Another Tough Year for the Academic Job Market in History

Job ads in the AHA Career Center, the leading venue for job advertisements aimed at history PhDs, have declined for the fifth straight year and are now at their lowest level since the mid-1980s. During the period from June 2016 to June 2017, the Career Center posted 501 listings for full-time positions, a steep 12 percent decline compared to the same period from 2015–16.[1] Of these positions, 289 were on the tenure track, 94 were full-time, non-tenure-track positions (including both permanent and visiting positions), and 60 were postdocs. The remaining full-time positions were primarily nonacademic appointments or staff/administrative positions within higher education. 

Fig. 1: Advertised Job Openings Compared to the Number of New History PhDs

Declines were spread unevenly across regional and thematic specialization (Fig. 2). US/North American history positions, in recent years the single largest specialization chosen by employers as a primary field, fell a modest 8 percent. Jobs in world history continued their recent pattern of growth and have now increased 25 percent since the 2014–15 hiring cycle. In contrast, African and Middle Eastern history, fields with stable demand in recent years, each saw significant declines. Middle Eastern-focused positions declined 32 percent, while jobs in African history fell by over 50 percent, from 30 to just 14 positions. Asian history, another hot field in recent years, dropped a more modest 14 percent. European history positions continued their long-term slide in job advertisements.

Fig. 2: Primary Field of History Jobs Advertised

Employers placed 65 advertisements for full- and part-time positions beyond the professoriate, including public history, non-teaching oriented higher education jobs, and careers in the private sector. Employers advertising for these types of positions are an increasingly important presence on the AHA Career Center, having increased 435 percent in the previous two years. This growth may partially reflect the ongoing efforts of the AHA to promote the value of advanced degrees in history to employers. Certainly, it is an important reminder that the “market” for history PhDs is broader than the AHA Career Center’s listings suggest.

A full contextualization of these numbers, including data on the number of history PhDs earned last year, updates on the outcomes of 2016–17 searches, and comparative data from the H-Net Job Guide will be published in Perspectives on History early next year. Though ours is only one of several major job boards in the discipline, it seems clear that the 2016–17 academic job market was yet another difficult year for early career historians.

[1] The MLA’s Job Information List also posted steep declines, suggesting ongoing and widespread difficulties in the academic market for humanities PhDs. https://mlaresearch.mla.hcommons.org/2017/10/17/preliminary-report-on-the-mla-job-information-list-2016-17/.

 

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  1. Bob Adams

    AHA needs to start lobbying the demand side of the history job market, and develop a nation-wide, grassroots campaign that all secondary-level (HS) teachers in the U.S. should have a master’s degree in history. It is not acceptable that history, including civics, is being taught at this level by undergrad level, education majors.

    There’s a lot of lost ground to make up for, but the demand signal is there: students/parents want quality secondary instruction. The case needs to be made, explicitly that the World History and U.S. History courses that are mandatory for college admissions cannot and should not be taught by non-professionals.

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