History Job Market Looks Bleak . . . Again

Randall Stephens

There is nothing like ringing in the near year with bad news . . . But, here goes.

The history job market is still bleak. (Not really news to anyone, I suppose. We're used to this. It's like watching the film Groundhog Day.) As it stands right now, the number of jobs listed through the American Historical Association is at a 25-year low.

Scott Jaschik reports at Inside Higher Ed: "The reality of radically differing job markets may be especially clear as 2011 begins with disciplinary associations gathering for job interviews at annual meetings and releasing data on the number of available positions." There will be many sad faces at this year's AHA meeting in Boston. (If you are on the market, and would like to improve your odds, see John Fea's interview advice at the Way of Improvement Leads Home and Claire B. Potter's suggestions at Tenured Radical.)

The number of new history PhDs rose to a 9-year high in 2009. You don't need any training in economic theory to know that there's something wrong with that picture. (Speaking of economics . . . the American Economic Association announced that its job listings have recovered from a 21% dip in 2008.)

Could it get worse? Maybe. The Inside Higher Ed piece draws from Robert Townsend's AHA report on the job market. (You may need to sign in to your AHA account to read this.) Townsend, assistant director of research and publications at the AHA, writes about long-term concerns in the new issue of Perspectives on History:

In addition to the chairs’ general concerns about what lies ahead for hiring in their departments, there are demographic reasons for viewing the coming decade with caution. First, the number of faculty approaching retirement age in the next 10 years is reaching the lowest level in 30 years. Currently, only 40 percent of the full-time faculty in history departments are 20 years or more from the time they earned their degrees.

Townsend wraps up his article with a note of caution. "Most history doctoral students are being trained for an academic job market that is now beset by crises," he observes. "Departments should begin to carefully reflect on the type of training they are providing their students and the number of students they are admitting to their programs."

See these related articles for more:

Eric Kelderman, "Colleges to Confront Deep Cutbacks. In states where new governors pledge no new taxes, higher-education budgets will suffer," Chronicle, January 2, 2011

Christopher Phelps, "A Move Abroad: Travels and Travails," Chronicle, January 2, 2011

Samuel Wren, "Rule Britannia. Being a job candidate in a British faculty search is a curiously different experience," Chronicle, April 10, 2010

Anthony Grafton, "History under Attack," Perspectives on History (January 2011)

Robert B. Townsend, "History under the Hammer: Department Chairs Report Effects of Economic Woes," Perspectives on History (January 2011)

Scott Jaschik, "No Entry," Inside Higher Ed, January 4, 2010

Hannah Fearn, "Shrinking job market sees nearly 70 applicants vie for every graduate job," THE, July 6 2010