Jobs for Historians Rose Last Year, but Competition Remains Tough

January 02, 2013

The number of academic-job openings in history increased by 18 percent in 2011-12, but the competition for such positions is steep as the number of new Ph.D. recipients continues to outstrip the number of available jobs, according to a new report by the American Historical Association.

The report was published on Wednesday in the association's Perspectives on History newsletter, a day before the group opens its annual meeting, in New Orleans.

Employers advertised 740 jobs with the association in the past academic year, up from 627 the previous year, marking the second year that job listings were on the rise, according to the report, which was written by Robert B. Townsend, the association's deputy director. Yet at the same time, the number of full-time faculty members employed in history departments fell slightly.

The number of new Ph.D.'s awarded in 2011-12 was about 1,100, a figure that is a combination of new doctoral degrees reported to the association's annual Directory of History Departments and federal data from a year earlier. A year earlier, according to federal data, 1,066 Ph.D.'s were conferred.

But as in previous years, landing a job was tough for new history scholars. Less than half of new history Ph.D.'s in 2011, or 42.6 percent, had definite employment when they graduated, the report said. In fact, the number of new history Ph.D.'s reporting employment at graduation has fallen to the lowest level in 43 years.

The report did reveal a bit of good news: Advertisements for entry-level jobs—those slated for lecturers or assistant professors—increased 17.4 percent, from 470 to 552 positions. And that growth showed up in nearly every major subfield of history, except for world history.

The subfields with the largest increases in entry-level openings were the history of the Middle East and Islamic world, in which openings rose 45.8 percent from the year before, and European history, where openings were up 30.9 percent.

In comparison, specialists in North American history faced a job market that has seen the number of new entry-level positions listed with the association drop by about half over a 10-year period. Junior-faculty positions in the subfield increased by only 5.7 percent last year, with 149 jobs offered, compared with 297 new positions in the 2000-1 academic year.

The report also noted that the job market, more than ever, pits newly minted Ph.D.'s against scholars who have been on the market at least once. Yet Ph.D. students in history haven't given up hope, the report said—despite factors such as a shift in what undergraduates want to study and large, online classes that result in the hiring of fewer professors.

"The career prospects for history Ph.D.'s focused on academia remain cloudy," yet "almost 80 percent of the new doctorate recipients in the field set their sights on employment in academia," Mr. Townsend wrote.

Gender Gaps

A separate report published in the same newsletter detailed some differences between the genders when it comes to moving through the ranks of the history professoriate. The findings were based on a survey of associate and full professors conducted by the association.

Among them: Male historians moved from assistant professor to associate professor in 5.9 years, on average, compared with 6.25 years for women. However, both male and female historians moved from associate to full professor at the same pace, after an average of 7.65 years.

Women reported spending more time on family duties than did men. Women at the associate-professor level reported spending an average of 13.5 hours a week on providing child and elder care, and those at the full-professor level reported spending 5.2 hours on such duties. For men, the comparable figures were 9.1 hours a week at the associate-professor level and 2.9 hours a week at the full-professor level.

More women than men take leave because of the birth of a child or for other child-care reasons. About 25 percent of women reported taking leave for the birth of a child, compared with 3.4 percent of men. Of the survey's female respondents, 8.3 percent reported taking leave for child-care reasons, compared with only 4.8 percent of men.

Male historians reported spending more time per week than women on research. Male associate professors, on average, spent 9.3 hours per week on research and full professors spent an average of 11.8 hours. Among women, associate professors reported spending an average of 7.4 hours on research, and full professors reported spending 8.2 hours.

Only 55.4 percent of women who responded to the survey agreed with the statement that "female faculty members are treated fairly at this institution" and 10.6 percent strongly disagreed. Meanwhile, nearly 85 percent of male respondents believed the statement to be true about their campuses.