The first came at UCLA. As I've written previously, the department's contingent of 21 Americanists is heavily tilted toward social and cultural history. Its ranks include no historians of U.S. foreign relations, no U.S. legal historians, and no U.S. military historians, while its two faculty members who describe their interests as political history are practioners of the"new political history" whose work is indistinguishable from women's or labor history.
This year, UCLA is advertising for a tenure-track assistant professorship or tenured associate professorship in"modern American history." Any hope that the department might be eager to broaden its intellectual coverage rather than replicate itself, however, vanished when looking at the desired specialties:" cultural, environmental, labor, and urban history." Where is the UCLA administration? What possible rationale could exist for a department already top-heavy in American cultural and labor history to hire another professor in these fields when the department has no coverage at all in other vital aspects of the American experience?
The second listing that caught my eye came at Case Western, which is advertising for an open-rank 20th century US historian. The department is defining the desired interests, however, in an unusual way:"a focus on areas that examine issues of social justice." The advertisement states that"specialists in the history of race or ethnicity, labor, poverty, criminal justice, gender/sexuality, and social movements are encouraged to apply. However, applicants in all fields of 20th-century U.S. history will be considered, so long as there is a focus on social justice."
Within the desired subfields, imagine a few topics: a focus on women critics of feminism, or African-American critics of affirmative action, or a dissertation in labor history critical of Walter Reuther and the UAW. What about a specialist in American religious history whose work has examined the pro-life movement, which some quarters consider the most powerful social justice movement of the last quarter century? Would any of these candidates be considered? Unlikely, because the current majority in the academy would not consider their work as reflecting an examination of"issues of social justice."
Moreover, there's no sign that Case Western's 14-person department is lacking coverage of the themes implied in the job ad. As things now stand, atleastthree of its US historians (in a department that totals only 14 members in all fields) would fit the job description, and that's not counting a professor whose most recent book is The Female Marine and Related Works: Narratives of Cross-Dressing and Urban Vice in America's Early Republic. The Case Western and UCLA job postings do little to soothe concerns that the academic establishment is not capable on its own of addressing the lack of intellectual and pedagogical diversity currently plaguing many social science and humanities departments around the country.