Publication Date

September 1, 1989

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

The recent steady influx of British historians into American departments of history has become a serious threat to the integrity of the historical profession in the United States. The problem is especially grave in the field of English history. Some of the recent immigrants have themselves tried to put the best face on the matter, but their remarks are apparent special pleading. They say, improbably enough, given the nature of graduate training in Britain, that they have a breadth of learning not to be found in Americans. They even compare themselves to the scholars who fled Hitler in the 1930s. But Margaret Thatcher is no dictator—these immigrants have held privileged academic posts in Britain and their lives are in no danger—merely their pocketbooks.

But the responsibility for hiring these British scholars rests with American departments which act from shortsighted motives. These appointments are, as one senior scholar remarked, matters of “chic,” inspired by Anglophilia which ought to be declass‚ but it is not. The departments who make these appointments must often have made false representations (or at least disingenuous ones) to the immigration service when they claimed that there were no comparable American to be found.

The irony is that these British immigrants are often hired to train future historians. But some graduate schools now show marked reluctance to hire products of American universities. Why should they expect anyone else to hire the students they produce? This practice also works against the reasonable expectations of American scholars in their forties that they should move on to schools of greater prestige and open their present positions to newer Ph.D.s. These scholars in mid-career have usually endured the difficulties of finding jobs in the 1970s and now face this British invasion promoted by their fellow Americans. This will soon make cooperation among the natural leaders of the historical profession very difficult, especially in the field of English history.

Randolph Trumbach
Professor of History
Baruch College, City University of New York

Editor’s Note: The AHA’s Professional Division remains adamantly opposed to any discrimination on the basis of national origin, including restrictions on recruitment and appointment. See paragraph 5 under “Employment” of the Association’s Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. For a copy of the statement and addenda, call or write AHA headquarters.