The AHA and Graduate Education: Old Ties, New Initiatives
Arnita A. Jones, September 2000
From the Executive Director's column in the September 2000 Perspectives
Students in graduate history programs today face a far different and less certain future than the faculty to which they now look for training and advice. Jobs are tight, to be sure; they have been before. But the puzzle facing the current generation of students is not only whether they will find employment but also the changing nature of the higher education and other institutions where most are hoping to work. How are graduate departments preparing them to survive a period of part-time work or temporary teaching? To be judged by assessments of their students' learning? To use technology in the classroom as well as in their scholarship? Or to relate to an increasingly diverse student body or audience?
These are only a few of the many questions about contemporary graduate education in history for which there exists more anecdotal than reliable information. To ignore them is to do a disservice not only to students contemplating history careers but to the discipline as well. But graduate faculty and departments, struggling with their own institutions' shifts in priorities and resources, are hard pressed to collect systematic data on their own programs and graduates and to undertake the kind of comprehensive national review of graduate training necessary to inform their own planning and decision making.
The AHA has had a substantial connection with graduate education in the discipline for many years. For decades it has served as a clearinghouse for information about specific employment opportunities through Perspectives and through the annual meeting's Job Register. More recently it has also provided analyses of trends and developments relating to careers in history. Through the Institutional Services Program the AHA provides a range of services to graduate departments and also collects and reports on regular information.
In 1995 a Task Force on Graduate Education was established to provide a means by which concerns of graduate students could receive a better hearing in the Association. And we have joined with other disciplines in efforts such as the Preparing Future Faculty initiative of the American Association of Colleges and Universities and the Council on Graduate Education. (See the report about the grant the AHA has received to participate in the latest round of this effort.)
Fortunately, we now have a unique opportunity to build on these earlier efforts, as well as our own existing relationship with graduate departments.
With major support from the Carnegie Corporation, the AHA will begin this fall a comprehensive review of graduate education in history. Colin Palmer, former AHA Council member and chair of our Committee on Graduate Education, will direct the project, along with Thomas Bender who will serve as secretary and whose description of this major new initiative appears in this issue of Perspectives Online.
I am convinced that this initiative is one of the most important the AHA will undertake in the next several years. And I hope that it is one that strengthens our relationship with history departments and with future historians.
—Arnita A. Jones is executive director of the AHA.