man or his career. What kind of reporter uses this source to charge Steve Ambrose with misrepresenting his relationship in order to sell books?

The first five volumes of The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower were published in January 1970 and were critically acclaimed. The editor, Alfred Chandler, kindly wrote his associate editor, Ambrose, “you should be pleased, as your work was certainly the core of the volumes.” That same year, after six years of immersion in the documents, Ambrose published his second book about Eisenhower. It debuted at a time when America struggled with the war in Vietnam and the public’s regards for its military leaders sank to new lows. Publishing a book entitled The Supreme Commander could not have been viewed as a path to fame and fortune. The New York Times reviewer stated “It is Mr. Ambrose’s special triumph that he has been able to fight through the memoranda, the directives, plans, reports, and official self-serving pieties of the World War II establishment…” to write “…an extraordinarily fascinating book.” Henceforth, General Eisenhower would no longer be portrayed as an officer who arrived in Europe ready to lead all Allied forces (as other historians had it), but understood as a man capable of growing into the job.

Steve Ambrose grew into his job in the 1970s, publishing a number of books that received critical acclaim before returning to Eisenhower at the end of the decade.

Ambrose’s two volume masterwork on Eisenhower was so significant that the staff of the Eisenhower Library celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication. In these books, Ambrose joined a handful of historians who proved that the common understanding of President Eisenhower as a befuddled golfer had been wrong. A decade of reading the documents—and becoming good friends with Eisenhower’s brother Milton and his son John—allowed Ambrose to reveal him as an active president, deeply involved in the creation and direction of his administration’s policies. The perception of him as an old duffer had been, in fact, created at least in part by the president himself. Eisenhower had astutely recognized that the country held him in such high esteem that he could ignore challenges that other presidents could not. Ambrose’s interviews with Eisenhower—whether through the mail, on the phone or in person—comprise only a sliver of the mountain of research upon which this work stands.

Throw out the hyperbole. What the archivist found and what the reporter wrote amounts to, by their own count, six questionable endnotes out of the thousands of endnotes in all of his books on Eisenhower. While it might be tempting to attribute these to typographical errors, the date of an interview with the former president was too important to get wrong. How to weigh these items in the light of his body of work is not a judgment, however, that should be left to a reporter and an archivist who wish to become the talk of the town. Stephen Ambrose wrote great books about Eisenhower. I find it unfortunate that my father did not take his own history, and how he came to meet the former supreme commander, as seriously as he took the subjects of his books. As for President Eisenhower, he kept a few treasured possessions from his decades as a public figure on a bookshelf in his private dressing room in Gettysburg, now a national historic site. Two volumes by Steve Ambrose stand there; one of them is Halleck.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blog LII (52): Honors to the Blog, Part II

This blog led to a recent development that I want to share with its readers. A few months ago, I was asked to be part of a proposed panel at the 2011 meeting of the American Historical Association. Last week the program committee informed us that they had accepted our session: "Careers in History: The Variety of the Profession." The meeting will be held in six months (January 6-9, 2011), in Boston, Massachusetts.

The focus of this panel will be as on using your Ph.D. when you cannot get a job in a conventional history department. The other panelists are historians who have found employment at different types of institutions. In addition to myself, these individuals will include Steven Luckert of the the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jim Taylor of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Kevin Allen of the State Library of Massachusetts, Aaron W. Marrs of the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State, and Robert Kane of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Since this AHA session will be discussing many of the issues that I have tried to examine with this blog, I would like to invite all of you to attend. This panel will be far more productive if we have interested people. So please come, tell your friends, and share the news with your professors and mentors. This session has the potential to be very interesting--and informative, but it will depend almost entirely on the type of audience in attendance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blog LI (51): The Tenured and the Untenured

In a recent editorial published in Inside Higher Ed, Peter D.G. Brown, a Distinguished Service Professor of German at the State University of New York at New Paltz, raised a number of troubling issues about the use of non-tentured faculty. The essay is entitled "Confessions of a Tenured Professor" and was published on May 11, 2010. I am not sure about his recommendations, but his statistics are sobering. He raises many ideas and they deserve a wider circulation. Here is his essay:

As everyone in academe now knows, the professoriate has experienced a radical transformation over the past few decades. These enormous changes have occurred so gradually, however, that they are only now beginning to receive attention. The general public has remained largely unaware of the staffing crisis in higher education. As contingent colleagues around the country came to outnumber the tenured faculty and as they were assigned an ever larger share of the curriculum, they became an inescapable fact of academic departmental life.

Nationally, adjuncts and contingent faculty — we call them ad-cons —include part-time/adjunct faculty; full-time, nontenure-track faculty; and graduate employees. Together these employees now make up an amazing 73 percent of the nearly 1.6 million-employee instructional workforce in higher education and teach over half of all undergraduate classes at public institutions of higher education. Their number has now swollen to more than a million teachers and growing.

I must confess that belonging to the de facto elite minority makes me very uneasy. Most tenured faculty view themselves as superior teachers with superior minds. In this view, the arduous six-year tenure process clearly proves that all of us are superior to "them" and have deservedly earned our superior jobs by our superior gifts and our superior efforts. I must also confess that we tenured faculty really do appreciate the fact that ad-cons have unburdened us from having to teach too many elementary foreign language courses, English composition and the many other tedious introductory, repetitive and highly labor-intensive classes, to which we tenured souls have such a strong aversion that it must be genetic.

As I got to know my adjunct colleagues better, I began to see these largely invisible, voiceless laborers as a hugely diverse group of amazing teachers. Some are employed at full-time jobs in education or elsewhere, some are retired or supported by wealthier others, but far too many are just barely surviving. While instances of dumpster diving are rare, adjunct shopping is typically limited to thrift stores, and decades-old cars sometimes serve as improvised offices when these "roads scholars" are not driving from campus to campus, all in a frantic attempt to cobble together a livable income. Some adjuncts rely on food stamps or selling blood to supplement their poverty-level wages, which have been declining in real terms for decades. At SUNY New Paltz, for instance, adjuncts’ compensation when adjusted for inflation has plummeted 49 percent since 1970, while the president’s salary and those of other top administrators have increased by 35 percent.

In considering the plight of ad-cons, it is noteworthy that throughout SUNY they are represented, along with their tenure track colleagues, by United University Professions (UUP), America’s largest higher education union with some 35,000 members. The union’s contract has yet to establish any salary minimum whatsoever for the many thousands of UUP members who teach as adjuncts throughout the SUNY system that serves 465,000 students. After I first learned that each campus had a Part-Time Concerns Committee, I was dismayed to discover that our UUP chapter’s “Part-Time Concerns Rep” was actually a tenured professor who was out of the country for a year doing research. I soon became convinced that our adjuncts could use a more independent organization and a stronger voice of their own.

When I sent out an e-mail with the subject line “Calling all Adjuncts” in 2004, about 10 percent of the 350 adjuncts teaching here showed up for an initial organizational meeting. This was the largest meeting of adjuncts that had ever occurred in the college’s 182-year history. At that meeting, several dozen brave adjuncts formed the Adjunct Faculty Association. Soon thereafter, the adjunct group launched a highly visible campaign to push for higher compensation, and in less than a year it had brought about the first substantive wage increase in years. The adjunct association's leaders would later also become activists within UUP, where they broadened their struggle for contingent equity. Together with adjunct activists from other SUNY campuses, we formed a Coalition for Contingent Faculty within UUP. A recent report recommends the establishment of a new statewide officer’s position, vice president for contingent employees, as well as structural changes within the union to ensure meaningful ad-con representation on UUP’s executive board, in its delegate assembly, and on its contract negotiations team.

Five years after convening the adjuncts in New Paltz, I did something similar on a national level. I confess to having served as emergency midwife at the birth of New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity. NFM, the only national organization advocating exclusively for ad-cons fifty-two weeks of the year, is now incorporated as a nonprofit educational organization in Ohio, awaiting federal tax-exempt status. NFM’s latest project is a major national initiative to remove impediments at the state and federal level, which, since the 1970s, uniquely and systematically deny unemployment compensation to ad-cons when they become unemployed. Tenure-track faculty, ad-cons, unions, legislators and other government officials urgently need to work together to assure that unemployed college teachers can finally receive unemployment compensation, just like workers in other professions. The need is particularly acute in difficult times like these with critically high rates of unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Those contingent colleagues who were unfamiliar with my previous work have easily overcome their initial hesitation and puzzlement at working with me, a member of the oppressive tenured elite that they have grown to generally mistrust, if not actually despise. They saw me invest thousands of hours and substantial financial resources to advance the cause of contingent equity, and their fear has long since dissipated. But even now, when they disapprove of a position I’m taking and want me to back off, they are quick to accuse me of acting like a typical tenured professor, their ultimate insult. And I must confess that it really hurts.

I am also asked by tenured faculty why on earth I would be spending so much time and effort advocating for a group of "others" whose fate I have never shared. I suppose this is a perfectly legitimate question, but I do find it a bit odd. Why wouldn’t I insist that these precarious colleagues be allowed equitable compensation, job security, fringe benefits and academic freedom? And why shouldn’t I want them to have equitable access to unemployment compensation, professional development and advancement?

What kind of callous person would I be if I were not profoundly disturbed by such obvious inequality? And what does it say about my entire profession when over 70 percent of those teaching in American colleges today are precarious, at-will workers? This new faculty majority, frequently and erroneously mislabeled as part-timers, are often full-time, long-term perma-temps, whose obscenely low wages and total lack of job security constitute what is only now being recognized as the "dirty little secret" in higher education.

The exploitation is indeed filthy, but for me and my tenured colleagues, this scandal is neither little nor secret: the vast majority of those well-educated, skilled professionals who daily teach millions of students in our classrooms are actually being paid far less than the workers who nightly clean them. Ad-cons are treated as chattel or as servants who can be dismissed at the will and whim of any administrator from departmental chair to dean or provost. And woe to those ad-cons who elicit the wrath of their campus presidents! They can be non-renewed without any due process whatsoever, simply zapped, either individually or by the hundreds. We all know this, but most tenured faculty colleagues choose to simply look the other way. C’est la vie. Tough luck. Life just isn’t fair. Keep on walking and change the subject.

This is such an outrageous injustice that I am embarrassed and shamed by my tenured colleagues’ widespread inaction. Even most of my union "brother and sisters" voice little concern about a two-tiered system where they make at least three times as much per course as their adjunct colleagues and enjoy all the other wonderful perks of tenure: lifetime job security and the academic freedom it provides, regular opportunities for advancement and promotion, comfortable pensions, large furnished offices, telephones, computers, sabbaticals and other generous leave opportunities — the list goes on and on. As the wine flows freely at lavish banquets during delegate assemblies, my fellow unionists sing “Solidarity Forever!” Yet the huge numbers of ad-cons are barely represented at delegate assemblies or in most union leadership councils. Even though unions focus now and then on the poorest and weakest members of their bargaining units, in my experience ad-con issues are only included, if at all, at the very bottom of organized labor’s legislative agendas. Unfortunately, across-the-board pay raises inevitably increase the gap between tenure-track and adjunct faculty.

The argument frequently cited to explain or justify the inferior status of ad-cons is that most of them lack terminal degrees. Perhaps a quarter to a third possess doctorates and other terminal degrees, but most do an excellent job in daily teaching millions of college students their courses in English, business, law, medicine, science, foreign languages, math, art, education, history, business, forestry, speech, media communication, theater, music, social sciences, anthropology, film, philosophy and just about any other field imaginable. Though less than half of the ad-cons have Ph.D.'s or other terminal degrees in their field, there is no evidence I have seen to suggest that those with terminal degrees are actually better teachers than those without them. While faculty with the most advanced degrees are likely to be pursuing more significant research, that is hardly justification for treating those focused primarily on teaching as if they were expendable, easily replaceable field hands.

I confess that I must have been overly na├»ve, but I was utterly dumbfounded when an administrator repeatedly told me that he saw no value whatsoever to the institution in keeping any adjunct instructors more than a couple of years, after which they ought to simply move on and find something else to do. I’m sure my tenured colleagues would find it totally unacceptable if they could be told at the end of any semester that they should simply leave, that there was no value to their accumulated expertise, thank you, because the college wished to hire a fresh young face at a lower salary.

It is time that more tenured faculty woke up to the fact that their entire professional existence, replete with their comfortable incomes, their fascinating research, their coveted sabbaticals, their agreeable teaching loads of less labor-intensive and more satisfying courses — all this is made possible by the indispensable efforts of a million ad-cons doing so much more for so much less. Equitable compensation, health and retirement benefits, opportunities for advancement and professional development: all these should be available for everyone in higher education and are long overdue. Since teachers’ working conditions equal students’ learning conditions, it is a truly deplorable message we are sending our students! With more than 70 percent of our college teachers lacking any kind of job security, academic freedom has largely disappeared from our colleges, drastically lowering the overall educational quality. It is of such grave concern to professional societies and the American Association of University Professo that they are now strongly advocating some form of tenure for contingent academic labor.

I must confess that, as a group, ad-cons often strike me as more fun to be with than many of my tenured colleagues, whose focus on research interests is typically quite narrow. It's difficult for me to hear my tenured colleagues chatting about vacation travels, car shopping or the challenges of sending their children to private schools and colleges, when so many of our contingent colleagues are trying desperately to find summer work, praying that their cars will run for another year and wondering if their children will even be able to afford college. Adjuncts typically focus on teaching, and the precarious nature of their employment drives them to excel in their classroom performance. Not surprisingly, they often have a more lively interest in developing innovative pedagogy. In my experience, most faculty meetings that exclude ad-cons tend to largely serve administrative interests. Even union meetings with my tenured colleagues, though frequently lasting five hours, often accomplish precious little. In contrast, organizational meetings with my busy contingent colleagues last half as long and are invariably dynamic, interactive and productive.

Tenured faculty members across the country need to wake up now and begin to play a crucial role in supporting equity for their contingent colleagues. This is your official wake-up call, folks, along with a cordial invitation to all ad-cons and tenure-track faculty to please join New Faculty Majority today! If more tenure-track faculty would summon the courage to speak out in support of their fourth-class colleagues, it could really make a decisive difference in college senates and governance councils, in union governing bodies and in state legislatures. Not only are tenured faculty members largely immune from retaliation; they possess widespread credibility plus significant monetary and other resources to help tip the scales in favor of equity. Slavery was not ended without the selfless support of free persons. Women could not have achieved their substantial gains over the past century without the outspoken support of more than a few men, nor would civil rights and gay rights struggles have been able to successfully advance without the sizable backing from those fortunate enough not to be victims of discrimination.

Will my tenured colleagues in higher education heed the urgent call to help restore academic freedom, solidarity in fact as well as in song, and the integrity of the profession? I must confess, I really don’t know.

I must confess right off that I did not become a contingent labor activist until I turned 60, a mere six years ago. Until then, I was a fairly typical senior professor, passionately involved in teaching my students and interacting with my tenured colleagues on a variety of faculty governance committees. I have also pursued a fairly active research agenda. In addition to publishing my own scholarly articles, I have edited over a hundred books dealing with modern German literature, Jewish history and women’s studies. This year saw the publication of the third book I have written on Oskar Panizza, the 19th-century German author.

When I began teaching at Columbia and Barnard in the 1960s, almost all the positions in their German departments were tenure-track. I came to SUNY New Paltz in the 70s, when there were only a couple of virtually silent and invisible part-time adjuncts among the 35 teachers in the entire Foreign Language Division. It was not until a few years after the dawn of the new millennium that I, like Rip Van Winkle, "awoke" after decades to a brand new reality: the number of tenure-track faculty in my department had shrunk to a mere 10, while some two dozen adjuncts were now teaching the bulk of our foreign language courses. Yikes!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blog L (50): Honors to the Blog

In a New York Times article on the high failure rate of blogs, one person joked, “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.” There were days when I wondered if that was the case with this blog, but I feel that it is now achieving in a small way the mission I set out for it in 2009. Today I am going to take a few minute to document this success.

There are a number of ways to measure its effectiveness. First, and foremost, is the number of people following the blog: 103 people are following the blog either through Facebook or through the mechanism that Blogger/Blogspot provides. I feel a real sense of gratitude towards all of you.

Next, a number of history departments recommend this site as either a link on their website or on the page that their library staffs maintain for their history majors. These schools include: Ambrose University College, Temple University, University of Memphis, the Villanova University public history program, Villanova University, the Intute consortium (a combination of seven British universities: University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, Heriot-Watt University, The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Nottingham, and the University of Oxford), Kean University, and Miami University.

In December, 2oo9 Michael Creswell had his essay “Navigating the Graduate Admissions Process" published in the American Historical Association's newsletter, Perspectives on History. This article originally appeared as a "guest column" for "In the Service of Clio" back on April 16, 2009 as Blog VI.

On February 11, 2010 Jim Broumley wrote a lengthy essay in his blog "The Roving Historian" about a flattering essay about "In the Service of Clio," even if he had some out of date information about my employer:
In Greek Mythology, Clio is the muse of history. Therefore, “In the Service of Clio" is what historian Nicholas Evan Sarantakes has titled his blog. I have been following this blog for several months now and enjoyed it so much that I went back and read every post in it. In the Service of Clio is a good read for those who have considered taking on the challenge of obtaining a doctorate in history. The benefit for the rest of us is seeing what there is to do in the field of history other than teaching on the university level.

Dr. Sarantakes is a military, diplomatic, and political historian who is the author of several books and multiple published articles. He has his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and is currently an associate professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. What is unique about his blog is that he has “guest bloggers” post articles concerning a career in academic history and the state of the profession. In the earlier postings on his blog, Dr. Sarantakes has discussed some alternate employment options for Ph.D.s in history. In the last couple of months, the subject is the budget strategy taken by universities to hire cheaper adjunct professors over more costly tenured positions and what effect that has on the job market in that field.

The bottom line is that there are too many Ph.D.s for the number of university teaching jobs available. That drives down salary and benefits, as it would in any profession. I hate to sound like my dad here, but a couple of old adages used to fly around my house, as I am sure they did in most of yours. The first piece of advice is to “do what you love and the money will follow.” The other thing dad used to say was “Whatever you do, be the best at it and you’ll always have a job.”

The best example I know of these wisdoms in action is my friend John. We met in the masters program at Shippensburg. We have a lot in common and I have a great admiration and respect for him. John retired from the army and is better read on the Civil War than anyone I know. The job market for MAs in history is as tight and pay is as low as it is for Ph.D.s. Nevertheless, John started the program knowing what he wanted to do when he finished. He wanted to work for the National Park Service and be a ranger at one of the Civil War Battlefields. While still pursuing his masters, John interned with the NPS. He networked and he studied the job market. Today, John is leading tours at Gettysburg Battlefield. I wonder if he knows how really amazing that is. Do what you love and the money will follow. Be the best at what you do and you will always have a job. Livin’ the dream. Way to go, John!

On February 23, 2010, the blog "Goose Commerce" run by an anonymous graduate student made this observation:
Finally, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes’s In the Service of Clio, updated regularly, offers non-depressing first-person profiles of historians working outside of universities.

On April 1, 2010, historian Lyndsey S. Brown wrote on her blog "The Wynds of History":
Nicholas Sarantakes provides a very useful answer to the question What is Public History?

On April 1, 2010, the American Historical Association recommended the site in its daily summary of web sites and blogs important to the historical profession. Here is what they said, including reproducing a small typo that I have since corrected:
XLVI: The History PhD as Public Historian The often thorny problem of defining just who is a public historian and where they are employed is taken up by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes at In the Service of Clio.

Brett Holman of the University of Melbourne maintains a blog called "Air Minded: Air Power and British Society, 1908-1941," which he uses to discuss his dissertation and historical issues. He wrote:
Finally, an inspiring blog I recently discovered is Nicholas Evan Sarantakes’ In the Service of Clio, which is aimed at providing advice to history graduate students on the subject of career management. It’s all there, from choosing a university, to conference strategies, to having a life. For me, the best posts are the numerous guest blogs from people who got their PhDs and then got jobs, mostly outside traditional academia. So it can happen.

One of his readers responded to that posting:
I have been encouraged to write as much as possible as that is, as you say, very important. I too have found Nick Sarantakes’ blog interesting. So many different avenues to consider.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blog XLIX (49): A Debate

I am fortunate to work in a department that is multi-disciplinary in nature. A few weeks back, an undergraduate contacted Dr. Stan Carpenter, a historian and an associate of his and mine, asking advice about going to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in international affairs--the branch of political science that covers foreign policy. Carpenter forwarded the note to the rest of my department and a small mini-debate took place via e-mail on many of the issues that I have been addressing in this blog. What this debate shows is that these issues are not limited solely to the history profession. Each of the participants raises important issues and although some are specific to international relations, most are equally germaine to history.

The first participant in this debate is Timothy D. Hoyt. He earned his Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to the Naval War College, he taught at Georgetown University. He his the author of Military Industries and Regional Defense Policy: India, Iraq, and Israel. Here is his view:


The job market in IR right now is very poor, at least in academe. Most people who a few years ago were looking at a retirement date of 2010 are now looking at their IRA's and putting decisions off until the economy stabilizes - so tenure track positions aren't loosening up much. Very solid people are not getting tenured in political science departments, which may have something to do with methodological feuding and may also have something to do with finances and the changing economics of tenure decisions.

In general, an MA is the currency in DC. If you have one (and LOTS of people do), you're competitive for a lot of jobs both in government and in thinktanks/contracting. If you don't, you have to be prepared to intern someplace or have the good fortune of "knowing a guy" to get the door open. A Ph.D. program is a good place to hide for a few years (3-5, or even more). But if he's not going to a top-ranked program (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Chicago, Stanford, maybe Duke), I'm not sure how optimistic one should be about job prospects. On that, I'll defer to my colleagues.

Thomas G. Mahnken earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning from 2006 to 2009. He is the author of two books and the editor of another four. He currently edits The Journal of Strategic Studies. Here is his response:
Marc A. Genest is the Forrest Sherman Chair of Public Diplomacy at the Naval War College. He received his Ph.D. from Georgetown University. He taught at Georgetown, the U.S. Air War College and the University of Rhode Island. He is the author of several books including, Negotiating in the Public Eye: The Impact of the Press on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Negotiations. Here is his response:


I am more optimistic about job opportunities for IR PhD's than Tim and Tom. First, with a doctorate in IR Ken can pursue jobs in the government, private sector and academics. Depending on his speciality - he can pursue jobs with State, CIA, international banking, universities, consulting groups etc. tell him to take plenty of courses in international political economy and languages like Arabic, Chinese, Spanish etc. Moreover, I would strongly encourage him to find a professor who likes to co-author with grad students so that he can learn how to produce publishable articles. I coauthored two articles in grad school and this helped get me several job offers.

In short, tell Ken to go for it - he'll land on his feet - he may not get his dream job coming out of grad school but he'll do fine especially if he goes to one of the fine programs that you identified. Life is simply too short not to take chances.


Karl Walling, the author of Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government weighed in on this debate as well. Before arriving at the Naval War College, he taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Carleton College, Ashland University and Colorado College. He was also a Fellow at the Liberty Fund. Here is his response:

There you have it. A number of views. In closing, I should not that Genest was far more pessimistic about the options available for the history Ph.D. Nonetheless, this debate provides a number of different views about the future of academic employment.

I stand somewhere between the pessimists and the optimists, though I started in political theory and used my secondary concentration in IR to put bread on the table. Max Weber once called the choice of an academic career the equivalent of a river boat gamble, because there are few spaces and tenure is uncertain. Maybe 50% drop out of Ph.D. programs. Maybe a third of those left do not finish their Ph.D.s. A third of the remainder will not find academic positions. Of those who find them, the majority will wind up teaching at mediocre schools with low pay, frequently bitter colleagues, and semi-literate students with the enthusiasm of snails.
That said, if you can get into a very good program, if you can co-author an article or two with a well known professor, and above all, if you can get the program to grant a fellowship including full tuition, medical insurance, and a living stipend, then the gamble can pay off, though it takes a while to get a foot in the door. Even if you decide not to get the Ph.D., getting a masters with someone else paying for it is a reasonable idea.
In the current market, I would not recommend seeking a Ph.D. at any but the best programs because the top five or so programs already produce enough Ph.D.s to fill all the available openings each year. True, you could go to work for the government, if you have marketable skills (foreign languages are crucial), but then why get a Ph.D.? Under no circumstances does it make sense to fund the program yourself, with work or loans or whatever--that is almost a certain road to poverty. And some of us do win the lottery. I feel that I have. It just took a long, long time.


I agree with Tim. Bottom line, there is a huge glut of IR Ph.Ds, and unless Ken is driven to teach, there is little to no reason for him to pursue a Ph.D.

Best, TGM