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 Next Step in the Humanities “Counterattack” is “Translation”


In my book Why Study History: A Historical Introduction I wrote:

But there are also larger issues that history teachers and professors, and school and college administrators, must confront if they want to be effective career counselors.  For example, we must equip students to be confident in the skills that they have acquired as history majors….Rather than apologizing to potential employers about being history majors, our students should enter job interviews boldly, discussing their abilities to write, communicate, construct narratives out of small details, listen, empathize, analyze, and think critically.  As Stanton Green, a humanities administrator notes, “People find jobs where they look for jobs.”  We need to instill our students with confidence.  The ability to do this must somehow be embedded in a history department curriculum.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, University of North Carolina-Greensboro  Emily Levine and Nicole Hall describe this process as “translation.”  Here is a taste of their piece:

After years of being on the back foot, the humanities have launched a counterattack. A shelf of new books, including Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) and Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro’s Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn From the Humanities (Princeton, 2017), attest to the usefulness of the humanities for the 21st-century job market. Their fresh message makes the old creed that the humanities are a “mistake” or not “relevant” seem out of touch. Surveying these works in the July-August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, J. M. Olejarz dubs this countermovement “the revenge of the film, history and philosophy nerds….”

But where we go from here requires the hard work of identifying just what is the common denominator being learned in the humanities and how to parlay that knowledge and those skills into professional success. How do you apply Virginia Woolf to write better code or marshal your skills conjugating Latin verbs to execute an IPO?

At the University of North Carolina Greensboro, we have taken the next step of improving career outcomes for our students in the humanities by implementing the Liberal Arts Advantage, a strategy that articulates the value of the humanities to students, their parents and the community.

Directors of career development are realizing that they can’t do this work alone. They must engage faculty as their partners.

Jeremy Podany, founder, CEO, and senior consultant of the Career Leadership Collective, a global solutions group and network of innovators inside and near to university career services, says that helping faculty teach career development is part of the job. “I actually think we need to go to the faculty and say, ‘Let me teach you how to have a great career conversation,’” said Podany. The relationship between faculty members and career development offices — experts in the humanities and careers — is essential to preparing students for the job market.

Why? Because the central issue in realizing a long-term strategy for student career development is translation. That is, how students translate the skills they learn in the classroom into workplace success. This is particularly true in the case of the metacognitive skills that professors in the humanities can, and should, help contribute in their students.

Read the entire piece here.

“I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about ‘negotiating’ and ‘complicating’ and ‘constructing’.”


Check out Katy Lasdow‘s interview with Peggy Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston.  It is part of the Junto’s series on “Where Historian’s Work.”

Here is my favorite part of the interview:

JUNTO: When we spoke, you stressed the importance of storytelling as a means of getting a variety of people interested in history. How does storytelling factor into the work that you do? How does it connect to your research and writing?

BENDROTH: I invite a lot of academics to give talks at the Library—we have a monthly “History Matters” series that brings in a mix of people in our downtown area. I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about “negotiating” and “complicating” and “constructing.”  It’s not that these words are bad—they’re great at academic conferences and I love most of them dearly. But (and I’m overstating a bit) the people in our audience profoundly do not care. It’s not that they can’t understand the concepts—I’m sure most of them could—but that’s not why there are there. I think that, like most human beings, they are looking for connection. They want to hear about other human beings, other lives, stories that make someone from the past both totally foreign and utterly familiar.

We should never forget that. I’m not saying that every historian has to be David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin—would that we could sell that many books! But if we can’t explain our ideas in clear simple language that the average person, they we don’t really understand them ourselves.

JUNTO: Any other thoughts on career diversity for Early Americanists?

BENDROTH: I do have a word of caution. Combining the life of the mind with lots of administrative responsibilities is not for beginners!  If you do not already have a scholarly agenda, a network of friends, and some solid achievements on your resume, the job will devour you. It is so much easier to answer an email or plan a meeting than it is to think and write. My day is full of 10 to 20 minute slots where I’m waiting for a phone call or between meetings, and I used to think I could (or should) switch over to some more academic intellectual task. It took me way too long to realize that this is ineffective and ultimately exhausting—you can only care about so many things at once. Thinking and writing requires days at a time, a place apart from your office and computer. It sometimes means going for a walk, “wasting” time staring out windows. Scholarly work also means having the support of a visionary board and regular explanations to your staff that “working at home” is not a euphemism for goofing off.

Read the entire interview here.

Thinking About Careers in History: Join Us!

One of my favorite annual events sponsored by the Messiah College History Department is “Career Night.” Each year we bring back two of our alums to talk to history majors and anyone else who wants to attend about how the study of history has offered a solid foundation to their career and vocational pursuits.

The format of the event is a public Q&A hosted by your truly. It is followed by questions from the audience.

This year our speakers are Justin Bollinger (’06) and Katie Garland (’12).

After a stellar career at Messiah College and Penn State-Dickinson Law School, Justin currently works as a lawyer with a central Pennsylvania firm.  He was also one of the first students I ever taught as a new Messiah professor in 2002.

Katie Garland had an equally stellar career at Messiah and then went on to pursue an M.A. in Public History with a certificate in Arts Management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.  She is currently loving her work as a fund development coordinator for the Girls Scouts of America.

The event is open to the public. If you are the parent of a high school student interested in studying history, a history teacher, a student at Messiah College considering a major or minor in history, or just someone in the area who wants to have their mind stimulated for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon, please join us.

The event will be held at 4:00pm in Boyer Hall, room 237.  Light refreshments will be provided.   See you there!


What is Life Like After the History Major?

Christine Giamattei, a 2010 graduate of Holy Cross and a history major, nails it! She followed her burning passion for history and eventually found the study of history prepared her well for a life of work.

Here is a taste from her 2013 post at Levo League:

Unlike the decision of what to actually do with my history degree, the decision of declaring the major was an easy one. I declared history as my major even before I went to orientation at Holy Cross. It was a bold move, but a sure thing.

It had become apparent to me that history was really the only thing I was truly interested in studying. The only thing I wanted to learn, to read, to write, and to discover in college. It had been the same growing up too. My love for it is something that makes me, me.

And history turned out to be the best thing for me to study in college because I had an innate, unquestionable, burning passion for it.

But once second semester senior year rolled around, I realized that I would be blasting stereotypes, as I would not be venturing off to law school or applying for a teaching job with a fresh history degree.

I really had no idea what I wanted to do and who I should contact about jobs that would be a good fit for the major on my degree. I didn’t know if interviewers and companies would see my degree as vague and limiting and unspecified and without practical training.

How would my passion for and knowledge of Gilded Age America translate into work at a future job that wasn’t being a teacher, librarian or historian?

I eventually came to believe that my major prepared me well for life and work in the professional world. For any kind of job, really. It wasn’t what I learned/loved… every bit of 19th century America… or didn’t learn/hated in college… calculus and plant biology… but how I learned it and what I walked away with… besides being able to talk anyone’s ear off about the significance of the construction and opening day of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883.

I’ll spare you that oration.

Instead, I am here to tell you — all of you — that all of the papers and tests and group projects and office hours and presentations (that seem completely bullshit at the time) are worth it. These experiences will be put to good use after you earn the diploma. You will use the skills you picked up along the way, whether you’re conscious of them at the time or not.

In the end, it didn’t matter what major I graduated with. I’d been on a holy grail and back in order to graduate with indispensable professional (and life) skills and passions, and that is what I believe will take me far in my career.

So what the heck are these famed skills and passions that can help earn you success and gain you notoriety among your co-workers?

I’ll tell ya.

Read the rest here.

More From Buddy Hocutt on Using Your History Degree in the Marketplace

Buddy Hocutt is a 2014 graduate of the Messiah College History Department.  Some of you may recall that we recently interviewed Buddy as part of our “So What CAN You Do With a History Major?” series.  

Over at Reckless Historians, Buddy gives us an update on how things are going.  He landed a good job right out of college and continues to use the skills he learned as a history major in his work as a web content writer. Here is a taste of his excellent post, “History for Your Future.”

I graduated in May with a history degree from Messiah College. I chose not to teach and not to work in a museum and I am doing just fine. In fact, I was employed before I graduated. A novel idea for most, but true all the same. While completing the second semester of my senior year I started the process that most college seniors do – searching and applying for jobs. Thanks to some due diligence and blessings from above I was able to find a job as a web content writer for a commercial kitchen supply company.

If you think that job has nothing to do with history you would be wrong. It has everything to do with history! In the course of the average day I do the three things absolutely critical to historical study: analytical thinking, research, and most of all, writing. History is certainly more than just those things, but boiled down, that is what you get. The names and dates provide all-important context for the analytical thinking, research, and writing, but facts do not define the discipline.

The job of undergrad historians looking for work is learning how to shift the perspective of potential employers past the objective parts of history and get them to focus on the transferable skills historical study teaches. I worked terribly hard at that and it paid dividends (not actual dividends, I am only entry level, after all, but it did score me a full time job with salary and benefits!). I convinced my interviewers (now bosses) that history is so much more than what they gave it credit for.

For starters, I told my employers that at its core history is the study of people. To do good history you have to connect with your subject on a deeper level; really get into their mind. Why did they act the way they did? What were they thinking? That idea applied directly to my job. As a content writer, I write all of the text you see on our website – blog posts, articles, and product descriptions. The goal of all of those is to connect with potential customers. I get my paycheck because people buy things from our company. If I can really connect with them about a product – understand why they might want something and how it will enrich their lives, then I am doing things correctly. I have to understand how and why people think what they think and capitalize on it.

Then I sold my employers on the concrete skills that history cultivates. Most people fail to realize that history involves a lot of writing. In fact, in terms of work, that is really all a historian does. And researching. Lo and behold, writing and researching are major facets of my job. On an average day, I do heavy research on the product I’m given to learn everything there is to know about it. Then I write a detailed, informative description of it. If that’s not history, then I don’t know what is!

I just completed my two month probationary/training period and at each of my progress report meetings I was commended for my researching and writing abilities. As I said, that is a direct result of studying history in college. My boss, a former English major, even told me she prefersto hire history majors. That is a working professional in a medium-to-large sized business specializing in kitchen supplies giving solid evidence for the usefulness of studying history. It might take some time for the majority to come around on history, but there is no reason your history degree should scare away employers. In fact, your history degree should push you above and beyond other applicants. It’s up to you to understand what historical study allows you to do and convince potential employers of its worth.

Glad to see that Buddy has joined Rachel Carey and Phil Strunk at Reckless Historians.

More Good Stuff on Careers and the History Major

Chris Gehrz, the chair of the History Department at Bethel University in St. Paul and the author of The Pietist Schoolman blog, is doing a lot of good thinking on career paths and destinations for history majors.

His recent post, “Majoring in History, Thriving in Business” tells the story of several Bethel History Department alums who are using their history major in the business world.  Here is a taste:

Enter Brandon Raatikka (’03) and Tim Goddard (’04). A decade out from their History education at Bethel, they’re thriving in the business world:
Tim studied history, biology, and writing at Bethel, worked on a political campaign, wrote a novel, taught science in Brazil, and built from an early interest in web design and blogging into employment with software startups. He’s now vice president of marketing for a group that facilitates mergers between software companies.• Brandon went to law school at the University of Minnesota, wrote for the law review, and parlayed his J.D. into a position as a research analyst for a small company providing due diligence for investments like commercial real estate. He’s now the vice president in charge of risk assessment for that company.
Despite taking such different routes, Tim and Brandon came to some of the same conclusions when asked how a History degree prepared them for careers in business. Both emphasized the skills they’d learned from their undergraduate studies, and that their abilities to think critically, research, and write well very much set them apart in the business world:
(Brandon) …the biggest things I took away from my education at Bethel were how to think more critically about situations where the right “answer” isn’t always apparent, and how to write well (as you get a lot of practice writing in history classes). Apart from certain financial and accounting aspects of it, business is largely a “soft” science. Training in history and other humanities gets one comfortable dealing with ambiguities. It helps you assess the significance of facts and order their importance relative to other facts. Being able to focus on the big picture, while still knowing how the small details relate to that big picture, is a huge advantage in business, and something that studies in history can train one to do. Also, history courses are an important element of a well-rounded, liberal arts education — and especially in the context of a small business, where one inevitably wears many hats, a “generalist” mindset is valuable.

(Tim) …the ability to write well is incredibly valuable across all disciplines, I’ve found. It was certainly true in my history courses, as well as the rest of my Bethel experience and beyond…. Writing skillfully, accurately, and with a touch of flair is an even more significant advantage in the job field now than I think it was a decade ago…. History majors are perhaps a bit more prevalent in the corporate world than you would think. The habits of research, writing and critical thinking that a history degree can build are vital in any field. The ability to critically evaluate sources is particularly valuable…

Great stuff, Chris.  Thanks for sharing these stories from your former students!  Chris gives a nice plug to the work we are doing here at the blog and in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  For more on what you can do with a history major, check out our ongoing series on the subject.

$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.

AHA Career Fair

I love this idea.  The American Historical Association is planning a career fair for students and job candidates in history.  Yesterday they put out a call for professionals who use their training in history in their jobs.  Here is the announcement:

Were you trained in history and use that training in your job?  Do you work in business, education, nonprofits, government, archives, libraries, publishing, or another area?  If you’ll be in Washington, DC, om the afternoon of January 4, please come to the Marriott Wardman Park and share your experiences with students and job candidates who are attending the AHA annual meeting.

We’re looking for people willing to volunteer anytime between 1-5pm on January 4.  You can find a sign-up form on the AHA website.  Mentors will be stationed at tables where students and job candidates can browse.  Feel free to bring literature about your field or employer, but there won’t be room for extensive displays.  Help expand the horizons for history majors, and let them know about all the myriad options for them to use their skills and knowledge!

The AHA jobs website notes that “Mentors have already signed up from independent schools, community colleges, historical societies, government and publishing.”