The State of the History Job Market

History

The number of full-time faculty jobs in history has declined over the past year, but the history job market appears to be stabilizing. The number of Ph.D.s in history is dropping.

Here is Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed:

The new data appeared in the American Historical Association’s annual jobs report, released Wednesday. The report is based on jobs posted to the AHA Career Center and the separate H-Net Job Guide. About 25 percent of historians work outside academe, so the report does not reflect the entire jobs outlook, but it is considered representative of overall disciplinary trends.

“We may have reached a point of stability in the academic job market,” reads the report, written by Dylan Ruediger, an AHA staffer. During the 2018-19 hiring cycle, the AHA Career Center hosted ads for 538 full-time positions, making for a 1.8 percent decline year over year.

Read the entire piece here.

Undergraduate Enrollments in History Courses Remain Steady

History

Good news from the American Historical Association:

Ask any department chair, and most faculty, what the most vexing data point during the academic year is and the most likely answer would be “enrollments.” In a data-obsessed age when it seems everything is tracked and analyzed, few data points matter as much in higher education as enrollments. For many institutions, department funding is tied directly to enrollment numbers. Courses that don’t meet minimum enrollment requirements are canceled, snarling the distribution of teaching responsibilities among faculty and narrowing the intellectual range in the curriculum. Fluctuations in enrollments and majors—a close relative of enrollments data—are cited as reasons to create or cancel tenure lines. A lot is riding on what academic slang calls “butts in seats.”

For the past several years, the AHA has conducted an optional annual enrollments survey of history departments. The inquiry, which asks participating departments to report enrollments for each of the previous four years, is the only available source that collects history-specific enrollments data from individual institutions. While not statistically representative of higher education as a whole, these data capture broad national trends. With the data’s limitations firmly in mind, we’re parsing this year’s survey in the context of wider efforts across the discipline and across the landscape of higher education to better articulate the value of studying history and the humanities. 

Undergraduate enrollment in history courses remained relatively stable in 2018–19, with a total decline of 1.1 percent from 2017–18 levels across the 104 US institutions that provided data to the AHA (Fig. 1). When responses from two Canadian institutions are included, the dip was just 0.8 percent overall. The four-year trends reported in our 2019 survey show a decline of 3.3 percent since the 2015–16 academic year. The modest change from 2017–18 reinforces the flattening trend we observed last year and is slightly lower than national declines in total undergraduate enrollment, according to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Our enrollment survey corroborates a sense reported at many departments that the years of free-falling undergraduate enrollment may be behind them. 

Read the rest here.

American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.

Historians Approve Anti-ICE Resolution

AHA2020 Carousel Slide test

At its annual meeting in New York City, the American Historical Association approved the following resolution:

RESOLUTION CONDEMNING AFFILIATIONS BETWEEN ICE AND HIGHER EDUCATION

In light of the serious and systematic violation of human rights committed by both the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol (USBP) in recent years—and considering their presence on US university campuses for recruitment and research purposes—we resolve the following:

WHEREAS, several US universities have contracts with and host recruitment for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol (USBP); 

WHEREAS, ICE and USBP have been cited for numerous human rights abuses at the border and in detention facilities; 

WHEREAS university contracts with ICE and USBP legitimate both agencies as a branch of government and potential employers; therefore, be it

Resolved, that the AHA urge university faculty, staff, and administrators to sever existing ties and forgo future contracts with ICE and USBP; and

Resolved,that the AHA support sanctuary movements on campuses that seek to protect immigrant students and workers.

I am not sure what this resolution has to do with the study of history.  If I was present I would have rejected it. The AHA is not a political organization.  In this sense, I am mostly in agreement with the former AHA president and Cornell University historian Mary Beth Norton.  Here is a taste of a recent piece at Inside Higher Education:

Members of the American Historical Association approved a resolution condemning college and university contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 70 to 60, at their annual meeting over the weekend. They approved an additional statement in support of professors teaching off the tenure track, but voted down two resolutions expressing concern about academic freedom in Israel.

The successful resolution on ICE now goes to the AHA’s governing council for further consideration. Per association policies and procedures, the council may accept it, refuse to concur or exercise a veto.

Alexander Avina, associate professor at Arizona State University, was the first to speak in favor of the resolution, saying that his own parents were undocumented migrants and that he now teaches such immigrants in the borderlands. He urged the AHA to take “a stand against ongoing state terrorism” and the idea that universities should make millions of dollars by working with agencies that perpetrate it.

Ashley Black, a visiting assistant professor of history at California State University at Stanislaus, said she teaches students who were part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and who now live in a “state of fear and insecurity.” She asked the AHA to endorse campuses as sanctuaries in the interest of student safety and learning.

ICE had no vocal fans in the room, but a number of historians spoke out against the resolution on the grounds that it strays from AHA’s mission and established rules and practices. Mary Beth Norton, former AHA president and Mary Donlon Alger Professor Emerita at Cornell University, said she might support a resolution that adhered to the AHA’s Guiding Principles on Taking a Public Stance, highlighting threats to historical sources, academic freedom and historians’ movement. Yet she did not support the resolution as written.

Norton said later that the document said “nothing about historical scholarship or historians. Accordingly, it is outside the purview if the AHA as an organization, even though expressing outrage about ICE is entirely appropriate for individual historians in their capacity as citizens.”  

Avina said that he and his colleagues behind the resolution hope that the council will “accept and publicly support” it.

Read the entire piece here.

It is Time for a President of the American Historical Association Who Does Not Work at a Research University

AHA2020 Carousel Slide testNOTE:  This is a revised version of a post I wrote in January 2013.

What do all of these former American Historical Association presidents have in common?

2020: Mary Lindemann: University of Miami

2019: J.R. McNeil: Georgetown University

2018: Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

2017: Tyler Stovall, University of California-Santa Cruz

2016: Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh

2015: Vicki Ruiz, University of California-Irvine

2014: Jan Goldstein, University of Chicago

2013: Kenneth Pomeranz, University of Chicago

2012: William Cronon, University of Wisconsin

2011: Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

2010: Barbara Metcalf, University of Michigan

2009: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

2008: Gabrielle Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University

2007: Barbara Weinstein, University of Maryland

2006: Linda Kerber, University of Iowa

2005: James Sheehan–Stanford University

2004: Jonathan Spence, Yale University

2003: James McPherson, Princeton University

2002: Lynn Hunt, UCLA

2001: William Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin

2000: Eric Foner, Columbia University

1999: Robert Darnton, Princeton University

1998: Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia

1997: Joyce Appleby. UCLA

Apart from the fact that they are outstanding and groundbreaking scholars, they were all teaching at research universities while they served as president of the American Historical Association.  In fact, the last president of the AHA who did not teach at a research university was Nellie Nielson. She was president in 1943.  Nielson, who also happened to be the first female president of the AHA, spent most of her career at Mt. Holyoke College, a liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, MA.

I can understand why so many AHA presidents come from research universities.  They have time to write, produce, and thus make a name for themselves in the profession.  But I wonder if it is time to buck this trend.

Back in 2012,  William Cronon urged the profession to reconnect with the public through teaching, the Internet, and other digital efforts.  I know that Cronon’s interests reflect the interests of the AHA staff.  They are building a larger tent that covers not just academics who write award-winning books, but professors from smaller institutions, public historians, digital historians, podcasters, K-12 teachers, park rangers, and a host of other non-academics who “do history.”

So why not think about an AHA president who lives and works in the trenches–a sort of “people’s president” who represents the vast majority of historians in America, both inside and outside the academy?  Why not have a president who is a professor at a liberal arts college who spends most of her or his time in the classroom, does her or his job well, and has few aspirations of working at a research university? Why not a public historian or a director of a historical society or history museum?  Why not a high school teacher?  It would be fun to imagine what kind of AHA presidential address these historians might deliver or what kind of initiatives they might promote.

Correspondents Wanted: 2020 AHA Meeting in New York City

AHA 2020 Cover

Is anyone interested in a writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (and/or related meetings) in New York from January 3-6, 2020?

Once again The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from the conference.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/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. My only requirement is that you write material while the conference is in session. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a several thousand readers a day. Our posts on the AHA are regularly picked up at other sites and blogs as well.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling. In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

Megan Jones at AHA 2019

Brantley Gasaway at AHA 2018

Matt Lakemacher at AHA 2019

Zach Cote at AHA 2018

Mike Davis at AHA 2018

William Cossen from AHA 2017

Michael Bowen from AHA 2017

The American Historical Association Announces 2019 Prize Winners

AHAlogo

Here are a few of the winners:

The Albert J. Beveridge Award on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada, from 1492 to the present

Nan Enstad (Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison) for Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2018)

The Raymond J. Cunningham Prize for the best article published in a history department journal written by an undergraduate student

Lena Giger (Stanford Univ., BA 2019) for “The Right to Participate and the Right to Compete: Stanford Women’s Athletics, 1956–1995,” Herodotus (Spring 2019); faculty advisor: Estelle Freedman (Stanford Univ.)

The John H. Dunning Prize for the most outstanding book in US history 

Christina Snyder (Penn State Univ.) for Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson (Oxford Univ. Press, 2017)

The William and Edwyna Gilbert Award for the best article in a journal, magazine, or other serial on teaching history

Sam Wineburg (Stanford Univ.), Mark Smith (Stanford History Education Group), and Joel Breakstone (Stanford Univ.), for “What Is Learned in College History Classes?” Journal of American History 104 (March 2018)

The Littleton-Griswold Prize in US law and society, broadly defined

Martha S. Jones (Johns Hopkins Univ.) for Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018)

The Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History to a freely available new media project

Robert K. Nelson, Justin Madron, Nathaniel Ayers, and Edward Ayers (Digital Scholarship Lab, Univ. of Richmond) for American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History

The Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history

Sonia Hernandez (Texas A&M Univ.), Trinidad Gonzales (South Texas Coll.), John Morán González (Univ. of Texas at Austin), Benjamin Johnson (Loyola Univ. of Chicago), and Monica Muñoz Martinez (Brown Univ.) for the Refusing to Forget project.

All the winners are listed here.

Enrollment in History Courses is Holding Steady

College-classroom

Here is the latest from the American Historical Association:

After years of declines, undergraduate enrollments in history courses held steady in the last academic year. Last summer, the AHA conducted its third annual survey of history departments and joint academic units, and received 120 complete responses for the past four academic years, the most recent of which was 2017–18. The responses suggest that the overall number of undergraduate students enrolled in history courses changed little from 2016–17. Enrollments slipped down less than 0.5 percent at US institutions. When Canadian institutions are included in the total, enrollments were almost identical (up less than 0.01 percent).

Read the rest of Julia Brookins‘s piece at Perspectives on History here.

It is Time for a President of the AHA Who Does Not Work at a Research University (#aha19)

AHAlogo

NOTE:  This is a revised version of a post I wrote in January 2013.

What do all of these former American Historical Association presidents have in common?

2018: Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

2017: Tyler Stovall, University of California-Santa Cruz

2016: Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh

2015: Vicki Ruiz, University of California-Irvine

2014: Jan Goldstein, University of Chicago

2013: Kenneth Pomeranz, University of Chicago

2012: William Cronon, University of Wisconsin

2011: Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

2010: Barbara Metcalf, University of Michigan

2009: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

2008: Gabrielle Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University

2007: Barbara Weinstein, University of Maryland

2006: Linda Kerber, University of Iowa

2005: James Sheehan–Stanford University

2004: Jonathan Spence, Yale University

2003: James McPherson, Princeton University

2002: Lynn Hunt, UCLA

2001: William Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin

2000: Eric Foner, Columbia University

1999: Robert Darnton, Princeton University

1998: Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia

1997: Joyce Appleby. UCLA

Apart from the fact that they are outstanding and groundbreaking scholars, they were all teaching at research universities while they served as president of the American Historical Association.  In fact, the last president of the AHA who did not teach at a research university was Nellie Nielson. She was president in 1943.  Nielson, who also happened to be the first female president of the AHA, spent most of her career at Mt. Holyoke College, a liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, MA.

I can understand why so many AHA presidents come from research universities.  They have time to write, produce, and thus make a name for themselves in the profession.  But I wonder if it is time to buck this trend.

Back in 2012,  William Cronon urged the profession to reconnect with the public through teaching, the Internet, and other digital efforts.  I know that Cronon’s interests reflect the interests of the AHA staff.  They are building a larger tent that covers not just academics who write award-winning books, but professors from smaller institutions, public historians, digital historians, podcasters, K-12 teachers, park rangers, and a host of other non-academics who “do history.”

So why not think about an AHA president who lives and works in the trenches–a sort of “people’s president” who represents the vast majority of historians in America, both inside and outside the academy?  Why not have a president who is a professor at a liberal arts college who spends most of her or his time in the classroom, does her or his job well, and has few aspirations of working at a research university? Why not a public historian or a director of a historical society or history museum?  Why not a high school teacher?  It would be fun to imagine what kind of AHA presidential address these historians might deliver or what kind of initiatives they might promote.

What Happened to the History Major?

9288b-historymajorAccording to a recent report from the American Historical Association, the undergraduate history major is in steep decline.  In the last six years, the number of history majors in American colleges and universities has dropped by about 33%, more than any other discipline.   And this is in a period when university enrollments have grown.  Here is a taste of the report:

Optimists may look at the last year’s line in these charts and note that the rate of decline appears to have slowed. It is reasonable to hope that the trends of the last decade will eventually bottom out, perhaps even in the next year or two. At this point, though, it would take several unprecedented years of growth in history majors to return to mid-2000s numbers; departments should not expect a rapid rebound. While there are anecdotal accounts of students seeking out history in the current political climate, leading indicators of student interest are at best mixed; most notably, the AHA’s survey of course enrollments in a number of departments for the 2016–17 academic year found continued declines in credit hours. (Editor’s note: results of the AHA enrollments survey for 2017–18 will be published in the January issue of Perspectives.)

Those enrollment numbers suggest one possible long-term trend: that history departments will become more oriented toward introductory-level courses. Although I am not aware of good data on credit hours for the critical period 2010–12, it seems that the declines in enrollments since then may have been gentler than the drops in majors. Students still take history courses—but more often, apparently, as electives, as requirements for other majors, or as general education requirements. If major numbers do not recover, each of these areas will become more important. One common plan, for joint or hybrid majors, is peripherally tracked in the IPEDS data through reporting of second majors. These numbers capture students who major in fields like “Political science and history” where any other field might occupy the first position. They do not seem to offer great consolation; history’s share of second majors mirrors its overall trend in the last decade.

Ultimately, whether through majors or course enrollments, the long-term state of the discipline will rest on how it adapts to a cohort of students—and their parents—who are much less receptive to arguments for the liberal arts than previous generations have been. Many departments and organizations have worked out useful ways to articulate the purpose of the major. These are undoubtedly helping attract and retain students today. (The institutions that made up AHA’s Tuning project, an initiative to this end, are among those on the front lines; the first set of Tuning departments reported marginally better enrollments from 2014 to 2017, though not so strongly that I am confident in their statistical significance.) As the 2008 crisis moves farther into the past, we should attempt to identify departments that have had the most notable successes.

Read the entire report here.

No commentary yet.  I need to think through this report a bit more.

Correspondents Wanted: 2019 AHA Meeting in Chicago

AHA 2019

Is anyone interested in a writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago from January 3-6, 2019?

Once again The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from the conference.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/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. My only requirement is that you write material while the conference is in session. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a several thousand readers a day. Our posts on the AHA are regularly picked up at other sites and blogs as well.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling. In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

2017 American Historical Association

2016 American Historical Association

The American Historical Association Will Launch *Perspectives Daily*


AHAlogo

It will replace AHA Today.  Here is the press release:

In September 2006, AHA Today launched with a simple goal: to report on the latest happenings in the discipline of history that are too time-sensitive to wait a month or more for publication in Perspectives on History, the AHA’s print newsmagazine. 

Over the years, AHA staff members have worked hard to bring to our readers meaningful and diverse content on AHA Today—important announcements, Grants of the Week, Member Spotlight profiles, and posts about research, careers, graduate and undergraduate education, digital history, current events, and more. Today, we’re pleased to announce that AHA Today and Perspectives on History are merging. Perspectives will continue its highly regarded print and online editions, while Perspectives Daily will continue AHA Today’s tradition of featuring a wide variety of online-exclusive content.

These changes also bring a new publishing model to Perspectives—instead of dropping entire issues online at once, we will publish articles on a rolling basis. We hope that offering all print and online content regularly in one place will create a more enriching reader experience by eliminating the need to switch from one site to another. Expect a sleek new design, improved navigability, a biweekly newsletter (sign up here), and much more.

Around mid-June, links to all current content on AHA Today will be redirected to the new site. Thank you for your readership and see you soon at historians.org/perspectives!

Where Do Historians Work?

Where historians work

The largest concentration of history Ph.Ds work along the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington D.C.

Check out Dylan Ruediger‘s blog post at AHA Today: “The Geography of History PhDs.”  A taste:

Knowing where historians live raises important questions about the relationship between mobility and careers, a perennial, controversial, and poorly understood aspect of PhD culture. PhD candidates have long been told that their ability to find employment rests on their willingness to move anywhere in pursuit of a tenure-track job. Without question, many history PhDs appear to follow this path. However, department-level data (available in the forthcoming version of Where Historians Work) shows that in many departments, graduates cluster in the cities and regions where they receive their degrees. These geographies no doubt reflect hierarchies of prestige within the discipline: earlier studies of historical careers done by the AHA have found that graduates from high-prestige programs scatter more widely than those from ones with regional reputations, a pattern that seems to still hold true. The geographical data also highlights the existence of regional employment patterns that complicate our sense of a single national academic job market. More importantly, they suggest that many PhDs have ties of family, friendship, and circumstance in the regions where they earn their degrees, and build careers that reflect those roots. Our data speak to outcomes rather than motivations, but knowing more about where historians live is a crucial step towards untangling the question of why.

Read the entire post here.

Learn more about “Where Historians Work” project.

“The Mechanics of Class Participation”

Classroom

Yesterday we did a post on Lendol Calder’s use of “Point Paragraphs” in the history classroom.  Calder’s piece was a part of larger Perspectives on History forum titled “How to Get Students to Think, Talk, Share, Collaborate, Learn and Come Back for More.” Here is a taste of Elizabeth Lehfeldt‘s Introduction to the forum:

We’ve all been there. Our syllabus specifies that a percentage of the course grade will be based on participation. We’ve presented riveting material or assigned a provocative reading. We show up for class, stand at the front of the room, and begin lobbing questions at the students. And the silence is deafening.

Our intentions are good, but something is missing in the execution. The four pieces offered here offer strategies and ideas for lifting our class discussions out of the doldrums and making them meaningful and efficacious for students.

Check out the forum here.

 

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

dickinson_college_18_college_classroom

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.

An Undergraduate History Club Goes to the AHA Annual Meeting

Humboldt State

AHA Today has posted a great piece on the Humboldt State University History Club’s experience at this year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Here is a taste of Blanca Drapeau’s article:

There we were. A small group of Californian undergrads, winter layers piled over our business casual attire, perusing the AHA 2017 annual meeting program over coffee and pastries. We discussed panels that piqued our interests, excitedly pointing out historians we’d read for our courses and asking each other about unfamiliar terms. Last year was my senior year at Humboldt State University and the second year I attended the AHA annual meeting with our History Club. I was president of our club and the only student attending who had gone to another annual meeting. A semester of planning and fundraising efforts all came down to one incredible short week in Denver.

Humboldt State has a well-established tradition of history majors attending AHA annual meetings. The History Club, which organizes the trip, is open to all students, but a vast majority of its members are in the history program. The club meets once a week to discuss historical topics and provide academic support. Our elevator pitch to new members always includes the opportunity to attend the annual meeting. (Last year, it was simply, “we’re taking a trip to Denver this year for a history conference.”) As soon as the fall semester begins, members who wish to attend the annual meeting start fundraising for the trip.

We generally take a multi-pronged approach to fundraising. Last year, for four days a week, we organized a snack table in our department’s building. HSU (Humboldt State University) also stands for Hills, Stairs, & Umbrellas—most days walking to and from Founders Hall to any other snack shop between classes is an undertaking—and the ease of access served our snack table well. In our experience, the table has proved to be a reliable form of funding for our group. We also applied for grants through our school’s clubs office, successfully receiving the maximum amount of funds granted each year. Additionally, we held rummage/book sales—our professors were amazing and donated boxes of books!

Read the rest here.

A High School Student is Asking About Leopold von Ranke.

Stamp_Germany_1995_MiNr1826_Leopold_von_Ranke

Apparently a high school student is sending e-mails to historians asking them about 19th-century German historian Leopold von Ranke.  The student is interested in whether or not these historians believe in “objectivity” in the writing of history.  As some of you know, von Ranke had a lot to say about the subject.

Here is what I wrote about him Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

p.49: One of the most important critics of a usable past was the nineteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886).  He introduced the concept of “historicism,” or the idea that historians should seek to understand the past on its own terms.  Historicism has since become a mainstay of the historical profession.  As Ranke put it, “History has had assigned to it the task of judging the past, or instructing the present for the benefit of ages to come.  To such lofty functions this work does not aspire.  Its aim is to know how things happened.”  Ranke wanted historians to study the past for its own sake, not because it has a usable function for guiding our lives in the present.  He rejected the notion that the past is useful in that it teaches moral lessons, inspires those who study it, strengthens civic bonds, or provides individuals and communities with a better sense of identity.  Rather, for him, history is a science, and historians can teach the Enlightenment ideal of objectivity in their work.  The task of the historian is a conservative one–to seek after objective truth and to narrate “what happened” in the past.  No more and no less.

Several historians have wondered whether the girl asking about von Ranke is a conservative activist of some kind. Here is a taste of Nick Roll’s piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Professors and graduate students at at least six institutions received correspondence from the same email address. Some professors and historians even think the student might be a fictitious character made up as part of a right-wing trolling scheme, or part of an effort to catch “liberal professors” in an embarrassing trap. Even if the student in question — who did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the Gmail address used to contact the professors — is just an kid doing research, in an age of “fake news” and partisan tension, historians are treading carefully.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said that his organization had become aware of the emails over the holiday weekend, and was planning a review of the situation — and what to do when members are approached by unverified students and members of the public — when staff returned Tuesday.

“This is one more reminder of the caution with which everyone should approach email and social media,” he said in an email. “When I receive a query from someone claiming to be a student but without an institutional address, I ask the name of their school and teacher. If I do not receive a satisfactory response I end the conversation.”

It was on Facebook that Greenberg noticed his peers had received similar emails. In one instance, the student had even sent graduate students at Harvard a link (which, as of Monday evening, was available here) to a survey asking for more detailed responses.

“At first one of my [Facebook] friends who is also [University of Texas, Dallas] faculty and I were wondering if this email might have originally come from someone at UTD, since we both got the email, but then when I learned of all the other schools getting it, it seemed to me that someone elsewhere must be casting a wider net,” Lora Burnett, a teaching fellow in history, said in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

What’s even more curious, Burnett pointed out on her blog, where she wrote about the incident, is that the University of Texas, Dallas, doesn’t have a formal history major, instead offering “historical studies.” So why would Burnett be of interest to a prospective history major, which the student claimed to be, Burnett thought. Unless, of course, the email is “fishing/trolling by a [right-wing] outlet looking to create a fake-scandal headline: ‘Liberal Professors Don’t Believe in Objective Truth About Past’ or some such nonsense.”

Forgive me if I am not yet ready to believe that this is a conspiracy theory.  If this is indeed a high school student working on a paper, the historical profession is going to look awfully silly. (Does this really merit an AHA investigation?).  This kind of stuff is the reason academic historians have such a hard time engaging the public effectively.  I hope we don’t have to explain all of this to the hard-working teacher who encouraged his or her student to e-mail professors for help.

Of course I could be wrong.  But when it comes to high school students and history teachers I always want to err on the side of caution.

Let’s for a moment give the conspiracy theorists the benefit of the doubt and say that this e-mailer is indeed a “right-wing” troll looking for a “fake-scandal headline.”  This wouldn’t be the first time academic historians have been accused of something sinister by the political Right.  If such a scandalous headline did appear, I would post the piece at my blog and use it as yet another opportunity to educate the public about what historians do and how they work.

American Historical Association Announces 2017 Prize Winners

AHAlogo

You can see the list of winners here.

Here are some of the winners that might be of interest to the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

The Albert J. Beveridge Award on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada, from 1492 to the present: David A. Chang (Univ. of Minnesota) for The World and All the Things upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2016)

The John H. Dunning Prize for an author’s first or second book on any subject relating to United States history: Matthew Karp (Princeton Univ.) for This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Harvard Univ. Press, 2016)

The William and Edwyna Gilbert Award for the best article in a journal, magazine, or other serial on teaching history: Laura K. Muñoz (Texas A&M Univ.-Corpus Christi) for “Civil Rights, Educational Inequality, and Transnational Takes on the US History Survey,” History of Education Quarterly 56, no. 1 (February 2016)

The Joan Kelly Memorial Prize for women’s history and/or feminist theory: Sarah Haley (UCLA) for No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016)

The Littleton-Griswold Prize in US law and society, broadly defined: Risa Goluboff (Univ. of Virginia Sch. of Law) for Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016)

The George L. Mosse Prize in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500: James T. Kloppenberg (Harvard Univ.) for Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016)

The James A. Rawley Prize for the integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century: David Wheat (Michigan State Univ.) for Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570–1640 (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016)

The Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History to a freely available new media project: Keisha N. Blain (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and Ibram X. Kendi (American Univ.) for Black Perspectives (African American Intellectual History Society)

The Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history: Sowande’ M. Mustakeem (Washington Univ. in St. Louis) for Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2016)

The Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award for outstanding postsecondary history teaching;; Laura M. Westhoff (Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis)

The Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for distinguished K–12 history teaching: Gustavo Carrera (Buckingham Browne and Nichols Sch.)

The Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history: Lonnie G. Bunch III (Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture)

The Award for Scholarly Distinction to senior historians for lifetime achievement: Richard S. Dunn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) and John Merriman (Yale Univ.)