AHA Activities

Where Do Historians Work? An Interactive Snapshot from new AHA Data

Elizabeth Elliot, January 2017

In 2013, the AHA published The Many Careers of History PhDs, a revelatory study on the employment paths of 2,500 historians who earned doctorates between 1998 and 2009. Now, after four years of continued research shepherded by the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative, we are ready to launch Where Historians Work, a new interactive database of PhD career outcomes.

Alumni of the 34 departments included in this data tend to follow US population patterns. The majority are concentrated in the Northeast and in California and other populous states.Where Historians Work differs from The Many Careers of History PhDs in several crucial ways. Many Careers traced a random sample of graduates from the pool of history dissertations reported to the AHA’s Directory of History Departments and Historical Organizations. In contrast, the new data describes all graduates within a specified date range from 34 departments (see geographical distribution in fig. 1). It is not intended to be representative of the entire set of PhD-granting programs in the United States. It is merely the beginning of our next task: to identify occupations and workplaces for a 10-year cohort of history PhD recipients from all 165 institutions awarding the PhD in history.

While both studies use employer name and job title as the starting point to ­determine more narrow occupational classifications, we are learning how to make better distinctions between where a person is employed and what the person actually does there. Notice, for example, that individuals labeled as working in “Higher Education” under the Employer Category field are not necessarily faculty (fig. 2).
Instead, this field includes anyone working under the umbrella of a higher education institution, whether they teach, provide technical support at the university library, or coach college athletics. We then use the Bureau of Labor Education’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system to specify the nature of these jobs.

We hope all kinds of historians—whether prospective students, recent graduates on the job market, or program faculty—will use this database to get a sense of the broad range of career options open to PhDs. There are filters for field of study, geographic location, gender, date of graduation, and more. We want the data to inform and surprise—to show that it is not uncommon for a landscaper, a film producer, and a tenured R1 professor to be part of the same cohort. At a time when it is increasingly important that programs have the tools to educate their students about nonacademic career outcomes, this can be a great place to start the conversation.

History doctorates work in all employment sectors. Around three-quarters of the doctorates the AHA tracked are employed by institutions of higher education, most in teaching positions. In the pie chart above, these higher education employees are divided into more specific occupational categories, including four- and two-year tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty (labeled 4YTT, 4YNTT, 2YTT, and 2YNTT).

This announcement comes on the heels of other good news. In December, the AHA was awarded a new three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation to implement the next phase of Career Diversity for Historians. (See story on page 30.)These funds will enable us to significantly expand our research on career outcomes, and also to confront new ideas and challenges. The AHA will continue to improve and update this project, with the principal goal of tracking all 165 PhD-granting institutions in the United States.

Readers will be able to find the full database at historians.org/wherehistorianswork. The original Many Careers report is found at historians.org/manycareers. Comments, questions, and concerns can be sent to Emily Swafford, the AHA’s manager of academic affairs, at eswafford@historians.org.

We hope that historians will use this database to get a sense of the broad range of career options open to PhDs.

The AHA thanks Robert B. Townsend and L. Maren Wood for their pathbreaking work on The Many Careers of History PhDs.

Elizabeth Elliott is the AHA program assistant.

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