Fighting for History

This past Monday, HNN posted an opinion piece by Jesse Lemisch, professor emeritus of history, titled “History is Worth Fighting For, But Where is the AHA?” Lemisch points to Anthony Grafton and Jim Grossman’s recent Perspectives on History article “No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History” and criticizes it for not going farther, not pushing for more change, and for seeming to accept the current state of few history tenure-track jobs. “What they propose is indeed too modest, almost tragically so,” he writes, and calls for the AHA to fight harder to “defend learning and what used to be called ‘liberal education.’”

AHA President Anthony Grafton and Executive Director Jim Grossman were given the chance to respond, and did in the post “Reponse to Jesse Lemisch: It’s Not Enough to Just Wish for Change.” They made it clear that the AHA advocates for expanded funding for higher education, but must face the reality of funding cuts and the relative lack of tenure-track jobs for historians. This is why the AHA supports “a more diverse array of employment opportunities” for historians. As a membership organization the AHA has “a duty to serve the needs of the many members of our profession who need jobs now and will need them in the next several years.”

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  1. Kay Romano

    If the AHA cares so much about graduate education and jobs, why doesn’t it keep track and make public record how many graduating PhDs in every history program get jobs? Put some pressure on the history programs. I cannot help but think that some of what’s causing the glut of PhDs on the job market is the fact (or to me it’s a fact) that there are way too many history departments giving the PhD. Many, if not most, departments giving the PhD have no business doing so. I meet their students and PhDs at conferences and they clearly have no idea how academia works and they have no idea what it will take to get a job. Not only that, their conference papers are terrible. There’s a reason students from a handful of schools get jobs year in and year out. Yes, there’s a recession, but those programs are still leading to jobs. The AHA is useless unless it shows that it has some power. Does it have any power? Keeping track of which programs lead to jobs will help prospective PhD students decide not only on which programs to choose but also on whether to go to grad school at all. Directing everyone towards public history, which is a fine field but has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in a history PhD program, is not the answer. The AHA needs to show that it has some weight and force change or it needs to stay quiet.