From the Profession column of the December 2011 issue of Perspectives on History
Mapping the Contours of the History Profession: Three Perspectives
James Grossman, December 2011
The three articles (by Robert Townsend, Edward Balleisen, and Alexandra Lord) that follow represent both a continuation of the AHA's long-standing work (or more precisely Robert Townsend's long-standing work) in tracking employment trends for historians, and new directions for that activity. Our general approach has been to gather data on placement in academic positions—data that are gleaned from a variety of sources that traditionally have simply assumed that "placement" in the world of history PhDs means academic positions. We will continue to gather such data, and hope that history departments will do so as well. We also encourage—even implore—our departments to make such data public, and to broaden it to include a full dashboard of data that would be useful to potential applicants. The AHA will be working on ways in which our web site might be a clearinghouse for such data as a resource for individuals interested in graduate study in history.
But as the essays by Edward Balleisen and Alexandra Lord suggest, we want to do more and we want our departments to do more. The AHA needs to complicate our data presentation by more effectively integrating a wider range of employment into the statistics. We will need help from departments to do that. And we hope that they will be able to provide that help more easily by making a greater effort to record such employment—in essence to treat all employment the same way in terms of how we calculate "placement rates" and track career paths. To do so will help not only prospective students. It will help us to understand and amplify our contributions to public culture as we learn about and expand the roles of historians in American society.
James Grossman is the executive director of the AHA.