Troubling News on Job Market for History PhDs





In advance of the annual meeting, we are publishing the annual job report online a bit earlier than the rest of the January issue of Perspectives on History. It offers troubling news for job seekers, the history doctoral programs conferring their degrees, and the discipline as a whole.

In the 2008–09 academic year job advertisements fell by 23.8 percent—from a record high of 1,053 openings in 2007–08 to 806 openings in the past year. This was the smallest number of positions advertised with the AHA in a decade. To make matters worse, a subsequent survey of advertisers indicates that about 15 percent of the openings were cancelled after the positions were advertised. And while we have not finished taking advertisements this year, it will come as no surprise to anyone following the ads that job openings continue to decline.

Even as the number of openings fell sharply, the number of new PhDs reported to the annual Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians increased by more than 17 percent, from 741 in the 2007–08 academic year to 869. This was the largest year-to-year increase since we began tabulating this information in the Directory in 1975. Given that it takes an average of eight years to earn a history PhD, and the number of doctoral students already toiling away in history PhD programs remains steady (with a small increase in new admissions), there are no easy short-term solutions.

For a wider perspective on the current situation, please note the recent studies on the long term changes in the academic job market and the job crisis of the 1970s.

Alongside the general report on academic employment, we also report on a new release of information about history PhDs from the federal government. In a better year, we might celebrate the growing diversity of the discipline. But at a time when jobs seem to be diminishing, it is difficult to focus on much beyond the continued growth in the total number of new PhDs.

We hope members attending the meeting will take the opportunity to discuss these trends, and the underlying problems for the discipline. This is sure to be a topic of conversation at the session on the future of history at the meeting (“Whither History PhD Programs? The Education of Historians Report after Five Years”), which will review the work of the AHA’s Committee on Graduate Education. We hope you will come and take a part in the discussion, or offer your thoughts and suggestions here.


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