Townhouse Notes: FAQs about Where Historians Work
In July, the AHA launched Where Historians Work, an interactive database showing career outcomes for recipients of history PhDs who graduated in the years 2004–13. The response was so overwhelming—in response to reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education and on social media—that we decided to feature the Perspectives story announcing several initial findings on the cover of this issue.
Questions about Where Historians Work surfaced almost immediately. Most of them could be answered by reading the methodology section at historians.org/wherehistorianswork, but some of them are a bit tricky. So, to clear matters up, I consulted with my colleagues to help address a few of the most common questions, concerns, and complaints.
How can you get accurate results from a survey? Doesn’t that methodology depend on a high response rate? Actually, Where Historians Work wasn’t a survey at all! We took the names, universities, graduation years, and dissertation titles of PhDs listed in our own Directory of History Dissertations, which uses information provided by all PhD-granting institutions in the United States. We then found these graduates via publicly available sources, such as university websites and LinkedIn. To prevent institutional bias, we didn’t ask departments for the career outcomes of their own graduates, nor did we make inquiries of individuals. (The final database doesn’t include names.)
How did you decide what years to limit the data to? We knew we wanted a 10-year cohort, and we wanted to ensure that, when we started looking for graduates (in 2017), they had more or less settled into jobs. We also wanted to make sure we understood the impact of the 2008 recession on PhD career paths. So our endpoint is 2013, and counting back 10 years (inclusive) leads you to 2004.
Where are the data for jobs outside the professoriate? They’re in the slide labeled Careers Beyond the Professoriate. You’ll find that the most common job classification (we used the Department of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classifications) is Education Administrators, Postsecondary. Chief Executives, Editors, and Secondary School Teachers are also well represented. The most confusing category is probably Historians. Though the AHA would classify all individuals in the data set as historians, to the Department of Labor, Historians “research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.” This is not the classification for professors; it denotes individuals who conduct historical research but are not classroom teachers.
In addition to data on gender, graduation year, and field of specialization, why didn’t you include race and ethnicity? We’d like to have data on race and ethnicity and careers—it would be a service to the discipline—but there are two problems. First, our dissertation directory (the starting point for our data collection) doesn’t include that information. And second, accurate information would have been tricky to identify from publicly available sources. (While our directory doesn’t include information on gender, either, we inferred gender identity from factors like the pronouns PhDs used for themselves.) Trying to discern race and ethnicity from, say, family name or appearance could produce wildly inaccurate results. More to the point, such methodology would be, frankly, racist.
You count “non-tenure-track” faculty, but shouldn’t you note how many of them are adjuncts? The non-tenure-track category in Where Historians Work includes a variety of employment statuses, including visiting assistant professorships, teaching-oriented postdocs, full-time lecturers (some with long-term contracts), and part-time adjuncts. The database was created using only publicly available information, and the inconsistent titles of jobs used by different universities—as well as the privacy of employment contracts—made it impossible to determine the employment conditions of many individuals working off the tenure track.
Readers will no doubt have additional inquiries, and we’d love to hear them. Please play with the data, and let us know how you’re using it in your professional life.
Allison Miller is editor of Perspectives. She tweets @Cliopticon.
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