From the AHA Activities column in the September 2001 Perspectives

CGE Update: Data Collection and Outreach Move Forward

Philip M. Katz, September 2001

This summer, the AHA's Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) continued to gather two kinds of information about the present state—and future possibilities—of graduate training: formal data and the informal (but no less revealing or important) opinions and advice of our colleagues across the discipline. In May a 41-page questionnaire was mailed to the directors of graduate study at every doctorate-granting history program in the United States. The survey covered nearly every aspect of graduate training at the doctoral level, from admissions and funding to attrition rates, fields of study, faculty (and student) expectations, preparations for college teaching, graduate students' exposure to technology, departmental cultures and procedures, placement rates, the relation between graduate study and the undergraduate liberal arts curriculum, and much more. Respondents were asked to provide particular details about their programs, numerical data where appropriate, and an assessment of changes and trends over time. Copies of the questionnaire can still be downloaded from the AHA web site at http://www.theaha.org/grad-survey.

Nearly two-thirds of departments responded to the questionnaire—a remarkable yield that speaks well for our profession and that underscores the importance of the CGE's investigation. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank everyone who responded; we appreciate the significant time and effort that was involved. The results of the doctoral survey are still being analyzed and will be reported in future issues of Perspectives. The committee is also planning complementary (though shorter) surveys of M.A. programs and graduate students. In the meantime, graduate students and other members of the AHA are strongly encouraged to share their views on graduate education with the committee. Please send your comments to the committee's chair, Colin Palmer, at cpalmer@princeton.edu, or directly to me at Phil Katz, or write to us care of the AHA. We are especially interested in your recommendations of innovative and/or exemplary graduate programs for site visits slated to take place during the fall and winter.

The CGE is making special efforts to reach out to members of the discipline whose voices have not typically been heard on the issue of graduate education, including public historians, diplomatic historians, world historians, nonaffiliated scholars, secondary teachers, and practitioners of such allied fields as library science and archives management. Some of this outreach has been conducted through open forums at selected professional meetings (for example, the annual conferences of the National Council on Public History, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and the World History Association), the rest through listservs, e-mail, and other direct queries. Here is a small sampling of the comments we've heard so far:

From a graduate student at a large public institution: "What can be done to stop the blatant exploitation of part-time faculty?"

From the director of a public history program: "[Graduate] students need to learn about the place of academic history and public history within a larger context; but how do students learn this?"

From a senior faculty member at a mid-sized state university: "Can (or should) the AHA offer guidelines for undergraduate majors in history, defining the sort of preparation they ought to receive before entering graduate school?"

From an independent historian: "It is a stupid waste of training and talent for graduate schools to be educating large numbers of historians—especially women—who receive their PhDs and are then forced to choose between their history careers and their famil[ies].. I think that history departments should be more open to hiring historians who have left the academy for a number of years to fulfill personal obligations."

From a recent PhD in world history: "Every graduate student ought to take a field in 'macro-history,' as a way to promote collegiality and foster a 'non-Orientalist, non-Eurocentric' historical practice."

From an assistant professor: "The AHA should focus its efforts on encouraging departments to expand the breadth of their MA programs, since MA programs are easier to build (and rebuild) than PhD programs."

Colleagues have also told us about wonderful innovations in preparing graduate students as teachers, new ways of expanding the traditional array of examination fields to include more thematic and transnational perspectives, and significant efforts to improve the funding and working conditions of graduate students. They remind us, too, that graduate programs are exceedingly diverse, and that this should be a source of strength for the discipline.

As part of its outreach effort, the CGE has asked a group of historians from different backgrounds, subdisciplines, and institutions to serve as an advisory committee. Committee Chair Colin Palmer invited these historians to share their counsel and concerns about graduate education and to act as a preliminary set of reviewers for the committee's final report. The advisory group is still in formation, but will ultimately include 30 to 40 people; a membership list will soon be available on the AHA web site. Members of the advisory group range in age from their early twenties (in the case of several graduate students and assistant professors) to 94 (in the case of Jacques Barzun, the only surviving member of the AHA's last Committee on Graduate Education, which was chaired by Dexter Perkins in the late-1950s).

The CGE is pleased to announce the appointment of Fiona-Anais Galvin as a member of the oversight committee. Galvin is a third-year graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, concentrating in American history, and was recently elected president of UCLA's History Graduate Student Association. She pursued her undergraduate studies at Wellesley and then American University (from which she graduated with honors), so she brings to the committee her experiences at three very different institutions. Galvin replaces Ernest Simmons, a graduate student at Berkeley, who resigned from the CGE for personal reasons at the start of the summer. "I have been following the activities of the CGE closely in Perspectives," she notes, "and I'm very excited by the work done so far." In addition to her other work for the committee, Galvin will act as the CGE's formal liaison to the AHA Task Force on Graduate Education.

—Philip M. Katz is research director of the Committee on Graduate Education.