Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Humanities Effect: history jobs and salaries

Andrew Smith starts 2012 with some provocative data on job prospects and salary prospects for Ph.D candidates in history.  He starts with American data that suggests about 30% of history PhD candidates who complete their degrees within ten years go on to tenure-track jobs in academic history departments.  The American author, Robert Townsend, finds this troubling. Smith suggests it may a reasonable percentage, and points to the good non-academic jobs others find.  I'm not sure Townsend's data support that optimism. If I read him right, only 30% are tenure track, but nearly 70% (tenure track included) are working in and around universities and colleges, and another 11% are still working on that doctorate. What's left out of Townsend's data are career situations of the 50%+ who drop out before completing the doctorate.

Andrew then moves on to the shifting salary expectations of historians, both from the American data and his Canadian experience.  Historians are suffering "the humanities effect," he suggests.  Salaries for professors in the humanities tend to be relatively low, and History has been gradually migrating from the better off Social Sciences section of academia to the disfavoured Humanities.

He seems to suggest this is a matter of prestige and perspective -- reflecting the relative value society places on sciences versus humanities.  But surely there is also a market factor.  Scientists and even social scientists are like lawyers and engineers: their academic salaries are driven up by the fact that there are well-paid alternatives outside the university.  Well-paid jobs for English and history specialists at the PhD level -- not so much, and universities know it.

Update, January 6:  The Tenured Radical also had thoughts on the academic job market.  She argues that history needs to give more respect and attention to "public history," since that's where the jobs -- and often the important work -- are.  But she thinks of raising the prestige of public history as a way to justify all the otherwise unemployable PhDs the universities want to produce.  Myself, I suspect the PhD program really does only work well at producing tenure-directed academics; public historians need a different education, one that I suspect PhD programs can never provide efficiently.
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