Disappearing Jobs in the Humanities

Another reason to study public history in this piece from Inside Higher Ed: Disappearing Jobs: "The Modern Language Association's annual forecast on job listings, being released today, predicts that positions in English language and literature will drop 35 percent from last year, while positions in languages other than English are expected to fall 39 percent this year. Given that both categories saw decreases last year, the two-year decline in available positions is 51 percent in English and 55 percent in foreign languages." The article goes on to note that "the declines in each of the last two years are the largest ever recorded by the MLA, since it started tracking the trends in the association's Job Information List 35 years ago. The list has also never had fewer notices of openings."

Though the MLA is about English, the academic history job market tracks quite closely with the broader humanities market. And it should be remembered that these markets were terrible before the current economic crisis, with literally dozens and occasionally hundreds of qualified applicants for every opening. Now the market is at least twice as bad as that.

And there is no reason to expect it ever to improve very much. The end of mandatory retirement means that many teach on much longer than in previous generations (in part to keep the health insurance). Those that do retire are more often replaced by adjuncts and other contingent faculty than by tenure track positions. And the number of undergraduate history majors continues to decline. 

As a professor it is flattering when a student wants to follow in your footsteps. But that path has so narrowed in recent decades that it is effectively closed. Those of us who teach in the humanities have an obligation to firmly tell our charges to forget it. We need to steer them towards alternate careers, such as public history.

[Image via The Tombstone Generator.]