Association Aims to Widen the Playing Field for History Ph.D.s

It’s a sign of the times: There are more history Ph.D.s than jobs for history professors. With a new grant, the American Historical Association is expanding its initiative to create more professional opportunities for history doctorates outside of academia.

It’s tough to get a job in academia these days, especially if you’re in history.

According to the American Historical Association, the number of jobs advertised with the association for the 2012-2013 academic year fell by about 7 percent from the year before. Yet, the number of people receiving doctoral degrees in the field is growing—AHA calculated a 2.2 percent increase in history Ph.D.s earned between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years, and it projected a similar increase for 2012-2013.

To help ease the growing gap between job seekers and available positions, the association launched a “Career Diversity and the History Ph.D.” initiative to help broaden the career choices and professional opportunities available to history doctorates. Last week AHA received a $1.6 million grant that will help continue and expand the initiative’s work.

“Our long-term goal is to establish a new norm: That doctoral graduates in history, and by extension the humanities, know how to pursue a wide spectrum of career opportunities that includes the professoriate, higher education administration, cultural institutions, and other nonprofits, government, public education, and the private sector,” AHA Executive Director James Grossman wrote in a blog post. “This $1.6 million grant will fund pilot projects at four universities, anchored by a suite of national activities implemented by the association.”

The money from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—a nonprofit that makes grants to institutions focused on higher education, cultural affairs, and performing arts—will support projects at the Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of New Mexico, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The history Ph.D. program at Columbia, for example, is developing new interdisciplinary “clinic” courses that would allow doctoral students to work on projects and collaborate with other departments focusing on areas such as international governance, grade-level education, and policy, Insider Higher Ed reported.

Expanding career opportunities for history Ph.D.s benefits employers as well as students, Grossman wrote.

“We are also interested in widening the presence and influence of humanistic thinking in business, government, and nonprofits,” he wrote. “Implicit assumptions about historical context inform thousands of decisions made every day in nearly every institutional context, and we believe that a substantial proportion of those decisions are made without recognition of those historical assumptions, and certainly with very little actual historical knowledge.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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