Archives Season


I’ve spent many summer hours toiling away at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia

Over at AHA Today, Christina Copland, a Ph.D candidate at University of Southern California, has a nice piece on summer archive work.  Here is a taste:


Larger archives are the watering holes of the history world. Some offer meet & greet opportunities—the Huntington Library where I did much of my writing hosted weekly afternoon tea breaks. In other places, sometimes all we need to do is to ask fellow researchers about the documents they’re looking at. I’ve also found that, especially in smaller and more specialized repositories, archival staff love to talk about sources and are keen to hear about where we might take our projects. Some of the people who were most enthusiastic about my PhD research were the staff at the Biola University library, the archive where I spent the bulk of my time (once the mold problem was fixed, that is). The fact that archivists are passionate about their collections—and know them better than anyone else—means that they can help point us in the direction of potentially useful sources. Often an archive will offer funding to researchers. The time spent building up a network of library contacts might prove invaluable to getting these fellowships.

It’s not just records we access at an archive. These are spaces in which we find future conference panelists, encounter other grads and faculty members working in our fields, or meet archivists who help us out of a research roadblock. The archival landscape is shifting, however, perhaps with significant consequences for this part of our lives as historians. More archives are moving their collections online, accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Digital archives make our lives easier; there’s no travelling involved, no risk of running out of time on a research trip. But what’s the trade off? What we gain in research convenience, might we potentially lose in community?

Read the entire piece here.

I can’t remember a summer when I did not spend at least a few days in the archives.  I will be spending most of this summer promoting Believe Me, but I still hope to steal away from the book tour and get to one or two archives.  We will see how things go.

Here’s a piece I published fifteen years ago at Common-Place.

How to Fix the U.S. History Survey Course: “Reimagine Everything”


Last month a group of Texas history teachers gathered at Houston Community College to talk about introductory history courses.  The event was sponsored by the American Historical Association and included keynote addresses by Steven Mintz (University of Texas at Austin), Andrew Koch (John Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education), and Nancy Quam-Wickham (California State University, Long Beach).

Jermaine Thibodeaux offers a report on the conference at AHA Today.  Here is a taste:

Steven Mintz (Univ. of Texas at Austin) kicked off the conference by offering a rather dire assessment of today’s US history survey course. Having taught the history survey for decades, Mintz cited historically low enrollments and lack of student interest or engagement in the classroom as reasons for the survey’s demise at four-year institutions. All is not lost, however, assured Mintz. The key to reigniting students’ interest in history courses, which for many begins with the survey, he said, is simply “reimagining everything.” By broadly rethinking pedagogy, assessment, and delivery modes, Mintz argued, the lackluster survey course can be saved, with great benefit to students and teachers.

While the gathered historians had likely heard sweeping diagnoses like Mintz’s before, he was able to offer a wealth of anecdotal evidence, best practices, and examples of engaging and exciting instruction that did not at all compromise higher order thinking. For example, in his own US history survey course, Mintz forgoes the standard midterm and final exam, opting instead for consistent formal assessment and weekly online modules that combine essay writing with content checks in the form of thoughtful multiple choice questions. Mintz encouraged history teachers to shun traditional models of instruction and instead embrace a combination of approaches that would make the introductory course more meaningful for students.

Read the entire post here.  I am not sure the survey course is broken, but I am confident that a lot of good ideas for improving it were bandied about at this conference.

Are You Interviewing at the AHA?


If you are on the job market and have been fortunate enough to land an interview at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver, you may want to check out a few pieces I wrote several years ago about interviewing at various types of institutions.

What You Can Expect From Our #AHA16 Coverage

e3335-aha2bprogramThe Way of Improvement Leads Home  will be in Atlanta later this week for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  We will be covering the conference from a variety of angles.

At the moment, we have eleven correspondents who will be reporting from the conference floor.  Stay tuned for their dispatches.  It is a very eclectic group.

I also hope to live tweet some sessions  Foloow along @johnfea1.  Due to other commitments at the conference I will not have time to attend too many sessions, but the following sessions are still in the running:

You can also expect random photos and commentary as the weekend unfolds.  (If you take a pic that you think we would find interesting feel free to send it along and we will try to post it).

Just remember to keep us bookmarked throughout the conference.

Historians Are Teachers

Jim Grossman, the Executive Director of the American Historical Association, believes that teaching is at the heart of what it means to be a historian.  He is right.  Ph.D programs must recognize this.

Here is a taste of his recent column in Perspectives on History:

Most of our largest PhD programs train students for positions that only a small minority will attain: tenurable appointments in “high research activity” institutions. Among history PhDs graduated between 1998 and 2009 who currently teach in higher education, approximately 75 percent are either outside “high research activity” institutions or off the tenure track. This means that the process and products embodied in much of graduate education—writing books and scholarly articles, teaching lecture courses and highly specialized seminars, and perhaps even preparing grant proposals for major fellowships—leave aside the principal issues and tasks that faculty at teaching-oriented institutions must engage. And those that faculty even at high-level research universities ought to engage.

We do not train our PhD students to see their profession as “teacher.” This might be inevitable, even appropriate. The PhD is, after all, a research degree. The craft of publication through books and articles stands at the center of graduate education in history, as it does in many other disciplines. At the same time, a historian is a scholar who not only creates new knowledge, but also disseminates insights across a variety of platforms, many of them in the classroom. The ways that digital tools now dissolve the boundaries between scholarship and teaching make this an opportune time to address these long-standing issues. The AHA has already resolved to put its imprimatur on and resources into elevating digital dissemination of knowledge onto the same plane as print. If we believe in putting teaching on that plane as well, too few of us have communicated that belief to graduate students. We have failed to integrate the teaching of history into the profession of being a historian—other than by example, or perhaps by sending our students across campus to teaching and learning centers generally considered marginal to the main pathway.

These centers have made great strides in improving the quality of teaching on their campuses, offering graduate students and junior faculty the resources that their home departments have not. Academic job candidates now brandish teaching portfolios and have benefited from videotaping and coaching unavailable a generation ago. Still, department chairs tell us that few job candidates are able to establish a dialogue between these portfolios and the curriculum at the institution to which they are applying. Worse, conversations about teaching that occur outside the context of disciplinary learning and practice remain marginal to the pursuit of a PhD in most disciplines. History faculty generally consider such training a valuable supplement, rather than seeing it as part of “becoming a historian.”

But it should be. Teaching is an essential skill for every historian, whether in a secondary school, college classroom, museum, archive, historical site, or even the public square, presenting evidence persuasively to legislators and fellow citizens. Historians teach. Learning how to teach should be equal to and intertwined with learning to become a research scholar.

If teaching history—including content not directly related to a scholar’s ongoing research agenda—is integral to being a professional historian, then it is essential to becoming one. It’s one thing to have the ability to plan a course and choose readings carefully and knowledgeably, something that many of our graduate students have already begun integrating into their portfolios. It’s another to shift our vocabulary of teaching to a discourse on learning, an approach to undergraduate education now largely relegated to the centers for teaching and learning, with inadequate integration into discipline-centered training.

Read the rest here.

James Grossman: History for Patriotism

Jim Grossman

In this month’s Perspectives on History, AHA Executive Director James Grossman describes why he thinks history education in the United States should be “patriotic.”  I love his answer.  Here is a taste:

Whether history education should be “patriotic”…begins with reflection on the purpose of history education itself. The AHA has participated in conversations at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels that have generally moved in similar directions: the role of historical thinking and historical knowledge in preparing students for citizenship, career, and self-understanding. What can be more patriotic than building communities of informed, employed, active citizens confident in their ability to make decisions and interact effectively with others?…

Though hardly the only discipline where such learning takes place, history is an ideal venue for the education of citizens. Our students learn about the relationship between structure, culture, and agency in the shaping and direction of change. They learn that imputations of inevitability need always be tempered by consideration of the contingency of human actions, even those with unintended consequences. They learn that history doesn’t just “happen.”

All fine and good, say the proponents of a different kind of patriotic preparation, one that celebrates the institutions within which all of this human agency takes place and the heroic figures whose agency stands at the center of the evolution of those institutions.

But to celebrate change, we must appreciate its necessity: Neither democratic institutions nor individual great men and women emerged fully formed. They evolved. And one cannot comprehend that evolution without understanding its context. If students don’t study the hierarchical nature of New England towns and the worldviews of Virginia slaveholders, they can’t understand the ideological origins of the American Revolution. If they don’t learn about the actual dynamics of chattel slavery, the buying and selling of human beings, then Lincoln’s warning in his Second Inaugural that “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword” reads as mere rhetoric.

I will continue to disagree with thoughtful colleagues who consider celebration and exceptionalism the cornerstones of a patriotic history education. But that disagreement is not over whether history education ought to be patriotic; it is about what constitutes patriotism in a nation founded on dissent and notable (even if not quite exceptional) for its deep and vibrant traditions of activism and debate from every corner of the country and the political spectrum.

Read the entire piece here.

*Why Study History* in the AHA’s *Perspectives on History*

Wow!  We made it into the AHA’s Perspectives on History!

Thanks to Perspectives on History editor Shatha Almutawa for devoting a significant chunk of her “endnote” editorial in the February 2015 issue to Why Study History?:Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

Here is a taste of her piece, “The Historian and Social Justice“:

Perhaps because of the ongoing protests for racial justice in the United States; perhaps because of the news of extremist groups who terrorize, torture, silence, and kill people in parts of Asia and Africa, and, most recently, in Europe as well, many historians who attended the AHA’s 2015 annual meeting asked: What is the historian’s role in relation to social justice?
At the Committee on Women Historians breakfast, Jacqueline Jones argued that historians should not apologize for their historical work, or for their commitment to social justice (see Debbie Ann Doyle’s report on the talk in this issue). Historians can take a more active role in learning to communicate with journalists, she said, because “a keen understanding of history presents solutions to problems” that the public should know about. In sharing their knowledge with members of the media, and consequently with a larger number of members of the public, historians could make a difference. At the same time, Jones cautioned that historians “work more deliberately and we are more attuned to nuance; at times it is not possible to give the media what they want and stay true to the evidence.”
Jones’s question about whether historians can in fact combine scholarship with activism reminds me of John Fea’s book Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. In this work Fea admits that the combination of scholarship and activism has a volatile history, but can be a moral stance nonetheless. He argues effectively that the work of the historian is fundamental to democracy, and believes that the world can be changed with the study of even the most obscure of histories.
Fea points to the tension between historicism—looking at history according to its own terms—and activism. He writes, “Good scholars of the past must, at some level, practice historicism. By trying to understand the past on its own terms, the historian treats it with integrity rather than manipulating it or superimposing his or her values on it to advance an agenda in the present.” In practicing historicism, historians must understand and accept that they have no control over the outcome of their research. They must be open to the possibility that the truth might not support their cause.
For the historian, Fea argues, changing the world is a by-product of careful study. When the historian takes on the role of “a tour guide through foreign cultures”—cultures from the past—“that has the best potential to transform our lives and the lives of those around us,” he writes. “It is our engagement with the otherness of these lost worlds that, ironically, prepares us well for life in the present.”
When history is practiced in a responsible manner, Fea argues, it allows us to develop and acquire virtues that are important in civil society. These virtues are needed in a democracy but have impact on the world at large. As historians encounter foreign settings, people, and actions, we develop empathy, even with characters we might otherwise find repulsive. This skill to empathize is required in civil society, and without it people become divided. Building community among people who have different beliefs, backgrounds, and inclinations requires this skill.
When historians remember that every human has faults and makes mistakes they are more likely to be compassionate in their study of historical actors, and this compassion translates into everyday life; actors in our own time are equally imperfect, and equally worthy of respect and dignity.
Fea further argues that historians must take into account the viewpoints and actions of actors who are not traditionally seen as “important”—namely, those who were not the victors, who were not in the upper classes, and whose voices were suppressed. At the annual meeting panel “Experiencing Revolutions,” speakers Wendy Pearlman and Lillian Guerra modeled this. Pearlman talked about her interviews with Syrian refugees who have been experiencing one type of fear after another, and asserting their agency and ethical outlooks through protest. Some said that “they felt like a citizen for the first time” when they demonstrated. In her talk, Guerra discussed her analysis of essays written by K–12 Cuban students. She came to interesting conclusions about the role of education in spreading ideologies and even instilling in young people a will to die for the revolution.

AHA 2015 Correspondents Wanted!

Once again, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from this year’s (January 2015) American Historical Association Meeting in New York City.

I am looking for readers who are going to the conference and might be interested in serving as “correspondents.” I can’t pay anything, but I can promise the fame associated with your words and by-line appearing on this blog!

What am I looking for out of these reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

As for your identity, we can go one of two ways. You can identify yourself and we can introduce you with a little bio. Or you can remain anonymous and write under a pseudonym. The choice is up to you.

Check out some of the work of our previous correspondents:

Erin Bartram
Mary Sanders
Wolfe’s Tone
Liz Covart
Christine Kelly

If interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu  

$1.6 Million to Expand the Horizons of History Ph.Ds

Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the AHA

Jim Grossman and his staff at the American Historical Association want to widen “the presence and influence of humanistic thinking in business, government, and non profits.”  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation apparently agrees with this vision.  They have just awarded the AHA $1.6 million to fund a series of pilot projects that will attempt to change the academic culture in history departments as it relates to the opportunities for history PhDs in society and the marketplace.

Here is a taste of Grossman’s post at AHA Today:

In particular, this project will:

  • –Compile data and narratives that will continue to improve our knowledge of the ways history PhDs have built rewarding careers in the world outside the academy, and then publicize what we have learned, in part to highlight the range of possibilities and in part to normalize these pathways and facilitate them through a “virtual mentorship” program.

  • –Prepare history PhD students for work and other activity beyond the professoriate through curricular enhancements that provide essential skills and experience.

  • –Transform a cultural environment within the academy, among faculty as well as students, that continues to define “success” exclusively as tenure-track employment at four-year institutions, even as such opportunities become less 

  • –Cultivate a broader understanding among potential employers of the skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics implied by advanced education in history and the completion of a PhD dissertation.
As I argued in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, historical thinking has the potential to make us better people, better citizens, and better employees in a host of professions. Needless to say, I find this is a very exciting venture.

Apply for the Michael Kraus Research Grant in American Colonial History

The American Historical Association offers the Michael Kraus Research Grants to recognize the most deserving proposal relating to work in progress on a research project in American colonial history, with particular reference to the intercultural aspects of American and European relations. These modest annual grants are intended to further research in progress and may be used for travel to a library or archive, for microfilms, photographs, or photocopying—a list of purposes that is meant to be merely illustrative, not exhaustive (other expenses, such as child care, can be included). Individual grants up to $800 will be awarded. See the list of past recipients.


Only members of the Association are eligible to apply for AHA research grants. Preference will be given to those with specific research needs, such as the completion of a project or completion of a discrete segment thereof. Preference will be given to advanced doctoral students, non-tenured faculty, and unaffiliated scholars.

Please note: Within a five-year period, no individual is eligible to receive more than a combined total of $1,000 from all AHA research grants.

Application Process and Deadline
The AHA has partnered with Interfolio to manage our research grant application process. Application instructions for members are available here. (You must be logged in to access this page.) Applications must be submitted through Interfolio by February 15 each year. Mailed, e-mailed, or faxed applications will not be accepted.

Applications must include

  • CV (three to five pages maximum)
  • statement of no more than 750 words describing your project
  • one-page bibliography
  • project budget worksheet

Selection Process
A selection committee reviews applications each spring, and applicants will be notified of the committee’s decision by e-mail in mid-May. Awards are distributed each June. Please, no phone calls.

Successful applicants will be expected to complete a survey outlining how the funds were used and how they furthered the grantee’s research. 

My AHA Highlights

Unlike many historians who were stranded in Washington D.C. because of snow and ice, I managed to make it home from the AHA meeting yesterday with few problems.  It took me an extra hour due to the icy roads, but I arrived home to see the second half of the Chargers-Bengals game and the entire Niners-Packers game (although I did take a brief nap during the second quarter).  It seems that many of the stranded historians made good use of their time. Some used the opportunity to finish writing projects, others wrote blog posts, and some settled in for the season premiere of Downton Abbey (as I type this my entire family is in the next room glued to the television set).

I spent last year’s AHA in New Orleans attending sessions, catching up with friends, blogging, and tweeting.  Some of you may recall that I was the conference’s top tweeter.  This year felt more like work, but there were still some highlights.  Here are a few:
  • I sat on a high-powered post-doc search committee.  It was a lot of fun listening to some of the best and brightest in the field talk about their projects.  
  • Through conversations with editors I began to get a picture of what I may be writing over the course of the next couple of years.  (More on that in a future post).
  • I spent some time with a few younger historians and learned about their exciting work.
  • I had a great chat with The Way of Improvement Leads Home correspondent Christopher Graham about public history, teaching history, and how historians can do a better job of understanding their audiences.
  • I had coffee with a former student who has become the most enthusiastic doctoral student I have ever encountered.
  • I had dinner with a former student who is completing his Ph.D in Latin American history and has a job lined up at a research university.
  • I confused Robert Walpole and Horace Walpole in the paper that I presented.  Two people in the room caught the mistake, one of which was the session commentator.  (Although he was gracious enough to tell me privately).
  • I learned that historians are usually in bed, or at least in their hotel rooms, relatively early. When I came down to the Marriott lobby at 2:40am on Saturday morning (I needed to print something) I did not see a soul.
  • An English professor in attendance at the conference told me that historians at the AHA do not “self-fashion” as much as literacy critics at the MLA.
  • I realized that the AHA is not the best place to learn how to use my first smartphone.  I do not recommend trying to learn the “maps” feature while trying to decipher the best way to walk to a session in which you are presenting.  The same goes for learning how to use the snooze feature on the alarm.
  • I learned that I am not the only historian who comes to the AHA with a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in my suitcase.
Another great AHA.  As usual, I left very energized. 

New Year’s Resolutions for Historians Attending the AHA

It looks like a new hashtag has emerged for AHA conference comedy: #AHAhaha2014.  Check out this Storify page to read them all.  Here are few to get you going:

resolution #1 Do not insult your scholarly rivals directly. Plant someone in the audience to do that for you!

resolution #9 refrain from the humblebrag, name drop, obligatory reference to Ivy league alma mater < (as well as gratuitous Latin)

resolutions #10 never start ? at a panel w/ “this is more a comment than a ?” “In my work I’ve found” or “have you considered?”

AHA: What to Pack

If you don’t read Tenured Radical, you should.  In this pre-AHA post she offers advice about what to pack and what not to pack. For example, she recommends packing your paper program (to read on the plane) electronic devices, business cards, and boots. Don’t pack your book proposal, bathing suit, or books.  There is also some good advice about Twitter etiquette.

Here is a taste:

Don’t Pack Your Book Proposal. No one wants to carry paper home. But you might want to make sure a copy is accessible on Drop Box, along with a revised chapter and an up to date vita that you can share with editors who express interest. While they won’t read it right away, putting your materials right on someone’s desk top puts you first in line for being read when they get home.

Introducing Our AHA Team

Whether you will be in Washington D.C. this weekend for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, or have decided to take this year off, I want to invite you to check The Way of Improvement Leads Home regularly for conference updates.  This year we will be covering the conference using four correspondents (in addition to myself).  It should be our biggest year ever.

Let’s meet the team:
Liz Covart:  Liz in an independent early American historian and author of a very useful blog, Uncommonplace Book.  A former student of Alan Taylor, she is currently at work on her first book, America’s First Gateway: Albany, N.Y., 1615-1830.  If you are interested in establishing a writing platform and reaching popular audiences with your work, I encourage you to read Liz’s blog.  I check it every day.
Christopher Graham:  Christopher just finished his Ph.D at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.  His dissertation is entitled “Faith and Family in Antebellum Piedmont North Carolina.” His work has appeared in the Journal of Southern Religion, the Journal of Backcountry Studies, and The Public Historian.  Check out Christopher’s blog: Whig Hill.
Mary Sanders: Mary returns for a second year of covering the AHA for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  (Read last year’s posts here).  She is a doctoral candidate in American history at Oklahoma State University where she works at the intersection of modern American history and American religious history.  Check out her blog Digital Grad Lounge
Christine Kelly:  Christine is a doctoral student in American history at Fordham University.  In 2013 she won the Elmer Louis Kayser Prize for the best M.A. thesis at George Washington University and has held internships at American Historical Association and the History News Network.  She hopes to expand her thesis on Peter Seeger and folk song activism into a dissertation.  Christine will be working for the AHA at this year’s conference.  Oh, and did I mention she is a former student of mine?
John Fea: That’s me.  I will be speaking in two sessions and serving on a pretty intense search committee, but I will try to keep things moving during the course of the weekend.
Stay tuned.

Are You Interviewing at the AHA? Some Last Minute Tips

If you are on the job market and have been fortunate enough to land an interview at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association being held this weekend in Washington D.C., you may want to check out a few pieces I wrote several years ago about interviewing at various types of institutions. Several of these posts were picked up last year by Inside Higher Education.

Good luck!

AHA Reception for History Bloggers and Twitterstorians!

The American Historical Association “cordially invites history bloggers and twitterstorians” to attend a reception in the Omni Hotel Governor’s Room on Thursday, January 2, 2014 from 5:30-7:00pm.  What a great event!  As Michelle Moravec recently tweeted: “I guess we’ve institutionalized.”

I have a commitment until 6:30, but I am going to try to get over to the Omni for the last 30 minutes.

Why K-12 Teachers Should Attend the American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting

I was just talking about the AHA’s annual meeting with my Teaching History course the other day. When I was starting out in the profession in the mid-1990s it was very rare to see school teachers roaming the halls of the conference hotels.  That is no longer the case.  At the 2013 meeting in New Orleans I met several K-12 teachers who were in the Big Easy to attend sessions on pedagogy and sessions on subjects related to the areas in which they teach.

I have always found conversations with K-12 teachers to be invigorating.  Many of them are better teachers than I am.  They are more creative and think more about student learning than I do.  I remember warmly my seven years as a grader for the Advanced Placement U.S. History exam in San Antonio because I got to spend an entire week at a table with high school teachers–many of them classroom veterans.  I never ceased to pick their brains about how they taught particular subjects. There was a collaborative dimension to those grading sessions that I found educational and enjoyable. I think the AHA meeting could provide a wonderful venue for this kind of collaboration.

Over at the blog of the AHA Dana Schaffer calls our attention to a host of conference sessions that K-12 teachers might find worthwhile.  Here are a few:

Session 71: Teaching Critical Thinking in an Increasingly Digital Age: Strategies, Struggles, and Success Stories 
Session 76: Teaching History to/for STEM Students 
Session 79: Collaborating with Curators, Librarians, and Archivists: A Practicum for Teachers and Faculty 
Breakfast: K-12 Networking Breakfast (Sponsored by The History Channel); free, but advance registration requested 
Session 201: “The Historical Enterprise”: Past, Present, and Future Collaboration between Secondary History Teachers and University History Professors
Session 155: What Should a Twenty-First-Century History Textbook Look Like? 
Session 237: The Feedback Loop: Historians Talk about the Links between Research and Teaching 
Session 238: The Future of AP History: Designing and Assessing a “Best Practices” History Curriculum

Historical Habits of the Mind

Earlier this week I shared Kenneth Pomeranz’s December 2013 Perspectives on History column with the students in my “Teaching History” course at Messiah.  I have really enjoyed teaching this course this semester. The students have been great.  I appreciate how serious they are taking the material and how they have been approaching the course with a real sense of vocation.  I think most of them are ready to start teaching history in classrooms, museums, historical societies, and everywhere in-between.

Pomeranz reminds us that many of the habits of historical thinking that have become intuitive for those of us who spend time working with the past may not necessarily be intuitive for our students.  I need to remember this as I train history majors and future history teachers, but my students also need to remember this as they go into settings where children and adults have not been educated or conditioned to think this way.  Here is a taste:

When asked why history is important, we often focus on background knowledge: Students should know why privacy is a particularly touchy issue for many Germans, why a nice-­sounding phrase like “urban renewal” doesn’t make everybody happy, or why differences between Shi’a and Sunni Islam matter politically. And we often stress how history develops general skills that we share with other humanities and interpretive social sciences: close reading, critical thinking, communication skills, and so on. I endorse those claims, but also believe we sell ourselves short if we don’t give equal emphasis to skills and knowledge more particular to history. I suspect that we often don’t do so because many of these habits of thought are, precisely, habits; we forget that, as Sam Wineburg puts it, historical thinking is an unnatural act, and thus fail to name some of the “unnatural” metaskills that underlie good research and teaching.
For example, historians don’t just do contextual reading more habitually than other disciplines, we create the context as we accumulate sources. You can read Locke in a philosophy or political theory course, but you probably won’t read in a way that asks questions such as: Why was he writing from the Netherlands, and how might that matter? What were other people saying at the time about children, and how were they using the word “freedom”? The reading skills we can convey to students matter more than ever in a world that bombards us with decontextualized information. Anyone with Internet access can download an editorial from Al Ahram and perhaps dissect its argument, but you need more than that to know whether that editorial represents significant new developments in Egypt.

The Many Careers of History Ph.Ds

The American Historical Association has just released a study of job outcomes for 2500 history PhDs (randomly chosen out of 10,976), all of whom received their degrees between 1998 and 2009.  Here are some of the findings:

  • Only two people in the sample were unemployed
  • Over half of PhDs were employed at a four-year college or university.
  • American historians were 25 percent less likely to be employed on the tenure track than those who specialized in other fields
  • A PhD from a top-ranked university improved the odds of landing a tenure-track job at a research university
  • Gender was not a factor in these employment patterns
  • 17.8 percent held jobs “off the tenure-track”
  • 0.4 percent were employed at “for profit” colleges
  • Those employed outside of postsecondary teaching were working in academic administration, nonprofits, the federal government, business, K-12 teaching, libraries, museums, archives, state or local government, publishing, editing, and research.  About 5 percent identified themselves as “independent scholars” or “self-employed.”  Of those employed outside of postsecondary teaching, about 7 percent would fall into the category of “public history.”  Also, at least “half a dozen” had started a history-related consulting or research firm.
  • The conclusion: roughly 75 percent of PhDs in the sample “had worked in some capacity as historians–either as teachers or authors of history articles and books–during the past five years.”
Read the entire report here.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik provides his take on the report.  Here is a taste:
A new study looking at large cohorts of Ph.D. recipients in history is quick to point out that the doctorate in the field almost always seems to result in employment — and not of the barista variety. Further, the study finds that many new doctorates are finding their way to the tenure track — and that such positions still exist for those starting their careers.
At the same time, the report found large numbers of history Ph.D.s working as adjuncts well after they earned their doctorates — apparently working off the tenure track for the long term. Further, the study found significant disparities by history specialty in the likelihood of landing a tenure-track job. And the most popular specialty for doctoral work (American history) appears to be the least likely to get someone a tenure-track slot.