January 16, 2012

Historians Reflect on Forces Reshaping Their Profession

By Jennifer Howard 

(Chicago, January 8, 2012. Copyright by The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Historians have to broaden their sense of their discipline and how, where, and why they practice it. That message was broadcast clearly at the American Historical Association's annual conference, which ended here on Sunday.

About 4,700 scholars attended the meeting. Anxiety about job prospects percolated at panels and in hallway conversations. But the meeting drew energy and optimism from two dozen digital-humanities panels, which complemented more traditional fare, and from the association's recent push to expand what counts as respectable employment for historians.

The official theme, "Communities and Networks," generated sessions on topics such as the history of information and spatial history. It also described the group's current desire to appeal to historians who work outside the academic world, or within it in nontraditional ways.

Life beyond the tenure track was a big topic. In a series of columns in the journal Perspectives and in The Chronicle, the group's 2011 president, Anthony T. Grafton, and its executive director, Jim Grossman, have been urging graduate students and their departments to get over the idea that it's a tenure-track job or failure. Why not consider public history, say, or a so-called alternative-academic career based in a university library or humanities center? Why not train graduate students to take better advantage of those opportunities?    Read more

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