Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Blog CIX (109): Eight Questions: Medieval History

John D. Hosler is currently an associate professor of history at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. He holds a B.A. and two M.A.s from Iowa State University and the Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. He is an historian of medieval military history, particularly in England and its sphere of influence, with interests in generalship, the conduct of warfare, military historiography, the art and theory of warfare, and the influence of warfare on political history. He is the author of Henry II: a Medieval Soldier at War, 1147-1189 (2007) as well as articles in Haskins Society Journal; the Journal of Medieval Military History; and the collection Mercenaries and Paid Men: the Mercenary Identity in the Middle Ages. He is currently writing his second book, titled John of Salisbury: Military Authority of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, which is under contract with Brill Academic Press.

What is the greatest strength of your field? In the history profession?
The vitality of medieval military history is remarkable and has been for the last twenty years. There is a tremendous interest in the subject and its scholars can boast of robust publication numbers. Several trade presses (Ashgate, Boydell, and Brill, for example) have actively pursued and published studies and collections on medieval war, and there is now the highly-acclaimed Journal of Medieval Military History. Contributing in large part to this phenomenon has been a renewal of interest in the Crusades since the events of September 11; while I am not certain that one has anything to do with the other in a historical sense, the terrorist acts certainly renewed interest in Western vs. Middle Eastern conflicts. Undergraduate students routinely fill classes on warfare, and we have seen noticeable numbers of graduate students in the audiences at our conference sessions. Perhaps best of all, medieval military historians are collectively a friendly and collegial group that encourages student aspirations and shares its knowledge broadly and openly. I should know: in 2000 I was one of those students who, prodded by a number of helpful, established scholars, decided to study medieval war!
What is the biggest issue facing your field? The history profession?
Medieval  history is most threatened by an ongoing phenomenon we call “the death of the past”; that is, the general belief in higher education that history before 1500 is less interesting to students, less informative to the discipline, and therefore expendable. For years colleges have reduced the number of medieval courses and faculty, with much of the impetus coming from fellow historians. Those courses that have survived are expected to cover huge swaths of history. In my department both my ancient and medieval surveys are expected to cover one thousand years of history in a single semester, respectively. Our American surveys, on the other hand, cover small slices like 1787-1861, 1877-1932, or 1932-present (there is an implicit—and entirely false—assumption that too little can be known about, say, 1272-1312 to warrant such a catalog listing). In addition, retiring medieval faculty lines are not being replaced but are “retagged” into other historical fields. As a result, medieval history (along with ancient history and classics, both of which, one could argue, are actually in worse shape) is slowly disappearing from college catalogs and faculties. For example, my undergraduate institution, Iowa State University, has over 28,000 students but only one medieval historian. Some will scoff at all of this as a bit of whining—and I am sure that my own colleagues tired of my “whining” long ago!—but there is no denying that preferential treatment is given to modern history, and the discipline will need to eventually come to grips with it.
This unfortunate situation is not necessarily due to the shifting of interests to newer methods or thematic approaches to history—think gender studies, for example—because one could spend an entire career studying gender in the Middle Ages. Rather, it often stems from the ignorance and prejudices of modernists and, particularly, Americanists who refuse to include medieval studies within those subject areas and interdisciplinary studies. Over the years I have routinely heard the common beliefs: everything before 1500 “is already known”; pre-modern historians have “relatively few sources to read”; “international studies” should not include pre-modern history; and so on. This has unfortunately carried over into graduate programs: there are hardly any historians of medieval war who teach in doctoral programs in the United States. As with many problems in higher education, those enabling this “death of the past” (whether intentionally or not) are oblivious to actual student interests and demand. Most medieval historians, I suspect, will tell you that their classes are quite popular and usually fully-enrolled.
In terms of the profession at large, history is under threat from shifting local and national emphases towards applied research and the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Research and teaching that does not result in an immediate payoff is lightly regarded, and the phrase “lifelong learning” is rarer on campuses these days. History is not the only discipline watching its perceived importance decline; all the humanities and many of the social sciences face demotion as institutions and governments increasingly favor students as “customers” and education as “job training.”
What is the most interesting work being done in your field? Why?
The hottest work in medieval military scholarship today is in the area of prosopography. It centers on the identification of individual soldiers, which then enables more in-depth analyses of the profession of arms in the Middle Ages. A chief example of this is The Soldier in Later Medieval England project; based at the University of Southampton, its staff have assembled a free, online database of nearly 250,000 records of English soldiers serving in the period 1369-1453. Three edited collections of essays and a monograph, all using in some measure this vast resource, have already been published since its completion in 2009. The unambiguous conclusion from these studies is—much to the surprise (and, in some cases, chagrin) of modern military historians—that medieval warriors were professional soldiers in every sense of the word.
How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
A solid record of teaching is essential (and by teaching I mean independently-instructed courses, not courses for which you were the teaching assistant). Depending on the field, a doctoral student or adjunct/visiting professor should teach both halves of their basic surveys at least twice: U.S. History I & II and Western Civilization I & II. And everyone, regardless of field, should also teach World History I & II, which is not only replacing Western Civ around the country but is also frequently being taught by Ph.D.s in American history. An upper-level course or two added to these surveys makes for a fine vitae. Versatility is the goal here: hiring committees want teachers who can cover the freshmen sections, and you will teach more of these courses than anything else over the span of your career. At my mid-level state university, each semester I teach three sections of world history and one upper-level course for the majors. Notice the 4-4 load: it is becoming more common these days, not less…
That said there is the law of diminishing returns. Once you have taught 10 sections of U.S. History, I daresay that teaching 10 more adds little to your vitae; moreover, too much teaching will inevitably impact your research output. Now, if you are contemplating community-college jobs or teaching-intensive small liberal arts colleges this is less of a negative, but if you are interested in any school with a research burden (i.e. calculated for raises and/or tenure) you need to dial down the teaching upon reaching the totals advised above. Otherwise, you might become that adjunct who is an awesome teacher but never published anything…and got beaten in a job search by a shiny new Ph.D. with an article and two book reviews.
Some qualification is needed with this last point. By now most of us are aware of the massive problem with universities hiring contractual lecturers, asking them to teach heavy course loads, and paying them peanuts and no benefits. The scarcity of full-time positions means that new Ph.D.s often labor for years on the instructor track just to pay rent—and this forces them into the “too much teaching” issue that I mention above. This is obviously a major problem, and I do not presume to have the answer for it. All I can suggest is that while you are toughing out such contracts try to keep up with your research so that you can someday transition to a full-time gig.
What direction or type of publishing would you advise a new Ph.D. to conduct?
Carpe diem! New Ph.D.s should seize every potential publishing and speaking opportunity that comes their way. So, when asked the questions:
  • “Would you like to review this book that is somewhat out of your research field?”
  • “We are thinking about publishing the proceedings of this conference—would you like to submit your paper for inclusion?”
  • “I know two months is a short timeline, but would be able to revise your paper by then?”
the answer should be “YES!” Journal review boards, conference organizers, and publishers are looking for dependable scholars who can meet deadlines and accommodate disparate needs. I know several historians who turn down such offers because they imagined their research appearing elsewhere; as a result, their work was not published in time to get a job and/or tenure. Over-committing, in my opinion, is one hallmark of a good young scholar.
I would also urge new Ph.D.s to create opportunities for themselves. One of the first things I did upon getting my Ph.D. was to contact the review boards of my field’s major journals and offer to write reviews, not only in my primary research specialization of Anglo-Norman military history but of books on medieval England and France, church history, the Crusades, and other areas. Presuming that you are dedicated and actively reading, you should be able to cover a similar scope. Active and reliable book reviewing (meet your deadlines!) will eventually open up opportunities in reviewing articles and books, joining editorial teams and boards, and publishing.
In addition, new Ph.D.s should be cognizant about the state of publishing in their discipline. In my field of medieval warfare some of the best research does not appear in traditional academic journals. Instead, collections of essays are now ubiquitous, and the good publishing houses peer-review the submissions. Slowly—very slowly, I should say—tenure and promotion committees are recognizing this change, and while journal articles still reign supreme book chapters do count towards tenure. In a similar vein, I would urge new Ph.D.s to think hard about publishing their first book with a university press. Obviously, one should not turn down an offer from the Yales and Oxbridges of the world, but there are several excellent trade presses that are highly ranked, peer-reviewed, and, often, better-suited for one’s specific project. Typical tenure-track faculty members have between four and six years to get the dissertation published as a book, but waiting two or three years for that perfect university press contract may mean publication happens after one’s tenure file is submitted. Obviously the particular tenure requirements of one’s institutions should be taken in account.
What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma mater, etc.?
High on my list would be the issue of family. I made a deliberate decision to finish my Ph.D. before having children and it made a world of difference. A full course load is difficult enough by itself, but toss in the other activities upon which history doctoral students should be embarking (giving conference papers, traveling and conducting research, and writing book reviews and that elusive first article) and one’s schedule fills up quickly. Family slows down research. In addition, most students are constrained financially, and even those on full tuition waivers typically receive them for only a set number of years. It is crucial to finish the Ph.D. in a reasonable time span: remember, most graduates today are not finding tenure-track jobs, so spending a decade or more on a degree that results in a failed job search can be financially and emotionally devastating.
I would also warn against hubris when applying for jobs. Some grad students believe that the reputation of their program or major professor will be a major factor, but I would argue that this is only true in some cases. Medieval history, as a victim of “the death of the past,” is certainly an exception. Due to the paucity of medievalists on campuses, the hiring committee will likely reflect an assortment of fields outside the Middle Ages: in this case, no one will have heard of your adviser, much less know the scholarly impact of his/her work. At small and community colleges, the committee may even include one or two non-historians. In other words, do not bet the farm on your adviser’s letter.
My final suggestion (for those who get appointments at research institutions) would be to think about your second book. I know the dissertation is a huge project that dominates your life for years, and it will likely be your first book. But once it’s finished you will need to do something else, and many historians have a difficult time deciding upon a new project without the aid of their adviser—the result has been a number of historians who have failed to get tenure or who never moved beyond the associate professor rank.
What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
My suggestion would be to explore other career options. There are so few jobs these days that I cannot with good conscience recommend the Ph.D. track to a student without reservation. Only those with a burning passion for historical inquiry and the emotional/psychological fortitude to cope with disappointment, failure, and a massive debt load should attempt it.

That said, I would encourage those who do become doctoral students to discern a dissertation topic quickly; then, you should find ways to orient as much of their coursework around that topic as possible. Papers written for writing seminars should address aspects of the dissertation, for example. This helps to build your research base, which not only allows for an easier transition into the dissertation itself but also expanded conference and publishing opportunities. The scarcity of positions has really raised the bar for applicants’ vitaes, and few students will get appointments without having something in print. Grad students who put off conferences and the writing of smaller publishable pieces (such as encyclopedia entries and book reviews) until their coursework and comprehensive exams were completed, thinking that they would present or publish after beginning their dissertation research, have a harder time finding jobs. Finally, doctoral students should remember that the dissertation is not meant to be your magnum opus: anything beyond two years spent actually writing it is, in my opinion, time that could be better utilized getting published.
What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
The skills of a Ph.D. holder are routinely misunderstood and underappreciated by potential employers. In many cases, however, the applicants themselves suffer from a similar handicap: they are unable to cast their learned skills and personal abilities in a non-academic context. History Ph.D.s can conduct research, read and write critically, teach and instruct, meet deadlines, read foreign languages, and absorb and interpret large quantities of information—all of these are desirable skills in the private and public sectors. My best advice would be to give consideration to how these skills would benefit the business or institution to which you are applying. For the former, think about how your particular skills and/or knowledge create value for the business; for the latter, think about how your skills advance the mission statement of the institution.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blog CVIII (108): Eight Questions: Revolutionary America

  The next essay in the “Eight Questions” series comes from Peter Messer, an associate professor of history at Mississippi State University.  At MSU he serves as the graduate coordinator and teaches classes on Colonial America and Revolutionary America.  His main interest lies in the theory and practice of politics in eighteenth-century America.  He is the author of  Stories of Independence: Identity, Ideology, and History in Eighteenth-Century America (Northern Illinois University Press, 2005).  In that book, he traces the emergence of distinctively American attitudes about society, politics, and government.During the colonial period, provincial historians celebrated the autonomous origins and local institutions of their communities as a way of arguing for greater independence from Great Britain. Imperial historians, on the other hand, stressed allegiance to the mother country and the English institutions that continued to sustain them. When relations with Britain reached a crisis, these visions of provincial pride and imperial loyalty came into open and irreconcilable conflict. The resulting debate produced not only a declaration of independence but a new political order grounded on the provincial vision of the origins and progress of America.  Messer's next major project explores the relationship between committees and crowds in Revolutionary America. It focuses on the ways in which Patriot leaders organized opposition to Great Britain and coerced and cajoled a reluctant population to embrace a cause to which many of them felt only tangentially connected or concerned.  He did his undergraduate work at the University of Oregon and earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers University.  Prior to working at Mississippi State, he taught at Texas A&M University—Commerce. 
What is the greatest strength of your field? In the history profession?
The greatest strength of the field is its diversity; scholars are taking a wider perspective on what counts as history (emotions and senses) while continuing to investigate the margins of the traditional narrative of United States History (race, class, and gender), and expanding our understanding of some of the better studied subjects (the coming of American independence, the ratification of the constitution, the various electoral controversies, wars, the rise of capitalism, the rise of the plantation economy). Of late, I should note, it has done the first two with more consistency and focus than the last one, and I think this is true of the historical profession in general. We have become very adept at expanding our sense of what history is and who is included in it so that we know more about our past and present (though some historians may still subscribed to the quaint notion that they are only writing about the past). The result is that we have a much better sense of what these supposedly transformative events in the history of the United States meant to the people who experienced them and the degree to which they were, in fact, transformative.
What is the biggest issue facing your field? The history profession?
In the broadest sense, for both, the lack of jobs. One relatively unique problem that faces the field of Revolutionary America and the history of the Early American Republic lies in the contemporary political fascination with the period. We are constantly bombarded with politicians and social commentators who want to compare themselves to the founding generation to argue that the nation reconstitute itself along the lines envisioned by the founders. This moment of contemporary relevance offers both an opportunity and a challenge to historians of the period. It is an opportunity because it has the potential to allow historians of the period to speak to and be heard by the general public, and to provide meaningful commentary on past events and a useful perspective on current ones. That opportunity, however, becomes a challenge when we realize that in order to do so historians will have to become conversant again in the stories that people outside of the academy want to hear. To be sure scholars have continued to produce work on the subject of “the Founders,” and the war for independence—David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing, Pauline Maier’s Ratification, Richard Beeman, Plain Honest Men, Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty—but if we really want to reclaim these subjects for history then they will need a sustained reexamination from a broad cross-section of the professional. Alfred Young’s treatment of Deborah Sampson in Masquerade, for example, revisits well covered ground from a new and different perspective. Benjamin Carp’s and David Fowler’s recent work on the Boston Tea Party and Sons of Liberty, respectively, offer other illustrations of how we might revitalize some of the traditional historical topics much out of fashion with academe, but a subject of continued fascination outside of it. In truth, nothing can prevent self-serving presentists of whatever stripe from appropriating the past for their own ends (they have been doing so since Thucydides at least); nonetheless, historians should remember the emotional investment people have in the myths of the nation’s founding and to treat that investment with a respect and diligence commensurate with that investment. This moment in time offers historians of the Revolution and Early American Republic who do that a useful opportunity to make a meaningful contribution not simply the profession but to civic discourse as well.
What is the most interesting work being done in your field? Why?
I’m going to cop out a little bit and say that the most interesting work being done in the field is the most interesting work being done in the field. The reason I say it that what is most interesting is always the work itself. You can look at Thomas Slaughter’s recent biography of John Woolman and be drawn into a compelling narrative that raises an important question about the role of ethics and morality in history and history-writing. You can also look at Peter Silver’s book on white/Indian relations in Pennsylvania and find it a compelling argument about how racial identities are shaped in the late eighteenth century. Annette Gordon Reed, on the other hand, provides a fairly standard biography, but of people who are not usually and have not been the subject of biography. Finally, you could consider Kathleen Brown’s book on the subject of cleanliness that offers a history of something that until recently we not necessarily considered having a history. So there are four very different books, each compelling and thought provoking in its own way, but really having nothing in common other than being well researched and well written. And yes, I realize that of the books I listed only one even remotely fits into the genre of big stories about the big events that historians have lost control over, which I think only underscores my point about how historians have ceded that ground to other writers.
How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
It depends entirely on where you work. Some schools take it seriously, some say they do, and others openly ignore it. So the moral of that story is to figure out what your institution wants and act accordingly. If you do not yet have an institution, just remember there are more jobs at schools that have to value teaching than there are at schools that can only value research and devise your entry on the job market accordingly. Also, and having done two searches this year I am reminded of how many people do not do this; try to figure out what the school to which you are applying values, and craft your self-presentation accordingly, unless of course you will only take one type of job, but that is a luxury most people do not have.
What direction or type of publishing would you advise a new Ph.D. to conduct?
The flip answer is whatever people like. The way the issue is unfolding here at MSU is that anything that is evidently and documentably peer reviewed is OK; the caveat, of course, is that especially at the level of the administration people are obsessed with documenting the impact of a journal and for the most part new electronic formats won’t have the impact yet. Then there is the fact that people are still uneasy about new formats, so you do not want to make yourself appear too novel in that regard. Now to contradict myself, to a point; it is clear that the old style of monograph publishing is on the wane; students can’t read a whole book or won’t and publishers are increasingly skeptical of the model of pages between hard covers. A new Ph.D. would be well advised to prepare for a shift in format that will occur in their professional life time to a style of publishing that will emphasize more interactive content and formats, and minimize traditional journals and books. If you are prepared you will be at the head of the wave and not get washed out by it.

What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma matter, etc.?
I imagine it differs as to what you want as a career; at the beginning the most important factor is the popularity of your field and the reputation of your alma matter; obviously, that is not true for all people at all times, but if you had to bet on something I would advise those categories. As your career develops both become less important, what matters is what you are able to do as universities value producers. At that point school resources become important. If schools can support your research that will enable you to progress faster in the field than if you have to rely solely on outside sources (funders like evidence that the school believes in you before they fund you). Where does family fit in? A family can provide the spring board for a career or it can direct your career in directions you may not have envisioned, or perhaps desired. So the flip answer is that it depends entirely on how you choose to use it.
What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
Don’t do it unless you can get a fellowship and not take out any loans, and are comfortable with the idea that you may well end up selling insurance anyway. I would also stress, as above, that students familiarize themselves as much as possible with alternative outlets for historical research and alternative methods for publishing and reaching an audience.
What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
My advice would be to teach where you can and to continue to try and find venues for your work; the key to eventually finding your way to an academic job is to appear to remain engaged with the profession. I would also recommend that people scour the web (or anywhere else) for employment opportunities that do not tie you to a university. The government and the private sector both employ historians, though the work is not always what you would have prepared to do as a graduate student. A Google search of “Beyond Academe” turns up a bunch of sites including one dedicated to historians looking for work outside of academe. For better or worse I’ve not yet needed to use such a site, so I can’t attest to its actual utility, but in theory it seems worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blog CVII (107): Eight Questions: Early Modern Europe

The next entry in the Eight Question series comes from Isaac Land.  He received his B.A. from Oberlin College and his M.A. and PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He was a Fulbright Scholar in London. He has taught at Wayne State University and Texas A&M University--Commerce.  He is currently an associate professor of history at Indiana State University. His teaching and research interests have focused on the intersection of national and international histories, and on a related topic, the history of sailors and port cities. His first book is War, Nationalism, and the British Sailor, 1750-1850 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). He has also edited a volume of essays, Enemies of Humanity: The Nineteenth-Century War on Terrorism  (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). He is currently writing a methods textbook aimed at senior undergraduates and junior graduate students. 

What is the greatest strength of your field?  In the history profession?
One of the most exciting and unexpected developments of the last 10 years has been the emergence of vast, searchable databases.  This includes subscriber-only digitized books (ECCO, Eighteenth-Century Collections Online) but also court records (Tim Hitchcock’s nearly 200,000 transcripts of criminal trials, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ ) and the slave trade website, http://www.slavevoyages.org out of Emory.  Remarkably, both of these are accessible to the public without a subscription.  It will be interesting to see how the opportunities presented by these (and future) databases transform graduate student research and also the way that we teach methods courses.  I am not a number-cruncher, but clearly anyone who is going to use these vast databases in a serious way needs to learn some social science methodology.  Check out the program for January’s American Historical Association meeting in Chicago and notice how many technology-driven projects are out there now.  Crowd-sourcing?  Text mining?  Geographical Information Systems (GIS)?  It’s a brave new world, folks.

What is the biggest issue facing your field?  The history profession?
There has never been a better time to be interested in history (see above), but the job market for people who call themselves “historians” is bleak.  Nonetheless, conferences are well-attended by young graduate students (I just hosted the Midwest Conference on British Studies here in Terre Haute, which drew 140 people, mostly people in their 20s presenting their first conference paper), and the fascination of the subject matter remains a powerful draw.  In an economy in which people are coming to expect to have multiple careers, maybe we should encourage the young to pursue a well-paying career in another field, saving money with the intention of “retiring” to follow the Ph.D. path in their 40s, 50s, or 60s, paying hard cash to do so.  Without being a financial Luddite (I will not join Ezra Pound in condemning money-lending as the root of all evil), perhaps we need to move away from the notion that we’ll borrow lots of money today in the vague hope of being able to pay it all back with interest tomorrow.  I would also endorse the idea of shortening Ph.D. programs as a way of lowering the overall cost.  It’s a bitter truth that you reach the job market, doctorate in hand, panting with exhaustion, only to be told that a doctorate by itself won’t get you a job anyway.  (We seem to be moving toward a model where it’s the doctorate plus the published book that earns you credibility.  So why the lengthy Ph.D. program, then?)

What is the most interesting work being done in your field?  Why?
In the past, debates about early modern Europe often centered on the chronology: What counts as modern, anyway? (Ask a medievalist some time, and they’ll give you an earful about how the Renaissance is overrated.)  What forces drove “modernity”?  More recently, the geographical categories have come into question as well.  Does “the modern” arise out of Europe, or out of Europe’s interactions with the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Americas?  It is a sign of the times that recent work by prominent figures in the field (Natalie Zemon Davis, Lynn Hunt, Carlo Ginzburg, and Simon Schama) situates Europe in a global context and engages with new conceptual frameworks such as borderlands theory and Atlantic history.
The lively debate over books like Kenneth Pomeranz’ The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the World Economy and Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe decenters Europe in one sense, but reminds us that countries like Britain, France, and the Netherlands remain an indispensable reference point, even for scholars who do not “work” on European history as such.  A glance at the editorial board of the Journal of Early Modern History confirms this trend.  Notable “crossover” books like Timothy Brook’s Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World and Anne Salmond’s anthropologically-informed The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Encounters in the South Seas show that this oceanic, transnational approach to the European experience is a way to make what used to be called “early modern Europe” accessible and intellectually exciting to a wide readership.

How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
This really depends on whether you are hoping to work at a small liberal arts college or a major research university.  If you are interviewing with both kinds of schools, just remember to go easy on the teaching when you are talking with the research institution so that you do not get typecast as someone who’s “soft” on the research end of things.  That said, everyone values teaching, so don’t speak dismissively about it, even if you need to move on quickly to what your second and third book will be about! (Yes, the research universities expect to hear about second and third books in the interview.  Not unreasonable, given that some schools have a two-book standard for tenure now, so do not get stuck on talking just about your dissertation.)
            You may be surprised at how much the communication skills that you learn in teaching will help you give more effective conference papers, write better book proposals, and so forth.  It’s all about explaining what you think is important to people who don’t know much about your particular topic… and whose attention may waver.  Odd that the same techniques work with sleepy 100-level students and a room full of brilliant people with doctorates, but maybe all audiences have certain traits in common?

What direction or type of publishing would you advise a new Ph.D. to conduct?
In History (unlike many other fields), journal articles are good but books are the coin of the realm.  Publish an article or maybe two in the best journal you can, but then concentrate on the book manuscript.  Do not let anything else distract you.
Get letters of introduction if you want to approach a publisher.  Watch out!  A number of prestigious publishers have submission guidelines on their website inviting “cold call” book proposals, but they throw them in the trash if they don’t come already recommended by someone known to the editor.  Cultivate big names in your field, or perhaps someone who has published a book with that editor recently, and get them to open the door for you.

What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma matter, etc.?
People who work with a well-known advisor, do a good job of networking (both within and outside their graduate program), and find a way to publish just one article in a major peer-reviewed journal within their field either before receiving the Ph.D., or within about 12 months of receiving it, can do quite well.  I got my doctorate in 1999 and a number of people from my cohort at the University of Michigan are at places like Cornell, Stanford, Duke, and a host of flagship state research institutions like the University of Illinois.  It can all work out quite well, but do not assume that a letter from your advisor or just the name of your degree-granting institution will magically open doors for you, because they won’t.
What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
One might think that following the stock market crash of 2008, students would be ultra-practical, but I am surprised at how many young people I encounter who have reached the opposite conclusion: The job market is lousy all around, so I might as well pursue my dreams.  Just in the last year, I have met a student who changed his major from Accounting to History and another who dropped out of an elite engineering program at a college down the road to pursue History instead.  (Another student showed up in my methods class after his ex-wife advised him to go back to school and major in History.  One might wonder about the source of this advice, but he did quite well, so maybe she meant it sincerely.)  I find that it is difficult to discourage students with horror stories about the academic job market; they imagine that they would be happy adjuncting at a community college without job security or health care benefits. I think part of what attracts them is the prestige of pursuing “the life of the mind.”  (People who admire laws, sausages, and doctorates should not inquire too closely about where they come from.)  I show my students some grad school syllabi: a book a week in every course, plus additional material, plus whatever you are reading for the paper that you write.  That puts off some people, and it’s wonderful that the Web allows this generation of young scholars to conduct a detailed reconnaissance of grad programs before even considering applying.
            If you must pursue a doctorate, do not take out any loans to do so.  There are some elite programs that will give you something approaching a free ride if they admit you.  To be blunt, if you aren’t good enough to get into those sorts of programs, you’ll probably do poorly on the job market with your less-than-prestigious degree.  How will you pay the loans back then?

What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
It will sound hollow coming from someone who is comfortably tenured, but not getting an academic job may be a blessing in disguise.  Many people imagine that an academic career is intellectually stimulating, but too often we send overqualified people to teach elementary skills and concepts to students who are not especially committed to the learning process (recall the Robin Williams character in Good Will Hunting—we don’t all end up at MIT).  Frankly, we send people to college at a time in their lives when they are not very contemplative, so even smart college students from strong academic backgrounds are often underachievers because their minds are on, well, other things.
Pursuing research can also be very isolating work (solitary reading about things that do not interest anyone you know, except colleagues at conferences—and that’s on a good day).  Think about what you value most in life and what will bring you into contact with lots of people who share those values.  In 2008, I helped out with flood relief efforts in my community (my wife works for the American Red Cross) and it was really fun to be part of a team and see how appreciative people were to receive simple things: bottles of clean water, toys for their kids, and so forth.   Maybe you could work for a nonprofit in an arena that matters to you.    When I saw the movie Love Actually, I envied the people who worked in the London office that was all about providing famine relief.  I know every job has its office politics and frustrations, but at the end of the day, wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple explanation for what it is that you do—and have spent your day with people who understand the purpose of your work?
A bright student of mine is quitting his job as a manager at a gourmet sandwich shop to pursue a Ph.D. in History.  He has every right to pursue his dream—I told him he’s going through his midlife crisis a little early, in his 30s—but the market for a really good sandwich is much larger than the market for sophisticated books (and the people who write them).   There is a local food renaissance going on in the United States and many other countries.  We need more small farms to raise healthy produce and livestock.  Work the land and philosophize in your spare time.  Voltaire would approve.