Publication Date

May 1, 1997

Knowledge of the academic marketplace is imperfect because demand and supply operate on an elongated time scale. Teaching fields change slowly, and the time between earning a bachelor's degree and completing a doctorate—12.1 years on average—thwarts predicting or anticipating the academic marketplace. Inadequate knowledge about jobs offered (many of them not even being advertised), with only anecdotal information about trends and opening fields, compounds the problem. The hot job area of two years ago may be cold to dead today.

Robert B. Townsend's March 1997 article in Perspectives made a helpful stab at identifying employment trends.1 Townsend’s survey of the “hiring season” focused on 442 job announcements in the four issues of Perspectives from the last four months in 1996. However, confusion may have emerged because of the lack of congruity between three different data sources—the Modern Language Association, the National Research Council, and the American Historical Association—which each have different time lines and different preparers.

Table 1Although this last third of the year contains about two-thirds of the job announcements in Perspectives, it does not reflect the full range of the marketplace, as revealed by job postings in the other major academic employment source, the Chronicle of Higher Education. Only 46.8 percent of positions available in Massachusetts appeared in issues of the Chronicle from the last four months of the year, and the 7 Harvard positions appeared in July. California’s 42 positions were split evenly between the first eight months of the year and the last four. New York fit the model, with 67.5 percent of its jobs listed in 1996’s last four months. During the four quarters of 1996, the Chronicle contained 163, 90, 150, and 277 job advertisements, respectively. Using the last third of a year, therefore, does not explore the entire breadth of the market or investigate the possible existence of segmentation in the academic job market by advertising vehicle.

Although, a finite and manageable body of data—less than 1,000 academic jobs a year—this exclusive focus on a year's last four months has been identified with "serious drawbacks," as there was "no way of knowing how accurately the EIB listings reflect the universe of available positions."2

Table 2Our study is based on an analysis of job announcements in the Chronicle of Higher Education for the 1996 calendar year (49 issues). For the four-month period in which Perspectives announced 442 history positions, the Chronicle announced 389. No attempt has been made in this study to identify overlapping or duplicate job announcements, though this is a prerequisite for further unified studies. Our source and base time period differ. This study is not longitudinal, but insofar as it probes the same marketplace phenomena, it comprises a parallel study.

Table 3The Chronicle's database of 640 job announcements in the United States included some listings under Humanities, American Studies, Native American Studies, and African American Studies—positions for which a historian is clearly qualified. Teaching positions comprised 591 announcements (92.3 percent), and research, editing, postdoctoral fellowships, and public history positions comprised the remaining 49 announcements (7.7 percent). In addition, there were 30 foreign announcements, including 6 in Canada.

Typically, community college positions required only an M.A. and did not specify a field of history. Community college positions are generally advertised locally rather than nationally. It is unlikely that the community college will become a major source of employment (Table 1). The oversupply of history Ph.D.'s will not raise the community college entry-level teaching requirements.3 However, ABD’s may acquire valuable teaching experience at community colleges.

Table 4We differentiated the job announcements by the level of position, which is significant because of the number of Ph.D. recipients in 1995 versus the number of entry-level positions available in 1996 (Tables 2 and 3). Of the 640 jobs listed in the Chronicle, 370 (57.8 percent) were for entry-level positions, whereas the number of history Ph.D. recipients in 1995 was between 800 and 900. Taking this view of the data produces a somewhat grimmer result than the Perspectives' description of the longer-term trends in job opportunities that had increased 7 percent in 1996 over 1995.4

Table 5There is little difference between the profile of teaching fields between the March 1997 Perspectives study and table 4 other than the fact that table 4 more closely approximates the totality of the 1996 job market. The difference between North America comprising 40 percent of the jobs in Perspectives and 31.7 percent in the Chronicle is explained by our study creating subcategories for North America including gender and African American positions.

The larger and more prestigious the school, the less likely that the job announcement required teaching responsibilities in a disparate field. Although world history was hardly heard of in 1980, it is now the most requested second field. What Susan M. Socolow identified in 1993 as "jack of all trades" and "jack of all eras" may now be the key to a young scholar making some jack (Tables 4 and 5).5

Education is a long-term investment. The mutual fund prospectus caveat is thus well advised: "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." Future job market surveys need to employ a protocol that merges and unifies employment information in Perspectives with those in the Chronicle (as well as the burgeoning new vehicle for job announcements—H-NET’s Jobguide), weeds out duplicates, and covers the entire calendar or academic year. Such an approach provides fuller disclosure of the marketplace to students, advising faculty and recruitment committees who make decisions affecting thousands of their students and possibly committing millions of their institution’s dollars.


1. Robert B. Townsend, “Studies Report Mixed News for History Job Seekers,” Perspectives (March 1997): 7.

2. Susan M. Socolow, “Analyzing Trends in the History Job Market,” Perspectives (May/June 1993): 5.

3. Paul Conkin, “Bleak Outlook for Academic History Jobs,” Perspectives (April 1994): 12.

4. Townsend, 7.

5. Socolow, 4-5.

Robert B. Townsend responds:

Dr. Pollak and Ms. Garver have brought together some valuable supplementary material, but it does not refute the validity of the AHA's data or methods. Indeed the only point at which they offer a direct comparison (Table 6) actually shows close correspondence between their data and ours. At the same time, by following the AHA's method—as developed by Susan Socolow—we have also been able to provide valuable longitudinal data.

Moreover, the Chronicle, like Perspectives, offers listings almost exclusively at four-year colleges and universities. Both sources are deficient in assessing an important third of the market for history Ph.D.’s which now lies outside the academy. In that respect, their work represents only a small part of a much larger challenge for the AHA’s data-gathering efforts.

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