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From the Letters to the Editor column of the February 2007 Perspectives

PhDs, Careers, and Schools

Darcy R. Fryer, February 2007

Editor’s Note: Perspectives welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be e-mailed to the Editor (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for the letters’ contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

To the Editor:

In the last few years, I have followed the discussion of historians at community colleges—including, most recently, Emily Sohmer Tai's article in the November issue of Perspectives—with great interest. I would encourage the AHA to expand the scope of this discussion to include PhD-trained historians at secondary schools, particularly the highly selective independent schools that most commonly hire such historians. Teaching at independent secondary schools is an increasingly common choice for newly minted history PhDs who struggle with the shortage of academic jobs and the heavy teaching loads, low salaries, and remote locations that characterize some academic positions. For those who have a strong interest in teaching, it can be a satisfying choice. The AHA would do both the historical profession and secondary schools a service by disseminating information about jobs at independent secondary schools and by addressing how PhD-trained historians can contribute to and enrich independent schools' program.

At the same time, the AHA must work to improve the research and professional development opportunities available to scholars who work in secondary schools. Improving secondary teachers' access to university libraries, including research databases, should be a high priority. Providing financial assistance for secondary school-based scholars to attend academic conferences and visit archives is also helpful; secondary school-based historians typically have little or no institutional funding for research. Eliminating the somewhat artificial distinction between summer institutes for secondary teachers and those for teachers at small colleges would also be helpful; in fact, teachers at selective independent schools teach in much the same style, at about the same level, and often with exactly the same books and primary sources, as teachers of first- and second-year students at small liberal arts colleges. Not least important, university-based historians must recognize that an increasing number of secondary teachers are active as scholars, and that making the decision to teach in a rigorous secondary school does not necessarily mean that a scholar has “left” academia and the scholarly enterprise behind. Secondary teaching, like community college teaching, offers a valuable opportunity for historians to place their particular interests in a sweeping historical context and to learn to communicate the nuances of scholarship to a broad audience. Secondary teaching will not be a fully attractive career to PhD-trained historians until the historical profession fully supports such historians' efforts to be both teachers and scholars.

—Darcy R. Fryer, The Brearley School