A New Course for Graduate Education
Arnita A. Jones, November 2005
From the Executive Director column of the November 2005 Perspectives
For several years now, the AHA has been closely monitoring developments concerning graduate education in history, beginning with the major study that resulted in The Education of Historians for the Twenty-First Century, published in 2004, and Retrieving the Master's Degree from the Dustbin of History, which was published in 2005. Both included recommendations for graduate departments and for the Association. We think good progress is being made on both fronts. In May, with support from the Johnson Foundation, we were able to convene a conference of stakeholders involved in history education at the master's degree level to hold discussions on the theme “Competencies and Credentials for Training of History Professionals.” At this conference we were able to consider both the purpose and practice of MA-level training in the discipline and discuss models and best practices that will be useful to disseminate. A full report on the conference will be available later this fall
The AHA's web site for history departments involved in PhD programs has been up and running for several months now and we urge all 158 doctoral programs listed to help us update their information so that undergraduates can make well-informed decisions about their applications (for details about the web site, see Patrick Manning's discussion in the September issue of Perspectives). The October issue of Perspectives carried a report about AHA's first summer workshop for directors of graduate study. Attendance was substantially larger than we had expected, including representatives from a mix of doctoral and master's degree programs, confirming our understanding that the DGS role is an increasingly important one in history departments and strengthening our resolve to continue to find ways in which we can be of help to them.
Change is afoot not only in history graduate education but also in other disciplines. Last month I attended a multidisciplinary convening of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, a project launched several years ago to support departments' efforts to more purposefully structure their doctoral programs. History departments at Arizona State, Duke, Howard, Kent State, Michigan State, Ohio State, SUNY Stony Brook, Texas A&M, Connecticut, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Southern California, and Texas at Austin have reviewed admissions procedures, introductory courses, preparation for teaching, comprehensive exams, and other aspects of graduate education and are now able to engage in a lively discussion of initiatives they have undertaken (see http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/CID/partners_allies.htm for more information). A workshop focused on these efforts will also be held at the AHA annual meeting in Philadelphia next January (for details, see the October issue of Perspectives or the annual meeting Program).
Elsewhere, other institutions are re-evaluating graduate programs. In August the Mellon Foundation announced that it would suspend funding of its Fellowships in Humanistic Studies as of fall 2006. The foundation will now explore how its support can be most effectively used to meet the current needs of graduate students and young scholars. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which has administered the Mellon Foundation-funded national fellowship competition, reports that it will continue to provide dissertation fellowships, summer research, and early career support to help graduate students from underrepresented groups complete doctoral degrees in the humanities. The Wilson Foundation's teaching fellowships will shift focus next year from preparing college teachers to supporting educators at the high school level. The Council on Graduate Schools (CGS), with substantial funding from the Ford and Sloan Foundations, is continuing a major
initiative on professional master's programs, an effort that includes several history departments. CGS is also nearly finished with a major study of attrition in doctoral programs. Finally, the National Research Council has completed its study assessing the methodology of its ranking of research doctoral programs so that the next survey, now planned for the summer of 2006, may accurately reflect changes in scholarship and graduate education that have occurred over the past 20 years. One thing seems clear: the environment in which graduate education exists is changing and history departments engaged in graduate education need to stay abreast of new developments.
—Arnita Jones is executive director of the AHA.