One year ago, Executive Director James Grossman introduced the AHA Tuning project in the pages of Perspectives. This month, we feature six articles related to the project—four from project participants and two from historians who have been watching closely.
Also in this issue, Nicholas Sarantakes, who blogs at In the Service of Clio, offers suggestions for ways the AHA can address the jobs crisis, reacting to the “Plan B” and “Plan C” articles by James Grossman and Anthony Grafton from 2011.
Recently, we read an essay in the Nation on the role of university presidents as civic leaders that lamented the way in which the office had become, according to the author, more timid than in the past. “Was there truly a ‘golden age’ of engaged college and university presidents who ‘sculpted’ society?” asked the author, citing James B. Conant, Robert Hutchins, Kingman Brewster, and Clark Kerr as examples. But we wondered, how would these “golden age” presidents fare in today’s higher education environment?
Today’s guest blogger is Sarah Shurts, an AHA Tuning participant and assistant professor of history at Bergen Community College.
Comedian Joel McHale recently gave an interview where he mentioned that he had been a history major but had turned to acting because “it’s not like you can open a history shop!” While those of us whose passion for history became our profession might cringe at this, we also must acknowledge that many of our history majors do go on to professions that have nothing, on the surface, to do with history.
The number of Advanced Placement history tests taken by high school students reached an unprecedented level with the graduating class of 2012. According to the College Board, students in the graduating class of 2012 took 580,360 tests in the fields of European, U.S., and world history, and more than half of those tests (300,484 in all) received a passing score of 3 or higher (out of 5).
Humanists readily understand the “value” of what we teach, study, and write. We too often forget that this is less obvious to many of our neighbors, and have not developed a deep and wide advocacy movement to promote humanistic thinking and work. The AHA, like other scholarly societies, participates in Washington-based coalitions that offer a strong voice on Capitol Hill and relevant agencies, such as the National Archives, the Smithsonian, and even the State Department. But this is not enough at a time when politicians and business leaders across the country have sharply attacked humanistic and social science disciplines as not only frivolous (an old charge as pertaining to the humanities) but also a waste of taxpayers’ money and students’ time.
In the face of wintry weather in some states and a chilly political climate for the humanities in others, dozens of historians shared the warmth of professional community near the AHA offices in Capitol Hill earlier this month. Faculty members from across the country who are active in the AHA’s three-year Tuning Project convened from February 15–17 to share their expertise on issues that have been emerging on individual campuses, and to hone a broad, positive message about historical study for public audiences.
As some 2013 PhD graduates continue the hunt for jobs, administrators are looking at ways in which to reform graduate training in response to the competitive job market. Alexandra Lord recently published a call to action in the Chronicle about alternative career education in history PhD programs. In her piece, Lord argues “It’s time for professional organizations and faculty members who are genuinely interested in graduate-education reform to create a true and continuing dialogue with those of us who have left the academy.” This dialogue, Lord argues, should not be proscribed to short, one-hour conversations in department meetings about graduate-education reform, but should be considered a long-term discussion.