History Departments Struggle in a Depressing Economy

Historians in the News

Related Links

  • Inside Higher Ed: The Economic Freeze on History
  • Heading into the new academic year, history departments across the country are struggling through a wide range of cuts and general uncertainty about their departmental budgets. The effects of the current down economy seem to be affecting most departments—whether large, medium, or small, and at private as well as public institutions. But the specific effects on individual departments and the strategies adopted for coping with them seem widely varied.

    To try to get a better picture of the actual toll the economy is taking on departments, AHA staff wrote to 110 department chairs in all 50 states; asking about the size and source of any cuts to their budgets, the effects (if any) such cuts might be having on personnel and the execution of their mission; and finally, their strategies for dealing with current economic realities.1 More than half of the department chairs responded, offering frank and detailed assessments of the situation in their departments. Collectively, they painted a grim picture of the financial state of most history departments.

    Since the situation is still in flux for most departments, most were reluctant to speak on the record. Given that reluctance, and to avoid doing them any further harm, this report offers an anecdotal summary of the responses, and does not quote any of the chairs by name....

    Read entire article at Robert Townsend in the AHA magazine, Perspectives on History

    comments powered by Disqus

    More Comments:

    Renatam J Bush - 9/16/2009

    Very good essay, professor.
    As an undergrad history major myself, your comments hit home.
    In school during the early and mid 90s, the rot had already set in.

    vaughn davis bornet - 9/16/2009

    First off, I am completely out of date and uninformed on "the situation." But I have opinions.

    I am a longtime Division chairman (read Dean) at a state college.

    Where were the bodies? In Business, Education, Physical Education. Did History offer coursework in History of American Business, History of American Education, History of American Athletics? They did not.

    The detent positon, really default, was to let related departments have "all that." If we had only be able to set up coursework and make it "required" for degrees in those areas!

    What DID we procede to offer. Why such winners as courses on long gone Indian tribes; on race relations then and now; on subjects studied by the professoriate in graduate school, maybe for dissertations. Women's History in many packages. History of radicals and gays, maybe.

    The criteria were chiefly whether the professors would be happy; not if the students either wanted or needed the subject. History of American Entrepreneurship. History of Higher Education Worldwide. History of Organized Athletics (or the Olympics).

    Especially, back to History of the Civil War, the World Wars, Great Leaders of Industry; History of Presidential Failure and Success.

    But no! It is degrading to recruit students in any such way. And the faculty, who are Gods, won't study these subject NOW (having not studied them when they could) won't teach ANY of these subjects!

    So: History atrophies. So be it.

    Vaughn Davis Bornet, Ph.D. (Stanford), once at So. Or. Col. 1963-1980, etc.