Wednesday, December 19, 2018

History and Panic

Jobs for History PhDs
One of those periodic waves of concern about the imminent death of history seems to be surging.
At a Texas-based website called War on the Rocks, a pair of international studies professors predict that the historical profession is committing suicide... by not teaching enough international studies, mostly.  They stress the declining proportion of students who are history majors, but seemingly without correcting for all the new disciplines and specialties that have grown up in the last half century or so within the humanities and social sciences to share the load with "history" departments proper.

There is a less panicky but still concerned essay at Active History, in which CHA president Adele Perry discusses the need for historians to connect their research to communities beyond the classroom. She salutes a number of worthwhile initiatives, but finds them threatened by the "precarious situation" of young historical scholars. The precarious situation is the vast oversupply of would-be professors compared to the number of positions available for them, and the rise of insecure employment terms in universities. Tough, indeed, but I can't help noting that the essay seems to conflate "historians" with tenured or tenure-seeking history professors as if they were the same thing. No doubt the academic job market is vastly oversupplied, but the essay largely declines to notice all the historians who connect to communities beyond the classroom ... by not being in history classrooms in the first place.

I find myself more inclined to the observation of a tenured academic historian, one who can distinguish between "historians" and professors in history departments.
I’ve been pointing out that we historians long, long predated the darn universities and we will outlive them. Best job in the world, always has been, as the personal drift of many great thinkers and practitioners into the writing of history (Thucydides, Caesar, Hume, Osler…) proves. And we’ve never been more needed—but of course that’s always true.
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