Blogs > HNN > I Agree With Luker

Aug 8, 2005 1:03 pm

I Agree With Luker

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

David Lion Salmanson - 6/10/2004

He gave me Mills, but not Maria Montoya etc. etc.. The point is, the methodology of using department web page descriptions to declare what "type" of historian one is is completely misleading.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/10/2004

David, KC has acknowledged his initial mistake in not counting Mills Thornton as a political historian. Once a person has done that -- and corrected his count -- I don't think it makes much sense to continue to berate him about it.

David Lion Salmanson - 6/9/2004

More importantly, Morgan wrote explicitly about race and class. Both Bailyn and Wood wrote about class. Their work fits into the RCG framework. ASAF also inspired me to go to graduate school (and was the first book we read in our required Americanist class) but the book deal's very much with race and class and that was part of the appeal for me. Like Derek, I think KCs methodology is sloppy, to say somebody like J. Mills Thorton is not a political historian because he happens to write Southern history is just silly.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/8/2004

Ralph --
A Freedom Rider is and is not a Freedom Rider. I have full respect for what the woman in question did. But given that I've gotten cooperation from, say, John Lewis, who was there in Alabama and Mississippi, I simply do not feel as if I need to mowtow to someone who claims to have such hard feelings for Kennedy because of what he did to her as a Freedom Rider when by the time she was on the train to Albany Kennedy had already fasttracked things to the ICC and goten favorable relief. She may well have hard feelings, don't get me wrong. And she is entitled to those feelings. But that she is holding a comment I made literally six years ago before I'd written a word just indicates to me that I can do this project with our without here and that we should not ascribe too much virtue to historical particpants who did not more and often less than what others did without carrying forward an attitude about it.
On your second point, all I ask is that you be fair. I am not certain how many ways in how many forums I have to say that the job market stinks and there needs to be an institutional change before you and others will stop claiming that I am shrugging my shoulders just because I think that as bad as the case may be, it is still possible to overstate that case. And for saying that aspiring historians bear at least some responsibility for knowing what the market looks like and that they enter grad school at their own peril until the long promised but never consummated pening of the profession occurs. Departments need to take fewer people, but those they do take need to be realistic -- they are not entitled to and have never been promised a job through all of this. It is a huge supply and demand dilemma. If nothing is hapening at the demand side, then something needs to happen at the supply side, and that supply side has two equally important elements -- aspiring students and students, and departments. The departmental issues are a fiasco, but I'd surmise that most of the departments hiring adjuncts would love to replace them with five or six full time people. It's not like they are asking for fewer full timers. But the pronlem is at a higher level, including state budget crunches that are hurting everyone. It is not shrugging the shoulders to say that there are no easy solutions. Because if there were easy solutions one person in all of these forums would have raised it and we'd have moved forward. I have yet to hear a single systemic solution to all of this. We have not. It is not shrugging shoulders to acknowledge this.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/7/2004

Derek, Two questions:
1) Isn't a Freedom Rider a Freedom Rider? As you know, the Freedom Ride(s?) to Albany was (were?) really important, in many ways the catalyst of the Albany Movement. I expect you will be _the_ reigning expert on both ends of this question in short order.
2) What percentage of tenure track job seeking ph.d.s in history have we placed this year? Last year? And for how long has that been the case, so that there is a long accumulation of unplaced ph.d.s. It seems to me quite wrong-headed to shrug your shoulders and say: that's the nature of the marketplace. We do not know and cannot know what Morgans, Bailyns, and Woods(s?) have been lost in this mess. We cannot know that because, unlike mathematicians, historians are likely to show their productivity in their seniority -- and, yet, we make the hiring and tenuring decisions as if historians and mathematicians demonstrated their productivity in the same time-frames.

Jonathan Dresner - 6/6/2004

Actually, I wouldn't assume that a single obstreperous encounter is a barrier to a successful search. Faculty know who the annoying and odd folks are, and if you deal with them well, it may count in your favor. Unless they're actually on the committee, then you have to hope they get outvoted.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/6/2004

Yup, that's the nature of the job market, though. Success or failure in an interview can and often does hinge upon the simplest or most ephemeral circumstances. Usually it's a matter of if things click. Sometimes it is ideology or perceived ideology. This happens outside of the academy too -- there is a white civil rights activist who came to a couple of OU things a while back when a big name, but lightning rod of controversy, headed the Contemporary History Institute. I was way early in the dissertation process -- had not even written anything yet -- and mentioned something about wanting to re-examine Kennedy. Ever since I've been persona non grata for this woman, who called herself a freedom rider and said "I don't particularly like where you are coming from," a bizarre argument for someone who had read nothing I'd written. Come to find out, this woman was only a "freedom rider" at the latest and narrowest sense -- she had been one of the Freedom Riders down to Albany, and was not part of the Mississippi arrests -- in other words, whatever issue she might (eventually) have had with my reading of Kennedy and the Rides, her indignation was misplaced, because she certainly did not have the personal connection to Kennedy's failures that she pretended she had. If dealing with someone like that is difficult, it is obvious why some academics will let their preconceptions dominate.
I would hasten to add that relying too heavily on one book in an area relatively outside of your expertise, especially if that book proffers and even vaguley controversial argument, is always problematic. Patterson's book is interesting. And while it is more recent than, say, Kluger, I am not certain it is better. I might even say I am certain that it is not. Michael Klarman has made similarly controversial but more substantial arguments than has Patterson, who is neither a civil rights nor a legal scholar. Obviously on the political effects, Patterson is good, but even there, Klarman is better.
In any acse, the job market stinks. But good people are getting jobs, even if not nough of them.

Stephen Tootle - 6/6/2004

Sure, sure. And I want to stress that hiring committees were usually great. But every now and then, someone from another department would be on the committee, or they would bring in some administrator and things would get strange-- irrelevant or inappropriate questions, that sort of thing. Sometimes, if I had to do a teaching demonstration, and my lectures were based on recent scholarship, I got the feeling they did not believe what I was telling them. I remember one lecture I gave, based on James Patterson's _Brown v. Board of Education_, where someone from another department simply flat-out did not believe that what I was saying was accurate. I knew I was not going to get that job. During the Q and A that followed the lecture the faculty member really kept pressing. I actually pulled out the book, checked the footnotes, and showed them the sources. I actually ended the session by saying something like, "Your fight is with Patterson. This is the best, most recent book on the subject. I think he is right. He cites his sources." I would like to say I was lucky to have the book with me, but it didn't matter. There was no way I was going to get that job.

Derek Charles Catsam - 6/6/2004

I think we run the risk of overstating things a little. Historians of the quality of Bailyn, Woods, etc. will always get jobs. There were lots of political jobs out there this year, it's just that there are not enough. I think that KC's methodology is a bit on the flawed side -- i absolutely consider myself a "political" historian, among other things, and the gist of my Fredom Ride manuscript is how politics matter and how important they were not only to understanding the Rides but also to the Civil Rights Movement generally, but if you look at my profile back at MSU or at my next place, you probably would not list me as a political historian -- these sorts of catagorizations tend to be limiting. I fear that these lamentations too often emphasize how bad things are and the implication is somehow that good people are not getting jobs. This gives short shrift to those who have been successful on the market, and who are forging successful careers of their own. I've seen enough good young historians to know that the profession is in good hands. I wish there were more jobs, and I wish that the adjunctification of the profession (a slightly overstated phenomenon) would give way to more departments pushing for full time people, but at the same time, departments accept too many students into grad school. The solutions for these problems are difficult and the problems are systemic, but I don't think the next Gordon Wood is going jobless.