Originally published 04/17/2013
Robert Townsend is the AHA’s deputy director, and the author of History’s Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise, 1880–1940 (Univ. of Chicago Press).During the 2010–11 academic year, the number of undergraduate students earning degrees in history dropped—albeit by a small percentage—for the first time in a decade, even as the number of students earning degrees in all fields continued to rise. As a result, the history discipline's share of degrees earned in 2011 declined to the lowest level in 10 years (fig. 1).According to new information from the Department of Education, history programs conferred 35,059 bachelor's degrees in the discipline, and another 3,588 students earned degrees with history as their second major. Together, 0.6 percent fewer students earned history degrees this year compared to last.1
Originally published 02/04/2013
The historical enterprise -- that is, the work of historians, in any sphere -- has become too divided, even splintered, Robert Townsend believes. While the American Historical Association was founded with the intent of bringing together "professors, teachers, specialists, and others" (according to its original call, in 1884), today the profession of history is seen as synonymous with the work of professors at research universities -- to the detriment of the discipline as a whole.Townsend ought to know whereof he speaks: he is the deputy director of the AHA, where he has worked for over 20 years; he is also the author of numerous studies on the state of the historical profession.In his new book, History's Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880-1940 (University of Chicago Press), Townsend traces the beginnings and growth of what he calls the "professional shift," in which historical work splintered into separate professions: academic research, teaching, and public history....