Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blog CLXIV (144): "Reform Time"

The April issue of Perspectives on History, the newsletter of the American Historical Association, is out and it includes an article I wrote "Reform Time: Some Proposals to Help Solve the Job Crisis."  My arguments will not be new to the readers of this blog, but I wanted to alert readers to be on the lookout for this piece.  I will have several references to it in the next couple of weeks.

First, I want to note that Allen Mikaelian did an impressive job of editing the essay.  I am not sure if he bought my arguments or not, but in a good give and take, we cut the article down to 1,500 words without doing much damage.  I did remove a couple of items, but why I did that I will explain later. 

Second, the AHA staff reads this blog regularly.  This fact, I think, made them receptive to publishing my article, since they have known for a while that I have been trying to offer alternatives and ideas to solve professional issues, but they are looking for other voices.  Here is Mikaelian's assessment:
We who work on Perspectives on History and AHA social media find it all but impossible either to regard the public as a straw man or to please only ourselves, because our reading public—AHA members, nonmembers in the discipline, interested parties in other disciplines, reporters looking for a story—are always present. As creative, thoughtful people in the habit of writing and discussing, who are also plugged into social media, they let us know quickly and in many formats exactly what they think of the ideas presented in the latest issue or blog post... 
The articles in this issue by Johann Neem and Nicholas Sarantakes are exactly what we want to see. Neem responds to the Tuning project with a cautionary tale from the history of higher education, and Sarantakes reacts to the "Plan B" and "Plan C" articles offered in these pages by Anthony Grafton and James Grossman. When we receive more articles like these—thoughtfully critical of AHA projects, publications, or positions; well written; offered in the spirit of advancing the conversation—we will publish them. As editor, I'll even work to make their arguments sharper.
Much the same goes for comments and blog posts on other sites that concern things we've published. We want to link to them and promote them. They should be part of the conversation, but that can't happen if we don't know they exist.
The Tuning Project is an AHA exercise in studying and then defining what a student should be able to understand and do when they graduate with a history degree.

In the closing of the article, I said that my ideas were a constructive effort to help solve professional problems that historians are facing.  You might not like the ideas—and that is okay—but if you like my ideas or have better ones to solve employment issues—and that is the real issue, not praising or criticizing my article—I hope you will offer up your voice and let the AHA know in some form or fashion.

1 comment:

  1. I do like the ideas that AHA “Sponsor a conference on what the AHA can do” & “Sponsor a conference on what departments can do,” but I am concerned that if only faculty involved, these conferences will develop faculty-centric solutions. I think any such efforts will need outsiders, practicing, professional historians, to participate.

    Certainly the AHA should “create a new AHA division for K–12 teachers” and may want to consider establishing a Division for Local, State, and Federal Historians, where there are several thousand historians employed.

    While the idea that AHA “develop an AHA alternative career speaker series” is a very good idea, I would suggest it expand beyond the ‘star’ focus (where most of us will never be) and push the series down to the local or regional level. Every history department has non-faculty professional historians within an hour or two drive and the AHA needs to encourage conversation between them. Listing them on a speaker series would go some way to providing legitimacy to the non-faculty historians.

    Finally, I think the end state the AHA should pursue would be that first year grad students have a base knowledge of career paths in the professional historical enterprise (faculty, administration, governmental, non-profit, corporate) with a general understanding of how one enters each career path (, cv vs resume, etc). Further, departments would partner with non-faculty historians in their area/region to provide concrete examples and all-important mentors for their grad students. (Providing adjunct status to these historians would allow them to continue their historical research and publishing, adding to the department’s count.) As the students move through their studies and their desires/interests ‘firm up’ they would be in a good place to purse the career choice most desirable to them.

    However, I do not think any of this will happen, at least at this time. Faculty exist in status fields and everything they do has to be towards maintaining status vis-à-vis other faculty historians (what else is tenure but a recognition of status?). (I don't mean this as a criticism or critique, simply as a statement of reality.) So it is not in the interest of factuly historians to do anything that will not benefit their status eventually (invite a speaker in hopes they will invite you in the future, etc). Heck, a lot of the problem stems from the over-production of PhDs, because PhD students are status markers. As non-faculty historians have nothing to offer faculty historians (cannot accept their students to graduate programs, cannot hire their grads to faculty jobs, do not have money to give them fellowships, do not have institutions to give a safe harbor for a sabbatical), faculty historians have little reason to work with non-faculty historians, however helpful they could be to their students.

    Lance R. Blyth, PhD
    Command Historian
    NORAD and U.S. Northern Command

    All opinions are my own and do not not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Northern Command or the Department of Defense.