AHA Preliminary Report: A good year on the job market but troubles loom

Historians in the News

By most indicators, new and recent history PhDs enjoyed an exceptional hiring season in the 2007–08 academic year, but there is ample evidence that troubles in the economy are now hitting the history job market hard.

In the good news department, the number of jobs advertised through the AHA grew faster than the number of new history PhDs conferred. This marked the third year in which the number of job ads exceeded the number of new PhDs entering the market—a rare event over the past 25 years.

The total number of positions listed with the AHA (which includes all full-time positions and fellowships paying $28,000 or more per year) rose a modest 2.8 percent, to 1,057 openings. This is the largest number of positions ever advertised with the AHA in a single year, and marks a 24 percent increase in openings since the last economic contraction between 2001 and 2003. The largest growth in job openings occurred in the public history section of our job listings, which grew by 27.9 percent over the prior year. But there was also modest growth in advertisements from most regions of the country. Admittedly, the numbers are fairly small—an increase of seven positions in both New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions, and four new jobs in the states around the Great Lakes. But given that they were growing from the highest numbers on record, any growth seems very good indeed. Advertisements declined in only two regional sections of the advertisements, the Western states (down 9 openings from the year before), and from foreign employers (which was off by more than 28 percent)....

While the long-term trends looked quite good for new and prospective doctoral students entering the market, there are a number of deeply worrisome indicators for the current academic year. Even last year, which seemed particularly good, we had a large number of ads cancelled shortly after submission (26). And according to our survey, another 4 percent of the jobs advertised were cancelled after the ad had appeared and applications accepted.

The portents for the current academic year look much more worrisome. So far this year, advertisements with the AHA are off 15 percent from last year. As of December 1, 2008, we had received 746 advertisements, whereas we had 878 by that date last year. And an unscientific survey of history department chairs turned up troubling news from coast to coast. Chairs of departments at public and private institutions across the country reported that they were already under pressure from their administrations to pinch pennies and hold off on any new hiring....

Read entire article at Robert Townsend in a draft of a preliminary report at the AHA annual convention 2009

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