Blogs > Cliopatria > Populate a History Department

Sep 30, 2006 1:53 pm

Populate a History Department

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

Let's say you have carte blanche to populate a history department located in, say, the U.S. midwest. For purposes of the exercise, the department has no preexisting faculty -- or, if you like, numerous faculty will retire over the next five years, and you are asked to develop a strategic plan showing what the department should look like in five years. Select the faculty positions you consider most important for the 8,000 undergraduate students who attend this liberal arts college. You have fifteen FTE (full-time equivalent) slots available and a salary/benefits budget of $1,290,000, with benefits computed at 36 percent of salary. (Thus, a faculty member receiving $50,000 in salary would also require $18,000 in benefits.) You can count on an annual pool of 1.5 percent (e.g., $19,350 for the first academic year), for merit increases.


FY 5: 1,290,000 (Year 1 of the strategic plan)
FY 6: 1,309,350
FY 7: 1,422,225
FY 8: 1,493,336
FY 9: 1,568,003
What positions -- areas of specialization -- would you select, and why?
















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Stephan Xavier Reich - 11/25/2006

the point that Grimsley, Luker, and others made about women's history being different from gender. And then Mark gives us this:

I include two positions in women's history (7, 9) because . . . (it) would also give students exposure to gender as a category of historical analysis.

So if you want someone to teach gender, make sure you hire a Women's History specialist!

Jonathan Dresner - 10/2/2006

That's "untenured radical," and I freely admit that I benefited greatly from the '80s boom in interest in Japanese money and power, though my graduate career coincided with the depths of Japan's stagnation....

I'd actually argue that Japanese history is a bit overrepresented in terms of presentist relevance, though not in terms of the very interesting scholarship being done. I'd also argue that social history is overrepresented, though not the specific topic I study (migration).
If you take my field to be "Asia", then my list fits your description, but we don't all look alike, you know....

Mark Grimsley - 10/2/2006

Jonathan - Spoken like a true "tenured radical"! Everyone knows US and European history is the only important history, and then only if it concentrates on the wealthy and powerful.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/1/2006

The reader responses to this post, both here and on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, help dramatize the fact that other fields can feel themselves underrepresented as well. You just don't generally see them whining about it to magazines with national circulations.

Well, if a national publication asked, I'd be more than happy to echo the sentiments of past AAS President Berry and point out the disparity between positions and global importance for European and Asian history.... I'll try not to whine, though.

Andrew D. Todd - 10/1/2006

As a practical matter of course, your hypothetical liberal arts college of 8,000 is almost certainly part of a university. A freestanding liberal arts college would typically have an enrollment more on the order of 800, say, some place like Oberlin or Antioch. Very few people want to send their kids to pure liberal arts colleges, save as a preparation for graduate school. So your liberal arts college is only half of the university. The other half is a bunch of mostly undergraduate professional schools, viz business, engineering, education, health sciences, etc. You want to get in someone who can talk across campus, so to speak. The obvious possibilities would be things like history of science, technology, and medicine, business or economic history, etc., though there are other possibilities. These do not necessarily conflict with your regional-chronological divisions. You can have someone who specializes in, say, the Brazilian automobile industry. What makes Brazil interesting is that it is about the only Latin American country to successfully industrialize without substantial neo-colonialism, in striking contrast to Mexico.

A personal anecdote: when I was an undergraduate in Anthropology at Cincinnati in the late 1970's, I took Primitive Technology from Beth Dillingham. It was mostly stone arrowheads, and suchlike, but she got in a guest lecturer to talk about metals, a man from the engineering school metallurgy department named William Tholke. As it happens, I met him again, about three years later, when when I was in engineering school, and took his introductory metallurgy course (what engineers call NAPOM). Within the context of engineering school, this was a required survey course, and the person who winds up teaching that kind of course is often a bit eclectic, someone who doesn't quite fit in the department mold. I suppose if Beth Dillingham had gone looking for someone willing to teach her the science behind the Bronze Age and and Iron Age, she would have been directed to someone like that, not one of the young Chinese guys who were pushing the limits of advanced mathematical techniques.

Mark Grimsley - 10/1/2006

"What is this department trying to accomplish?" would, in a college of only 8,000 students, a subset of "What is this college trying to accomplish?" Either way, it's the question.

But as to what my post was/is trying to accomplish: It was an effort to disabuse people of the notion that if a college or university lacks a military history position, there are likely other considerations at work besides knee-jerk hostility to the field, which is the explanation John J. Miller of NRO seemed to hear from the military historians he interviewed ("Sounding Taps".

The reader responses to this post, both here and on Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, help dramatize the fact that other fields can feel themselves underrepresented as well. You just don't generally see them whining about it to magazines with national circulations.

Back in the winter of 2004 I did this exact same thought experiment with a group of military history graduate students in my department. Historically, most mil his grad students in our program have been broad-minded. Not this bunch. They came in with a narrowly-conceived view of military history, they heard any talk of broadening the field to mean diluting the field, they echoed at every turn the oh-woe-is-us view that academics in other fields were out to get us, and believe me, that did not appreciate the thrust of this thought experiment.

Subsequent year cohorts of military history grad students have been more the norm -- intent on becoming historians first, military historians second, and certainly not military analysts who simply conducted selective raids on history. The newer cohort sardonically called the stratum of aberrant grad students "the Old Guard." It neatly encapsulated both the opinions and defensiveness of that stratum.

I'll tell you one more thing I will never forget. A chronic complaint among "the Old Guard" was that grad students in other fields took no interest in military history. So I started an informal discussion group in which each week read an article that, by design, had relevance to both military historians and historians in other fields.

The first week's attendance was something like sixteen students, many from outside military history. It was a great opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of military history to other fields. But in the weeks that followed, the number of students who attended the group steadily diminished, principally because the number of military history grad students steadily diminished, until finally only non-military history grad students remained. It transpired that "the Old Guard" had actually talked among itself and decided to boycott the discussion group.

Thus, when we discussed an article dealing with women fighters in the war for the independence of Zimbabwe ("the Second Chimurenga"), several students from Women's Studies were present, but no military history grad students. When we met to discuss James McPherson's American Historical Association presidential address, "No Peace Without Victory, 1861-1865," only a single military history grad student showed up.

All in all, it was a stunning vindication of my contention that military historians, both those beyond the PhD and those studying to get one, often do much to perpetuate their own marginalized status. They hold everyone responsible for the fate of their field except themselves. If it were any other group of academics save military historians, National Review Online would have sniffed airily about the culture of complaint and the politics of victimization.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/1/2006

What is this department trying to accomplish? If it's mostly about bureaucratic self-justification, then you pick faculty based on the likely popularity of their courses and specialities, pack the rooms and wave the numbers at the dean so your budget doesn't get cut in favor of hospitality management. Military history comes out really well this way, by the way, as do gender, culture studies and courses on samurai.

If it's about educating undergrads who might someday become graduate students (or at least teachers), then you need what KC Johnson used to call the "perfect pie" which is largely what Mark has produced here. It's a very conventional approach to selection: national history first, overrepresented, sweet; Western history next, crusty and useful, then filling in regions and specialities like pinches of spice.

What if we picked specialities based on more presentist principles: population, influence, relevance of history to the present, quality of current scholarship? It might look something like this:

  1. 20c US (political/diplomatic)
  2. Modern China
  3. Modern South Asia
  4. Early Modern Europe (preferably intellectual history)
  5. Middle East
  6. Science/Technology
  7. Legal/Constitutional History (internationalist would be nice, someone comfortable with Western jurisprudence and International law)
  8. pre-20c US
  9. Local History (genealogy would be a great subfield)
  10. World History (not to teach all the World courses, but to coordinate that curriculum and teach thematic courses)
  11. Sub-Saharan Africa
  12. East Asia (except modern China)
  13. Classical Greece/Rome
  14. Latin America

There are a few methodological/categorical slots that will have to be covered. You just keep putting them in the ads as "desirable skills/preference given" until you finally get a few folks who fit the description.
  1. Gender
  2. Economic History
  3. Social History
  4. Cultural history
  5. Military History

This list is not "subsidiary" to the other list: think of them as intersecting matrices.

What makes this department special? It doesn't concede territory to the other social sciences: economics, political science, sociology. These hires are easily defensible within the context of administrative battles. These courses will draw students, and history majors should come out with strong backgrounds in what matters.

Mark Grimsley - 10/1/2006

Absolutely. And indeed, one of the strategies often used here at Ohio State by "marginalized" fields is to create synergies with other fields whose faculty are working at a common intersection(s). Thus the field of Latin American history, which about 15 years ago was very much a minor sideline at Ohio State, has become surprisingly strong thanks to proposals to hire Latin Americanists whose work intersected with, say, women's history as well.

We military historians have opted to secure an additional junior faculty position by partnering with Chinese history, which also needs another junior position. This has resulted in a proposal to hire a Chinese historian whose research specialization has a significant military history dimension.

Mark Grimsley - 10/1/2006

As of this writing, the total comments stand at 21, many of them quite good.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/1/2006

It doesn't have to be either/or: there are some great historians out there working the intersection.

David M Fahey - 10/1/2006

By demographics I mean several things including the composition of the student body and of the profession and the nature of the regional and national population and (equally important) perceptions of it. At one time demographics encouraged a curriculum of United States and West European history taught from a male point of view. When I received my undergraduate degree (1959), few hiring committees thought about women's history or African American history or (except as part of European imperial history) African history. The teaching and study of history is affected by what happens today. Has the appeal of Russian history been unaffected by the end of the Cold War? Although I don't suggest that hiring lines be assigned in proportion to the population of the countries/regions studied, it makes sense at least to me that a 15-member department should include a specialist on East Asia. Every member of any department has many specializations: geographical, chronological, topical or thematic, methodological. Somebody hired to teach modern European historian may by training and interest be qualified to teach intellectual history or diplomatic history or military history or women's history or economic history or whatever. This doesn't guarantee that a particular kind of course can be offered, but it does expand the possibilities beyond what a single label (say, modern Europe) might imply. PS: To repeat my earlier opinion, I suspect that the proportion of lines assigned to Europe will decline in the twenty-first century. As somebody trained as a Europeanist, I say this reluctantly but also confidently.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/1/2006

Making "the demographics of this country" an or the arbiter of how the history department should be staffed is problemmatic. What happens if we make "the demographics of the world" the arbiter? It shifts department staffing heavily toward east and south Asia -- probably more heavily than a 15 person department could quite sustain. I'm also unhappy about no mention of intellectual history in this discussion. The material in early modern through even post-modern Europe in intellectual history is so rich that I'd be shocked at the failure of a 15 person department to be able to offer several courses in the field.

Manan Ahmed - 10/1/2006

This thread is not making me feel good. at all.

Mark Grimsley - 10/1/2006

Good suggestion. And actually a partial argument for the inclusion of military history, since some military historians -- e.g., my colleague Joe Guilmartin -- are also trained historians of technology.

Grant W Jones - 9/30/2006

I would have to replace one of the Women's history faculty to make room for...drum...roll...please...a historian of science and technology.

We just have too many science illiterates running around. And I'm assuming the art and economic departments would offer courses in business and art history.

David M Fahey - 9/30/2006

In my opinion, the biggest question is how many lines goes to those parts of the world other than the USA and Europe. I suspect that lines for the so-called "non-West" will come mostly at the expense of Europe. The demographics of this country suggest that there should be lines for African and Latin America/Caribbean. The realities of the world suggest that should be lines for East Asia and the Middle East. South Asia? I would say yes, but likely most historians on hiring committees would say no.

Mark Grimsley - 9/30/2006

No doubt there would be just those sorts of complications in practice, and that this exercise is a deliberately simplified model of the real thing. Still, are you game to give it a try? To fill the slots in a way that makes good sense to you?

Mark Grimsley - 9/30/2006

That's fair enough, Stephan -- good point! My impression is that while male historians employ gender history, it's women's historians who can still most reliably be counted upon to deploy gender analysis. But perhaps the best approach would be to create a position in the History of Gender; or maybe Gender and Sexuality.

Either way: you were quite correct to call me on that. Well done!

David M Fahey - 9/30/2006

A few complications:

joint appointments

partner appointments (both within a department and with other departments)

priorities about geographical, chronological, and thematic specializations (for instance, almost any European historian will have a national specialization as well as a period one; virtually any world historian will have a regional or national--and chronological specialization)

do you want to build an area of strength (leave coverage to house painters) or provide a breadth of course offerings for undergraduates?)

hard to imagine a department in America without a British historian

recognizing demographics, hard to image a sizable department without an African and a Latin American/Caribbean historian

hard to image a department of 15 in the 21st century without somebody in Middle Eastern/Islamic, South Asian, or East Asian historian (at least one of the three)

Mark Grimsley - 9/30/2006

Forgot to include this part . . .

Most of my choices are pretty conventional. I figure students need a good grounding in the history of the United States (1, 2, 3); and certain specific experiences within that history (6, 7, 15). Similar, Europe has been so important, both intrinsically and in its influence on the U.S., as to rate two positions (4, 5), reinforced by ancient or medieval history (12). Ancient history would also provide a useful foundation for modern Middle Eastern history (10). Latin America, East Asia, and Modern Middle East (9, 10, 11) are included to give students exposure to the non-western world, especially those regions most likely to be of importance to the future of this country. The two world history positions (13, 14) are intended to give students a solid overview of the dynamics of colonization, decolonization, and globalization. Depending on who was hired, they would also provide additional depth to one or more of the nonwestern fields.

I include two positions in women's history (7, 9) because the history of half the people who have ever walked the planet is of major importance. It would also give students exposure to gender as a category of historical analysis, and would add depth to US history and the history of some other part of the world.

I think that leaves just military/diplomatic history. I include it mainly to demonstrate to people who complain about the few number of jobs in military history just why this state of affairs exists -- it isn't necessarily a matter of knee jerk hostility to the field, but rather the fact that other fields are also important and college resources are finite. I selected modern military/diplomatic history (15) because this specialization seemed most likely to help students grasp the present national security environment.

I have no illusions that the mil/dip slot didn't come at the expense of other worthwhile possibilities; e.g., subsaharan Africa, south Asia, environment history, legal/constitutional history, etc.

Mark Grimsley - 9/30/2006

1. Colonial/Revolutionary US History (1600-1800)
2. Early US history (1800-1877)
3. Modern U.S. History (1877 to present)
4. Early Modern Europe (ca. 1500-1800)
5. Modern Europe (1800 to present)
6. African American history or African diaspora
7. US Women's history
8. Women's history (geographical specialization open)
9. East Asian history (preference for modern China or Japan)
10. Modern Middle East (ca 1850-present)
11. Latin American history
12. Ancient or medieval history
13. World History (to 1500)
14. World history (1500 to present)
15. 20th century military/diplomatic (geographical specialization open)

As you can see, I managed to squeeze in a military/diplomatic slot, but have no illusions it didn't come at the expense of other worthwhile possibilities; e.g., subsaharan Africa, south Asia, environment history, legal/constitutional history, etc.

Other thoughts?