Scenes from Denver

There are a lot of historians in Denver this weekend.  There is also a lot of snow and ice.  I asked those in attendance at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association to send along some photos of Denver’s frozen tundra.

Ian Petrie took me up on the offer.  He writes: “Fortunately it’s a short trip from the Sheraton to the Convention Center:” 🙂


Send your pics along and we will try to get them up here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

What Happens After 9 Years as a Visiting Assistant Professor?

bowenI appreciate that Mike Bowen will be writing for us from Denver this week as part of our coverage of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association.  Bowen is adjunct instructor in history at John Carroll University and the former assistant director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida.  He is the author of The Roots of Modern Conservatism: Dewey, Taft, and the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party (University of North Carolina Press, 2011).  -JF

Here is the first of his #aha17 posts:

I consider myself a veteran of the AHA annual meetings. My first was the 120th, held in January 2006 in Philadelphia. I was just a pup then…one semester away from defending with three chapters left to write. Like many, my goal was the elusive tenure-track line. I didn’t succeed in Philly, but that spring I worked something out in the secondary market, finished those chapters, and defended.

My AHA attendance has been sporadic since Philly, usually dependent on the prospects for a job interview. Those prospects have declined dramatically in recent years and became non-existent at the end of the 2014-15 academic year when, after nine consecutive one-year VAP/administrative appointments scattered across three states, my VAP line was terminated early. I was collateral damage to the administrative fallout from an accreditation decision. I remain an adjunct in good standing at that same institution and remain hopeful that there will be a full-time opportunity of some sort for me there. Even though I continue to apply to everything I can, there doesn’t seem to be much left for me as a working historian.

Barring a miracle of some sort, then, this will be my last trip to an AHA annual meeting. I don’t know what to expect, really. I am presenting what I imagine will be my last academic paper (Friday at 3:30, for those of you who are interested in moderate Republicans in the 1970s. I’ll be the one with the Southern accent). It is the fourth conference paper on the broad topic that I had planned to cover in my second book. Also, one of my former undergrads who is now a political organizer in Denver is going to meet up with me. That’s all I know. I plan to watch, observe, and ruminate on the job environment, the state of my field as I see it, and how the annual meeting has changed in my eleven years on the job market.

I will be writing from a position of tacit acceptance. Unfortunately, we have been beseeched in recent years with what scholars have come to call QuitLit. My posts will not be QuitLit because I do not want to quit, even though I likely will not be continuing as a historian. I am also not looking to trash the academy or the profession, because, even though I disagree with a number of their standards and practices, I would love to remain a member in good standing. I hope any criticisms I make will be taken in the constructive spirit in which they are offered. If my posts from the AHA can make people examine how they act when they are on search committees or can dispel some notions and biases that have worked against me, then I will have done a service.

Above all, I recognize that I am far luckier than most to have lasted almost a decade as a full-timer in this business. I do not want sympathy from the profession…I learned long ago that there the profession generally has little sympathy for those not on tenure track. If anyone wants to offer up an opportunity, though, I would gladly listen.

The Number of History Majors Continues to Drop

keep-calm-and-study-history-36Allen Mikaelian, a historian, writer, and former staff member at the American Historical Association (and editor of Perspectives on History), reports that the number of history majors in the United States continues to decline in the wake of the 2008 recession.

This is sad news to report, especially on the eve of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver.  According to Mikaelian’s data, which he draws from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of bachelor’s degrees in history dropped by 9 percent for the second year in a row.  Not good.

I hope that Mikaelian’s report will trigger much conversation in Denver.  Most academic historians work at institutions where teaching is paramount.  Sharing research, of course, is important and necessary to a thriving historical profession.  And many will have the opportunity to present their work in Denver.  But for many of us, perhaps most of us, our employment and the vitality of our discipline in our institutional settings depend on history students to fill the seats in our classrooms.  In an age of “prioritization,” professional programming, cash-cow master’s programs, STEM, and the influence of market forces on today’s colleges and universities, academic historians need to take all of this very seriously.

Research institutions have been hit hardest by this decline in history majors, but baccalaureate colleges and master’s colleges and universities are not very far behind.

Check out Mikaelian’s report at History News Service.  He concludes:

I’m eagerly reading and greatly enjoying the raft of recent articles and blog posts by historians how how important and relevant the discipline is to understanding recent turmoils. It can’t be denied that it’s a great time to be a historian. Still, it’s hard to say that historians’ voices are being heard through the noise and are convincing undergrads, or the public at large, that rigorous study of the past matters. History right now seems to be something that students and the public are happy to consume, but not something that they feel the need to go out and do.

American Historical Association Adds a Plenary Session on the 2016 Election


If you are in Denver this weekend for the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association you might be interested in attending a new plenary session recently added to the schedule.

On January 7, 2016 at 8:30pm historians David Bell (Princeton), David Greenberg (Rutgers), Leah Wright-Rigueur (Harvard), Vicki Ruiz (Irvine) and Tyler Stovall (Santa Cruz) will serve on a panel titled “Election 2016: How Did We Get Here and What Does It Mean?”  The session will take place in Centennial Ballroom D of the Hyatt Regency.

Bell is a historian of modern France, so I imagine that he will be discussing the response to the election in Europe.

Greenberg is a U.S. presidential historian.

Wright-Rigueur is a historian of political history and African American history.

Ruiz‘s work focuses on 20th century United States history with a specialization in Chicana and Latina history.

Stovall, like Bell, is a historian of modern France.

I am sure all of these historians will have wise and insightful things to say about the election.  It does strike me, however, that there is no one on the panel who specializes in religion and American politics.  I think it is hard to understand Trump without understanding the religious convictions of his supporters.

If I Were in Denver This Weekend…

You would probably find me at some of these #aha17 sessions:

What’s New in Federal Humanities Funding: NEH Special Initiatives, Programs, and Grant Opportunities for Historians (Jennifer Serventi, Daniel Sack)

Writing History, Part 1: Writing for Readers in the 21st Century–For Love, Money, and Applause (Rachel Toor, Timothy Bent, Alane Mason, Jennifer Ruark, Alex Starr, Wendy J. Strothman)

History Engagement: Four Career Diversity Models for Developing History Doctoral Internships (Jennifer McPherson, Michael Kideckel, Michelle Martin, Carrie Sanders, Caroline Sequin)

A Retrospective on Tuning: Where We Have Been and Where We Should Go? (Norman Jones, Elaine Carey, Paul Gaston, Anne Hyde, Elizabeth Lehfeldt, Daniel McInerney)

Is Collaboration Worth It?: A Roundtable Discussion (Seth Denbo, Paul Harvey, Ed Blum, Vanessa Holden, Jessica Johnson, Joseph Locke, Ben Wright)


Uses of Church History in America, 1850-1950 (Brendan Pietsch, Paul Gutacker, Elizabeth Clark, Matthew Bowman)

Cultivating Majors: Tuning, Transfer, and Lessons Learned (Laura Dull, Norman Jones, K. Kent McGaughy, Marianne Woceck)

Does the Reformation Still Matter? American Global, and Early Modern Perspectives: A Roundtable (David Whitford, Mark Noll, Dana Robert, Merry Wiesner-Hanks)

Sacred Answers to Secular Questions: Religious Critiques of Democratic Politics in Antebellum America (Michael Pasquier, Tara Strauch, Spencer McBride, Benjamin Park)

The Jefferson County Showdown over the Advanced Placement US History Test: A Second Change for a Failed Dialogue (Patricia Limerick, James Sabathne, Stephanie Rossi, Bradley Birzer, Dedra Birzer, Fritz Fischer, Jonathan Chu)

God’s Kingdom in the American Republic: New Studies in Region, Religion, and Revolution (Sam Haselby, Sara Georgini, Roy Rogers, Benjamin Park)

Catholicism and Americanism in the 19th Century: New Perspectives on an Old Debate (Katie Oxx, Luke Ritter, Erin Bartram, William Cossen)

The Future of Evangelicalism in America: A Roundtable (Mark Silk, Candy Gunther Brown, Michael Hamilton, Chris Armstrong, Roger Olson, Timothy Tseng)

Candid Conversations: Mentorship in the Humanities (Beth Greene, Brian Balogh, Emily Greenwald, Marc Johnston, Manisha Sinha)

Early American History and the New Digital Archive: A Roundtable Discussion (Max Edelson, Craig Gallagher, Patrick Griffin, Molly Hardy)

Historical Thinking and the History Survey Course: K-16 Perspectives (Tim Keirn, Peter Burkholder, Gail Hamilton, Rebecca Hayes, Justin McNamara)

The Grass is Greener Where You Water It: Recruitment and Retention in the Undergraduate History Major (Catherine O’Donnell, Alima Bucciantini, Joseph Cope, Jessica Klanderud, Jay Price)

We Have #AHA17 Covered!

aha-17If you are a historian you will want to keep an eye on The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  We will be covering the 2017 Annual Meeting (January 5-8) of the American Historical Association.

We have a team of correspondents in place, but we could always use more.  If you feel moved to write something about the conference  (anywhere between 150 and 800 words is fine) feel free to send it along at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we will do out best to get it up on the blog.

We will also be paying close attention to the #aha2017 hashtag and will be using the hashtag to share all of our posts on Twitter.  If you want to keep up to speed on the blog just type #aha2017 into the search engine and click on the #aha2017 tag at the bottom of the post.