AHA criticized for ignoring needs of job applicants

Historians in the News

[Michael Bowen is assistant director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service and a visiting lecturer in the history department at the University of Florida.]

As has become the annual tradition, the American Historical Association is out with its report lauding the health of the academic job market in history. The report, culled exclusively from job listings in Perspectives (an AHA publication) and Ph.D. completion statistics reported by history departments, shows that there are more available positions than there are historians produced. Other disciplines issue similar reports. While the AHA report may be viewed favorably by some such as scholars in Asian history, the most underpopulated field for historians, for others it reflects a general lack of concern from the association for the untenured and the graduate student. And the problems discussed here apply to many other disciplines as well.

As a national organization and the most powerful entity in the historical job market, the AHA has done surprisingly little to help the newest members of their profession. On the whole, historians pride themselves on their concern for social justice. In 2005, for example, the Organization of American Historians uprooted its annual conference and moved it to another city in a show of solidarity with hotel workers. When it comes to the plight of the discipline’s own working class, the unemployed job seeker, this compassion and concern is absent. In its place is an annual report from the AHA talking about how good it is for some. For others, there isn’t much the AHA can do. I find this lack of action, especially when compared to what is normally shown for the less fortunate, disheartening.

While the AHA can do nothing to overcome the dearth of tenure-track positions (which is a reality that deans, trustees, and legislators control), the association has a great deal of control over two things: job market statistics and the interview process. These areas, which some might say are of secondary concern, have made the job search a very inhospitable place. For one, the association could conduct a statistically sound study of the job market based on an actual survey of departments and job seekers. Drawing attention to the total number of jobs and the number of Ph.D.’s produced in the past year overlooks the fact that visiting faculty and independent scholars are also on the market. A more thorough census would provide better information to AHA members and possibly even a snapshot of many other employment concerns, including how the positions stack up in terms of pay, tenure-track status, and other key factors....

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Lisa Kazmier - 1/16/2008

Being a lecturer who's also been a visiting assistant professor at several different institutions, you are hitting the nail on the head. I have long wanted to go to one of those panels doing rah rah stuff on the market to give a needed reality check, such as:

I just got a rejection email for one job that said they had some 90 high quality candidates (I am a Modern European history, specifically doing British history). I have gotten notices of upwards over 200 applicants for a single job. Even if there was a "reduction" to 90 on average, it's still problematic to say the least.

I have been on the market for a tenure track job for years. Indeed, I put off my PhD because I had no way to pay back debt and had a deferrment until the fall of 2004; I finished then in January 2005. Let's see where I've been on the AHA interview plan:
San Francisco
DC (twice)

Does that tell you anything? I was a finalist a few times but once lost to the inside candidate, who was also a guy. It appears to me that being male and having an Ivy League PhD are huge advantages.

If they are attempting to put lipstick on a pig, you're right in calling 'em out.

It's been a huge nightmare frankly and if I could figure out something else to do with my life, I'd do it.