June 11, 2007
By Robert B. Townsend
For anyone interested in the challenges and prospects for doctoral candidates in history, PhDinHistory offers a useful counterpoint to reports generated by the AHA (and this author). The blog casts fresh light on the anxieties and discontents of doctoral students in the discipline, usually supported by a wide-ranging and fresh reading of the available data.
Over its first three months online, the anonymous author of PhDinHistory has offered thoughtful analysis on a wide range of the professional issues, ranging from the job market to the professional preparation of history PhDs. As someone who spends far too much time trying to reduce the profession to numbers, I find PhDinHistory offers a useful reminder about the lived reality behind the statistics. At the same time, the author takes the time to work back through the numbers, pointing out gaps in the data and critiquing its interpretation. I have to respect someone who takes the time to offer an informed opinion about where we at the AHA are falling short, and what we could improve.
The anonymity of the blog raises an interesting question about writing and scholarship in the blogosphere. As scholars, we tend to want a certain amount of transparency about authorship and motivation, but that is lost on an anonymous blog. However, in this context, anonymity provides a shield for those who find themselves at the bottom of the academic hierarchy. Indeed, one of the real gifts of this blog is that it offers a safe way for a graduate student to speak frankly about the graduate school experience without fatally compromising a career. When I was assisting the Committee on Graduate Education, I was often shocked that department chairs and DGS’s would speak confidently about how content their doctoral students were, especially after conversations with those students revealed deep discontent. In exercising the cloak of anonymity responsibly, the author of PhDinHistory provides a rare and valuable window into what doctoral students perceive of their training. Perhaps over time the blog will aid in bridging faculty and students’ often disparate perceptions of the doctoral student experience.
Update: PhDinHistory has moved to: http://phdinhistory.blogspot.com/