Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blog CXCII (192): Sarantakes vs. Canary

In January the newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Passport, published an article I wrote proposing a series of initiatives the organization could take to help resolve the job crisis. SHAFR is the main organization for U.S. diplomatic historians.  This article was in direct response to another article: Brian C. Etheridge, “SHAFR and the Future of the Profession,” Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (April 2012), 50-51.  Ethridge was the associate provost for academic innovation at the University of Baltimore and is now the director of the Center for
Brian C. Etheridge
Teaching Excellence at Georgia Gwinnett College. In this article, he proposed that diplomatic historians adopt Ernest L. Boyer’s four different categories of scholarship in the study of U.S. diplomatic history: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching and learning. I had mixed reactions to the article, but it was a stimulating read.  I will not repeat his suggestions in detail.  I would recommend a number of people read it, though.

As I wrote at the time, "The problem with Etheridge’s proposal is that it does not really resolve the big problem facing SHAFR—the fact that there are more historians than history jobs. Even if we do change the nature of what we recognize as scholarship, it will not change that fact."

Do not get me wrong.  Etheridge’s article offers some good ideas.  More importantly, it simulated my own thinking about actions that SHAFR can take to help individual diplomatic historians.  My article is: The proper citation is: Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, "In Search of a Solution: SHAFR and the Jobs Crisis in the History Profession," Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, vol. 45, no. 3 (January 2015), 37-38.  Unlike most other organizations representing history sub-fields, SHAFR is a well-organized and funded organization. In the article, I argued "These assets can and should be leveraged to help the more junior members of our field find meaningful employment."  To that end, I offered the following recommendations, which are abridged from the original article:
1. Create two new committees and/or vice-president positions to oversee them. The first should be for schoolteachers. This committee can offer important advice to SHAFR members who want to go into this field on the requirements for getting teaching jobs, which usually vary from state to state... The second should be for professional practitioners: scholars who are using their degrees in government service or history out in the public sphere... The goal would be to make it easier for individuals to move from one field to another. 
2. Diversify and improve the visibility of the SHAFR conference. Most of what SHAFR does at its annual meeting is great and I want to see that continue, but there are certain things that we
can do to offer more services to members. First, we can designate a certain percentage of sessions—perhaps five to ten percent—for discussing the teaching of U.S. diplomatic history... We could also have a series of “The History Ph.D. as . . .” sessions, where several historians who work at institutions other than history departments—think tanks, for example—discuss their experience with and answer questions about these environments. How do you find a job at one of these organizations? How much time do you have to work on your own scholarship? How well does it pay? What unexpected perks or problems are there in this type of work?...  Each session should be devoted to a specific field and have several speakers, since experiences differ... The profession would benefit if we promoted the conference systematically. The more attention the organization and the field receive, the better for all concerned. Raising the profile of diplomatic history helps improve its standing with colleagues in other fields who often make the decisions on what positions a department will hire. SHAFR has done well in having C-SPAN show up and record a few sessions, but we need more than one or two sessions airing at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night... 
3. Provide access to scholarly databases as part of SHAFR membership. SHAFR should make an arrangement with the likes of JSTOR and Project MUSE to make access to these databases a benefit that comes with SHAFR membership. Most SHAFR members will not need this type of assistance, but it will be a real benefit to graduate students, those that have graduated and have lost their access to university libraries, or are doing adjunct work, which often comes with restricted access to university libraries and their subscriptions to these databases... 
4. Write letters. Despite what we like to think about faculty governance, deans rather than faculty committees make the final decisions about the fields in which a department will hire. SHAFR should leverage some of the phenomenal success it has enjoyed of late (three SHAFR members have won the Pulitzer Prize in the last ten years, and another three were finalists) to convince deans to authorize searches for diplomatic historians... 
5. Create summer job placement workshops. My final proposal is that SHAFR begin running a summer workshop for newly minted history Ph.D.s to help them find alternative careers. To be effective, this type of program would have to be a multi-week residential program that combines a mini-MBA course with some training in writing résumés and preparing for interviews. This summer institute should also help with networking and bring in corporate and not-for-profit recruiters to meet with the participants.... 
The objections to this type of program are understandable. Students went to graduate school because they wanted academic careers, and SHAFR is a scholarly organization. Job placement is outside of its mission. These objections are easy to answer. For most people in graduate programs right now, a meaningful academic career is not realistic. The statistics make that clear. The real choice is between a non-academic career (or perhaps it is better describe as an alternative career) or none at all. SHAFR is also in a good position to create such a program...
Andrew Johns, the editor of Passport, arranged for Etheridge to respond to my essay, which he did in the same issue.  The proper citation is: Brian C. Etheridge, "Canary in a Coal Mine," Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review, vol. 45, no. 3 (January 2015), 38-39.  Below is an excerpt from his article:
I agree with many of the helpful suggestions that Sarantakes has offered about potential actions that SHAFR could take to strengthen the profession. I think his best idea is diversifying the program of the annual SHAFR meeting. Sarantakes is right that more time needs to be devoted to teaching the history of American foreign relations. After all, most professors at most institutions spend most of their time teaching, and most of us have had little or no formal preparation in how to teach effectively. He is also on target in encouraging sessions about employment outside of the academy, led by those who have successfully carved out careers for themselves in other related industries. Finally, I strongly endorse his idea of better promoting the conference to outside stakeholders. I believe that all of these actions would make SHAFR, and by extension the profession, stronger. 
But I’m afraid that I must continue to differ with Sarantakes on the crux of the matter. In this regard, I don’t disagree so much with his prescriptions as with his diagnosis of the problem. In Sarantakes’s view, the really big issue confronting SHAFR is “that there are more historians than history jobs.” While I agree that the jobs crisis is a very real and difficult challenge confronting far too many young, talented historians, I see it as more symptomatic of larger ills facing the profession and discipline... 
In my view, the jobs crisis in diplomatic history, and in the humanities in general, is a product of the larger dilemma facing the liberal arts. States from Virginia to California are in various stages of creating databases that enable them to track student progression through higher education and into the work force. With the growing emphasis in state legislatures on career and workforce development, the liberal arts are often dismissed, as is reflected in the rhetoric of many of the nation’s leaders. “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education,” Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida declared, “then I’m going to take that money to create jobs.” He later wondered, “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?”... “False [sic] crisis narratives have real effects.” They can lead, for example, to the neglect of the humanities during strategic planning sessions on local campuses. 
To help battle the negative stereotypes surrounding a liberal education, we need to expand our own notion, and in turn the understanding of the public, about what we do. Herein lay my original call for expanding our notion of scholarship—our creative contribution to the body of knowledge—and thus redefining our collective worth to society. In addition to the continuing value we provide to society through our research on the history of America’s encounter with the world, we need to broaden our understanding of our creative activity to include innovations in teaching, the application of our historical understanding to contemporary crises, and collaboration with other disciplines to tackle the big issues: what many have called the “wicked problems” plaguing our global society. SHAFR can support such an agenda, not only by providing more time and space on its annual program, but by helping redefine what counts as creative work in our profession and thereby helping rebrand our profession over time for a larger audience.
I think the exchange was good.  Both of us respected the ideas the other guy was offering.  I also believe both of us would have no problem seeing SHAFR adopt the other guy's ideas.  The journal of the organization, Diplomatic History, already publishes "the scholarship of discovery," and the organization could easily mandate that it have regular features for the other types of scholarship, or it could change the focus of Passport, or it could even create another publication in print or on-line that would produce the other three types of scholarship that Boyer advocated.  As already noted, Ethridge called my suggestions "helplful."  SHAFR has some ideas in front of it, hopefully it will respond in one way or another.  More importantly, hopefully readers of this blog will take these ideas to their own scholarly organizations.

No comments:

Post a Comment