Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Is History Precarious?

I haven't been following it much, but there is a Precarious History movement out there. More precisely, it is the Precarious Historical Instructors movement, concerned mostly with job status issues for session and contract teachers in university history departments. From their manifesto, published last February at Active History (which has followed the issue closely in its Academic Culture thread):

With respect and without acrimony, we submit that history departments have benefitted to an unseemly degree from universities’ use of contract academic labour as a cost-cutting mechanism. The function of contract work is to externalize risk from institutions and onto individuals. History departments have adopted this practice, however reluctantly, to their benefit. But there are multiple policies that, if departments adopted, would upload some of the personal risk to a department level where it could be absorbed with less catastrophic consequences than it currently does with individual historians.

We tend not to follow employment issues in the academic bureaucracy here. But it's worth noting that in the United States there is a whole magazine -- more of a blog, I think, but the lines blur -- called Contingent. It seems to be less for struggling sessionals seeking to organize against their employers than for historians who have abandoned the whole academic world, while continuing to assert their historical identities.

Contingent has just published its 2020 Booklist, a long list of very substantial and scholarly-seeming books by historians outside the academy. But quite a few Contingent articles cover teaching and other academic issues, so some of its people must have kept a foot inside.

Update, 3 December:  On reflection, I see that the Canadians are taking a collective, workers'-rights approach, while the Americans are seeking an individualist market-based solution. Hmmm.  

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