Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Grim Year" on the Job Market for History PhDs

Robert B. Townsend at AHA Perspectives reports on the troubling job market for history Ph.D.s:

The number of job openings in history plummeted last year, even as the number of new history PhDs soared. As a result, it appears the discipline is entering one of the most difficult academic job markets for historians in more than 15 years.

During 2008–09 job advertisements fell by 23.8 percent—from a record high of 1,053 openings in 2007–08 to 806 openings in the past year. This was the smallest number of positions advertised with the AHA in a decade (Figure 1).1 To make matters worse, a subsequent survey of advertisers indicates that about 15 percent of the openings were cancelled after the positions were advertised.

Townsend suggests that

While it is small comfort to candidates on the current job market, it is worth noting that the near perpetual sense of crisis in history employment over the past 20 years had very little to do with a diminishing number of jobs, or even the growing use of part-time and contingent faculty.

More than half of the full-time history faculty in U.S. colleges and universities have retired and been replaced over the past 20 years, while the number of full-time faculty employed in history has grown steadily.

Continue reading here.

UPDATE: Marc Bousquet criticizes Townsend's report at the Chronicle of Higher Ed blog Brainstorm. Hat tip to Ralph Luker. Bousquet argues that Townsend's analysis is

part of a "second wave" of thinking about academic labor, emerging out of discredited supply-side thought dating back to the Reagan administration. Thanks to the third wave of thought arising from graduate students and contingent faculty in the academic labor movement, you just don't hear so much of this sort of thing anymore. In most fields, it's pretty well understood that the real issue is an undersupply of tenure-track jobs, i.e., that the issue needs to be addressed from the "demand side." There's no real oversupply of folks holding the Ph.D. because what's happened is an aggressive, intentional restructuring of demand by administrators....

It's well understood by most folks doing serious work on academic labor that regardless of how one analyzes the problem, most "supply-side" solutions are doomed to fail so long as administrators have so much control over the contours of demand that they can put staff, permatemps, and students -- including undergraduates -- to work at activities that were formerly done by persons holding doctorates.
Read the rest here, where others, including historian Ellen Schrecker, weigh in in the comments.