By Ashton Merck
Think tanks, also known as research institutes, advocacy organizations, and policy centers, are often described as “universities without students.” These organizations run the gamut of political orientations, thematic focus, size, and scope, but most share a common emphasis on research and writing—two core features of doctoral programs in history. Thus, working at a think tank seems like a perfect example of the kind of career outside academia that forward-thinking institutions and professional associations, including the AHA, are increasingly encouraging history PhDs to pursue.
Through its work, the AHA has learned that popular wisdom severely underestimates the value and versatility of a history degree. As the seat of the federal government, home to a battery of museums and archives, nonprofits, colleges and universities, and K–12 schools, the District of Columbia showcases many of the career paths open to historians. At the 2018 AHA annual meeting, we are taking full advantage of the diverse local community of historians to offer a slate of professional development activities that is bigger and more varied than ever.
For the past 18 months, I have been supporting the ground-level research for Where Historians Work, AHA’s interactive database of cross-institutional data on history PhD job outcomes. After many long hours of finding, categorizing, and updating current employment information for thousands of historians, I can say with confidence that I am no longer surprised by any of their career choices. I’ve found sports coaches, movie producers, farmworkers, mechanical engineers, software developers, and many others working in fields where a history PhD is definitely not the prerequisite.
By Emily Swafford and Dylan Ruediger
A few weeks ago, two leading higher education publications ran pieces reflecting on important trends in PhD education. Inside Higher Ed published a report highlighting new data released by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators project. The article drew renewed attention to the now familiar discrepancy between the number of PhDs earned in history each year and the number of new faculty positions in the discipline. The conclusion: “the job shortage won’t go away any time soon.” Meanwhile, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, AHA executive director Jim Grossman contemplated what new student orientation for PhDs could look like in five years if departments deepened their commitments to diversifying the career aspirations and options of their students.
Working at the American Historical Association for the past two years has made it impossible to shield myself from the uglier truths about pursuing a graduate degree in history—from the imbalance between the number of graduate degrees conferred and jobs available in the professoriate to the increasingly precarious nature of employment in higher education. Taken alone, these challenges might have convinced me (or any rational person) to run in the other direction. Instead, two years after getting my bachelor’s degree, I’m starting a history PhD program in the fall.
Several months ago, the AHA released “Where Historians Work,” a series of interactive visualizations created as part of our ongoing effort to collect measurable data about the career paths of history PhDs. Since then, thousands of people have used the visualizations to get a sense of the rich variety of jobs that historians find after completing their doctoral education.
By Kristina Markman and Michael A. Ryan
Last year, we participated in a panel on “Career Diversity for the Medievalist” at the 51st annual meeting of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS). The ICMS is a premier academic conference in the field of medieval studies that draws over 3,000 specialists in all aspects of the medieval past from around the world to bucolic Kalamazoo for four days of scholarship and conviviality. As we both come from institutions whose history departments received the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians Departmental Grants to reevaluate the training of historians for a variety of careers within and outside of academia, we intended to center this panel on the question of how medievalists can use their specific skill sets for many careers.
By David Allen
Whether critics are interested in painting, sculpture, jazz, fiction, or any other art, they are, or at least can be, engaged in historical work. They root descriptions of, and judgments about, contemporary art in an understanding of the past. They might be more prone than professional historians to treating the past on the terms of the present, granted, but they do work that engages history all the same.