My apologies for the delay in posting this blog. Most of it was written on January 8, but I was not able to get it posted in a timely fashion.
Still snowing. Boston is covered in a light blanket of white. Started the morning with a work out in the fitness center of the hotel. It was full of historians.
Turned on the television and discovered HistoriansTV. Basically it is a cable network channel about the conference and it is broadcast to everyone staying in the conference hotels. I learned that there are a 150 job interviews taking place. That is not that many particularly when you consider information from the AHA study that I mentioned yesterday. There were 569 jobs advertised in the AHA newsletter this year. The fewest number of listings in the last 10 years. Jobs listings in the newsletter dropped 29.4 percent in 2009-2010 and 23.8 in 2008-2009.
It gets worse. In 2009, history departments awarded 989 degrees, a nine-year high. The year before it was 969. Now here is where it goes from bad to worse: in response to budge shortfalls departments are instituting a number of cost cutting measures: they are eliminating courses, increasing class sizes, and using even more part-timers instructors. Put another way: supply is increasing at the same time that demand is decreasing.
And it won’t get better any time soon. According to the report, "the number of faculty [in history departments] approaching retirement age in the next 10 years is reaching the lowest level in 30 years." Put another way: "even if there were no hiring freezes to factor into the equation, it is clear that over the next 10 to 15 years the discipline will not be generating as many jobs from retiring faculty as it has in the recent past."
The report did not offer an actions that departments, the AHA as an organization, or individual historians can take. It simply stated, "Most history doctoral students are being trained for an academic job market that is now beset by crises," the report says. "Departments should begin to carefully reflect on the type of training they are providing their students and the number of students they are admitting to their programs."
In a later interview, Robert B. Townsend, the primary author of this study, gave, he said he had no advice to offer to a new Ph.D. on the job market. He said these scholars should think about "how long it is reasonable to linger on in part-time and postdoc positions." The numbers suggest that after three years the odds of getting a job drop. "Typically, our advice is that after about three years, your odds of getting on to the tenure track go down significantly," he remarked. What we do not know is if attitudes about such historians will change in light of the exceptionally poor job market faced by those going on the market now.
Went to a conference on the academic job market. The participants were not offering much useful news and there were only 25 people in the room. The question and answer session was more useful. One member of the crowd was Todd A. Diacon, deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “We don’t wake up every day thinking, ‘How are we going to stick it to the humanities?’ ” he explained. “We have to face a very different reality.” Diacon stated that the “either/or” view of the world that pits academics against administrators is simplistic and misleading. Many administrators who are trying to measure productivity and maximize efficiency in higher education are trained scholars. “The enemy is us,” he said. Diacon added that there are too many universities with Ph.D. programs. These programs are extremely expensive due to the light teaching loads that they mandate and that he expects to see dozens shut down in the next decade, given the current economic environment. History just does not bring in the same money that the sciences do.
To me that sounds like market forces might solve the glut, but it does little for those currently on the job market.
One very frustrated grad student asked for specifics on where to find the non-traditional jobs that everyone was discussing. I stood up and made several comments. First, I told everyone about this blog and the listing of websites with jobs. Needless to say, after the conference, I was flooded with people wanting the address. Second, in response to Sarah Maza, the incoming vice president of the professional division’s request for ideas, I suggested that the AHA begin seriously making efforts to broaden its leadership. Prior to 1945, the organization had people serve as president who were political scientists, anthropologists, archeologists, and/or professional writers. Some like Alfred Thayer Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt did not even have a Ph.D. The organization needs to bring in public historians, archivists, and others the way it once did. This is the first step in broadening the organization’s knowledge of other job out there in the history business. This idea went over fairly well.
Talked with a friend of mine from grad school. He is at a research university that is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. They were doing a search for a historian of Early Republic America. They had over 100 applicants. I asked how they narrowed down that list. He explained that about 60 were historians of Colonial America, but were applying for the job, thinking they could do this other period. He suspected they could, but they wanted someone who could do the Early Republic, and excluded all these colonial era specialists.