It would seem that a number of scholarly organizations in the field of history are beginning to take the job crisis seriously. It is one thing to talk about the crisis and to publish articles, bringing attention to the problem, but it is a whole different thing to actually take action. The American Historical Association had its annual meeting a month ago and the sponsored a job fair at the conference. Individuals representing organizations and specialties, including the National Library of Medicine, the U.S. Department of State, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Education, National Council on Public History, St. Albans School, the RAND Corporation, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Compass Lexecon, the Naval History and Heritage Command, US Army Center of Military History, the Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of American History, and DC Public Schools had booths and talked about employment opportunities with their institutions. This enterprise lasted four hours and was well attended. The AHA plans on having another one at its next meeting.
The other main organization in history in the United States, the Organization of American Historians has created the OAH Career COACH®—Creating Opportunities for Advancing our Community of Historians. The COACH is an online job center that the Organization designed to help OAH members find non-academic jobs. According to the OAH's website: “There are many good, interesting, and intellectually stimulating jobs outside the academy. Having historians in these positions ensures that the public is exposed to 'good history.’” The website also explains, “The OAH’s Plan A is to help both students and advisers understand this market and the varied and rewarding jobs in the field of American history and extend value to its members through this Web site.” You must be a member of the OAH to access the content.
There are also things that the smaller history organizations can do. At its most recent annual conference this past June, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations had mock interview sessions. Established scholars—which is to say those that have jobs and have been part of selection committees—ran practice sessions with grad students and newly minted Ph.D.s to help prepare them for going out on the job market. They also offered critiques of their vitaes. I also chaired a panel: "Jobs for the Ph.D. Outside Academia" at the meeting. Each of the participants had a Ph.D. in history, but work outside of a tenure track position in a history department. Jason H. Gart of History Associates talked about working for a public history firm. Jim Carafano of the Heritage Foundation talked about working for a think tank. Luke Nichter, who is now teaching at Texas A&M University—Central Texas, but was formerly a producer at C-SPAN, discussed working as a journalist. Steve Luckert of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was with on the panel at the 2011 AHA meeting. Luckert is a curator at the Museum and gave the same talk, which is what I wanted him to do. Sarandis "Randy" Papadopoulos is a historian for the U.S. Navy and discussed working for the U.S. government. William Morgan teaches at the U.S. Marine Corps War College, but before that was a career Foreign Service Officer. He discussed taking the Foreign Service exam and working in the State Department. Benjamin Huggins is an editor for The Papers of George Washington, and his talked focused on work in historical editing. It was an exceptionally well attended session and there were some good exchanges in the question and answer session.
All of these developments are good news. It seems that the Plan B debate is having some influence...to a degree. As welcome as these developments are—and they are—these initiatives are baby steps. Mock interviews are good, but if there are only three jobs in a certain field, it only makes the competition that much more fierce. A career fair is an important new development, but it would be even better if non-academic organizations were actually interviewing at the meeting. More is needed.