Publication Date

March 1, 2014

Perspectives Section


The AHA is pleased to introduce an alumni-tracking service to help AHA member departments understand the diverse careers of their alumni. Accurate placement information is critical to department conversations about graduate curriculum and employment options for program graduates. The AHA Council strongly recommends transparency in career outcomes and outlined best practices in 2012.

Departmental placement studies provided through this service will include details about employment sectors and industries for each PhD graduate, including the name of the employer and current job title. The AHA will also publish program-level data collected on its website. All data will be drawn from publicly available sources, such as history department and other higher-education web pages, LinkedIn, Facebook, and various search engines. Departments that use this centralized (and economical) service will be assured that the data are consistent with AHA guidelines, and that information will be directly comparable to data from other doctoral programs. We hope to be able to expand this tracking service to include MA alumni in the future.

The discipline-wide conversation about careers beyond the professoriate is already contributing to a broader understanding of the varied roles history doctorates play in a wide range of sectors of our society and economy. While we often focus on the value of such data to students in illuminating career options, these data can also inform departments’ decisions about graduate education. In particular, as institutions pressure history doctoral programs to reform graduate education in the face of changing job markets, knowing where alumni find employment can help departments determine whether to implement changes, and what types. These data can also help departments communicate to deans and provosts the need for comprehensive student professional development. Additionally, departments can use this information to challenge perceptions about the “worth” of an academic PhD in history by highlighting the diverse careers of alumni working in and beyond higher education.

Although program administrators are accustomed to the flexibility of idiosyncratic reporting, the AHA’s conversations with students, faculty, administrators, and even potential employers have revealed widespread appreciation for the benefits of standard categorization and comparability across institutions and programs. Over the long term, inadequate information has also contributed to public misunderstandings about transferable skills and knowledge that students acquire when they pursue advanced training in history, and has even helped to create the sense among some policy makers that advanced humanities and social science education serves no relevant, public purpose. The lack of consistent and centralized information has also hampered the AHA’s ability to provide members with access to diverse and robust professional networks that extend beyond the professoriate.

A visualization of the job titles held by 2,500 history PhDs tracked for the study “The Many Careers of History PhDs,” by L. Maren Wood and Robert Townsend ( What this study did for the discipline as a whole, the AHA’s career-tracking service will do for individual history departments.

To be clear, the goals of this data collection and publishing are not to expose or single out programs for weak “placement” into tenure-track faculty positions at research-intensive institutions. Such positions, after all, make up a small minority of all higher-education faculty positions in the United States. In the research we performed in 2013 as part of the Career Diversity Project, we found that just 17.6 percent of historians 3 to 15 years beyond the PhD were employed in tenure-track positions at research-intensive institutions.1 Rather, the goals for this service are to clarify and celebrate the breadth and diversity of abilities and choices that well-trained alumni from all history doctoral programs demonstrate. We seek a broader definition of success for history PhDs that will liberate our graduate students from the assumption that only a single pathway is possible or desirable.

The ongoing process of generating and refining the categories for data collection will offer an opportunity for history doctoral programs to collaborate with the AHA on a shared articulation of what is possible and what is valuable not only to a diverse community of scholars, but also to the public at large.

How to Participate

If you are a director of graduate study and you would like to take advantage of this service, the only information you need to provide is the window of time for which you would like the study performed. The AHA already maintains a database of PhDs in history going back decades. Departments may choose the minimum study period, covering the most recent 10 years, or they may choose to track alumni going back as far as 1990 (for some programs, data extends back into the 19th century). The price is $7 per graduate, so total cost will vary by program size.

Departments that purchase this tracking service will receive a report on the data that are collected, down to the level of the individual. To protect personal privacy, information published on the AHA website will be only at the program level. Data analysis will be guided and informed by the recent groundbreaking study “The Many Careers of History PhDs,” by L. Maren Wood and Robert Townsend.

We encourage all history doctoral programs to participate in this important data-gathering effort. To request this service, directors of graduate study may contact Pamela Pinkney, AHA membership manager, at or (202) 544–2422 ext. 115.

We also invite all members to join the conversation on AHA Communities  about the diverse professional pathways open to historians. The “Career Diversity for Historians” and “The Preparation of Historians” discussion groups address professionalization and curricular questions in history education.

Julia Brookins is the AHA’s coordinator, special projects.


1. That is, those classified by the Carnegie Foundation as universities with “high” or “very high” levels of research activity. For more findings, see L. Maren Wood and Robert Townsend, “The Many Careers of History PhDs: A Study of Job Outcomes.”


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