Labor & Work-Life Issues

History Jobs Dip for a Second Consecutive Year

September 04, 2014

It’s hard out there for a historian. Once again, there were far fewer employment opportunities for history Ph.D.’s last academic year than the number of doctorates earned in the field, according to a report released on Wednesday by the American Historical Association.

It may not seem like a surprise; after all, the academic job market hasn’t exactly been sparkling in recent years. But after promising growth in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years, the number of positions advertised through the association took a downturn, and hasn’t yet recovered.

In fact, the newest report, published in the association’s newsmagazine, Perspectives on History, shows the number of advertised jobs has dropped for the second consecutive year. The data for 2013-14 show a 7-percent decrease from the previous year, and about a 14-percent decrease from 2011-12. (The numbers are far from the prerecession peak of 1,064 positions advertised in 2007-8.)

“This decline is especially disconcerting when we consider that the overall economy has been improving and the U.S. jobless rate declining,” Allen Mikaelian, editor of Perspectives on History, wrote in the report. “It raises the possibility that this downturn in academic positions for historians is not entirely attributable to the recession, but may be with us for some time.”

It’s not just the association’s job bank that’s revealing a trend. Starting in January, the association expanded its analysis of job listings to include positions for historians that were listed on H-Net, an interdisciplinary online forum for scholars in the humanities and social sciences. In the new report, the association continued the experiment, including jobs that were not advertised through the AHA but that were “directed at historians or open to historians.”

Within the combined sample, which totaled 999 jobs, 763 early-career openings were listed, including positions at the minimum rank for assistant professor and for instructors, lecturers, visiting assistant professors, and postdoctoral fellows. Of those 763 openings, 345 were assistant professorships, 65 were associate professorships, and 42 were open rank.

Compared with the number of history Ph.D.’s being awarded annually, that’s not great news. In 2011-12, for example, 1,066 people received a doctorate in history, according to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates. The association told The Chronicle in January that it projected the data for 2012-13 would show that about 1,100 history Ph.D.’s were awarded that year.

"It's always discouraging to see numbers like this, but we should keep in mind that academic jobs are only part of the picture,” Mr. Mikaelian said in an email on Wednesday. “The AHA's recent study, ‘The Many Careers of History Ph.D.’s,’ found a range of career paths for historians, and a very few Ph.D.’s in the study's random sample were unemployed.”

Still, that gap between academic openings and new Ph.D.’s seems to be persistent. And, he added, “it underscores the importance of projects like the AHA’s Career Diversity initiative, which will support pilot programs that seek to expand the professional options of history Ph.D.’s."

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Sydni Dunn is a staff reporter for Vitae.