Jobs for New Ph.D.'s in History Show 'Modest' Uptick, Association Reports

January 02, 2012

After two years of sharp declines, the academic job market for Ph.D.'s in history showed some "modest improvements" in 2010-11, according to a report released on Monday by the American Historical Association. The group issued the report ahead of its annual meeting, which begins on Thursday in Chicago.

The number of jobs advertised in the association's monthly magazine, Perspectives on History, increased by 10.2 percent, from 569 to 627, in the past academic year. And the number of full-time faculty employed in history departments last fall increased slightly.

However, the turnaround is well below the historical high of 1,064 job advertisements two years ago, tempering the association's reaction to the increase. That's because the number of new scholars earning Ph.D.'s continues to outpace the number of jobs available. According to the association's annual Directory of History Departments, the number of new Ph.D.'s in the 2010-11 year was up slightly, by 3.1 percent, or 912. It's a small increase, the report notes, but the total number of new Ph.D.'s recorded by the directory is at the highest level since 2001-2.

"Every year you have about 1,000 new people who get to the stage in their careers where they are earning a Ph.D.," said Robert B. Townsend, deputy director of the association. "To have that line that represents jobs curving back up again is great." Compared with some other disciplines, such as economics, he said, the number of jobs in history is "incrementally inching up."

The job-advertising trend noted in the report continued through 2011, with the number of ads growing 6.2 percent as of last month. Near the end of the month, Mr. Townsend said, ads for "a number of tenure-track jobs" (which would run in Perspectives in January or February) were coming in at a time when positions for visiting assistant professors, fellowships, and other one- and two-year jobs are more likely to surface.

That appears to show that some employers, perhaps in order to make certain that the faculty lines are solid, are waiting until later in the academic year to advertise.

Nearly every major field of history saw a few more positions advertised than the year before. An exception was the history of the Middle East and the Islamic world, where the number of positions fell by one, to 29. The largest number of jobs advertised was in the history of North America, which grew from 164 to 182 last year.

The history report, like others about the job market from scholarly associations recently, also points out a dip in the percentage of tenured and tenure-track jobs posted in the field since the recession. In 2010-11, 69 percent of openings carried that status, down from 75 percent.

With the pool of such jobs increasingly difficult to come by, the historical association over the fall began openly talking about the best ways to expose graduate students in history to careers outside of academe.

That multipart conversation—framed in two essays co-written by Anthony T. Grafton, a historian at Princeton and the association's president—will continue at the meeting at a panel called "Jobs for Historians: Approaching the Crisis From the Demand Side," to be led by Mr. Grafton.