Published Date

January 1, 1962

From The Education of Historians in the United States (1962)

“A basic aim of our society is to help each individual to fulfill the promise that is in him.”1 This is an American dream, and changes in world affairs have made it an American necessity. It is in the interest of the individual and of the nation that students capable of undertaking graduate study be discovered and encouraged, in history no less than in other fields. For as Lord Acton so aptly put it, history “must be our deliverer not only from the undue influence of other times, but from the undue influence of our own, from the tyranny of environment and the pressure of the air we breathe.”2

Already large numbers of college students are going on to graduate study. One out of forty persons who earn bachelor’s degrees earns a Ph.D.; in 1900 only 1 in 60 did so.3 Some 270,000 to 300,000 students are engaged in graduate study, perhaps as many as 8,500 of them majoring in history.4

Are sufficient numbers of the superior graduate students studying history? Who are the graduate students? Are they offered sufficient financial assistance? What are their career ambitions? Answers to these questions show why historians must recruit students of superior ability for graduate study in history. They also suggest some of the basic conditions that must be considered in recruiting.


Ability and Preparation

There are no certain standards of measurement to show the quality of graduate students in history in comparison with those in other fields. In one attempt to discover the ability and preparation of history graduate students, the new Ph.D.s of 1958 were asked to report how their graduate faculties had evaluated their talent for scholarship. More than half (56%) report that they were “rated high.” Only 1 out of 8 says “average” or less than average. But many of the Ph.D.s came to graduate school with less than adequate preparation: two-fifths report that they were rated higher during the last year of graduate study than during the first year. Only 1% were rated higher the first year than the last.

The lack of precise standards for measuring scholarly promise makes it inevitable that some students will be admitted to graduate study who will not attain the Ph.D., much less distinction in their professions. Undergraduate grades and scores on admission examinations are helpful but not infallible indices of scholarly potentiality.5 A study of eminent scientists has concluded that high-“but not the highest”-intelligence in combination with the greatest degree of persistence will achieve greater eminence than highest intelligence with less persistence.6

Ph.D. training attracts students of high intellectual ability. IQ scores of graduate students in law, medicine, and the Ph.D. programs currently differ no more than four points (124 to 128).7 Elbridge Sibley in 1948 warned that “relatively large numbers of mediocre and inferior students” were being admitted to graduate study in the social sciences, but he concluded that the graduate student bodies in the social sciences were “not greatly inferior in previous scholastic achievement … to those in natural science departments.”8

Judged by grades, history is currently getting a large share of the better students, but not as many as some other disciplines. In an extensive survey of seniors and graduate students in 1957-1958, history graduate students ranked in the upper fifth of their high school classes somewhat more often than did the total sample, but less often than physics and English students. A-average college seniors in history were planning to undertake graduate study as often as the total sample, but a much larger percentage of the A-average physics students (86%; history, 55%) planned graduate study.9

Another way to estimate the quality of history graduate students is to compare test scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). These show that history is getting fewer of the best students than graduate faculties in history should hope to attract. A 1952 study of the average scores on the GRE of seniors in 11 colleges showed that in the verbal tests the literature (564), physics (531), and psychology (527) majors ranked higher than those in history (517). The history majors ranked higher than the other social science majors.10 (Woodrow Wilson Fellows in the sciences in 1958-1959 “wrote better essays than the candidates in the humanities and social sciences.”((Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Report for 1959 (n.p. [Princeton?], n.d. [1960?]), 69.))) A survey of the GRE scores of 910 senior history majors of 1955-1957 shows that the mean score in history was 561. One-fourth (24%) scored higher than 640. An equal number scored lower than 500.11 Thus graduate schools admitting history students in 1955-1957 with scores of less than 520 on the verbal test (24%) and less than 500 on the history test were admitting persons relatively weak in preparedness for graduate study.

Specific inadequacies of undergraduate training often trouble graduate students in history. Table 3-1 shows the types of undergraduate training that Ph.D.s of 1958 report as “greatly inadequate.” One can safely conclude that potential graduate students in history need better preparation than many have been getting in historiography and the methods of historical research as well as in languages.

Table 3-1. Inadequacies of Undergraduate Preparation for Graduate Study in History Reported by 182 History Ph.D.s of 1958

Order of inadequacyType of preparationNumber reporting "greatly inadequate"% of total reporting "greatly inadequate"
1Use of a second foreign language as a research skill9854
2Preparation in philosophies of history and historiography7843
3Preparation in historical research methods5530
4Use of one foreign language as a research skill3218
5Preparation in any special field of history2916
6General preparation in history179
7Organizing and writing papers169
8Development of ability to work independently116
9General preparation in humanities and social sciences84


There are other shortcomings. The core of undergraduate preparation for graduate study in history is a major in history for 3 out of 4 graduate students in history, and this is good.12 But history graduate students need more undergraduate study in related disciplines than they commonly acquire. A recent study of graduates of four large colleges and universities in three southwestern states13 shows that no more than 12% of the history majors in any institution took any course in anthropology. In 2 of the 4 institutions almost two-thirds of the history majors took no economics, half or more took no psychology, and more than one-third took no philosophy. Obviously, large numbers of history majors are not being as liberally educated as they should be for graduate study in history.14 Preparation in foreign languages, writing and organizing ability, and a general background of liberal education-these are just the qualities graduate faculties in many fields would like students to have when they begin graduate study.15 History faculties do not differ in this respect. Even for a specialized field like Russian history, the best undergraduate background for graduate study is said to be “general preparation in the social sciences and humanities, sufficient grounding in a single discipline to permit the beginning of disciplinary work at the graduate level without delay, and adequate language preparation.”16

Academic and Social Origins

Where do graduate students in history come from? Four out of five Ph.D.s in history earn their highest degree at an institution other than the one that awarded the bachelor’s degree. In their search for perspective in time and space they come to graduate school from all types of colleges.

Academic legend holds that small colleges are more productive of graduate students than large universities. Statistics support the legend. A 1959 study of 143 recently graduated Ph.D.s in history in the South shows that they hold baccalaureate degrees from 103 institutions, most of them quite small.17 The Woodrow Wilson Fellows of 1945-1960 were graduates of no less than 560 colleges, and a study of 7,000 younger “scholars” (new Ph.D.s and holders of graduate scholarships in all fields) in 1953 found that they had graduated from 562 colleges. Two small colleges-Swarthmore and Reed-produced the highest number of scholars per 1,000 graduates (61 and 5 3 respectively) according to the 1953 survey.18 On the other hand, while most teachers’ colleges are relatively small, their productivity of scholars per 1,000 graduates (only 2.5) has been lower than universities and liberal arts colleges.19 The distinction of the faculty and quality of the students are more important factors than size.

Most history graduate students will, in fact, be graduates of the larger institutions. All but 4 of the 25 largest undergraduate producers of history Ph.D.s between 1936 and 1956 were large institutions. The five institutions that most often awarded bachelor’s degrees to the history Ph.D.s of 1936-1956 are themselves graduate schools that rank among the six largest producers of history Ph.D.s. The lesson is clear that Ph.D.-training departments can find many of the graduate students of the 1960s in their own undergraduate colleges.

Table 3-2 shows institutions that seven or more of the history Ph.D.s awarded bachelor’s degrees to of 1936-1956. These 138 institutions accounted for two-thirds of the scholars who won the Ph.D. in history, 1936-1956.

Table 3-2. Leading Baccalaureate Sources of History Ph.D.s, 1936–1956

153Harvard and Radcliffe (8)19Virginia10Penn. State
119California (Berkeley)18NYU10Southern Methodist
99Yale18Oregon10Southwest Missouri State
77Chicago18Syracuse9Augustana (Ill.)
75Columbia18Wayne State9Central Missouri State
74CCNY17Boston U.9Colgate
48Illinois15Kansas9Louisiana State
46Minnesota15Western Reserve9Rice
38Dartmouth14Cincinnati9San Jose
36North Carolina14Davidson9Tulane
31Oberlin14Mississippi9Walla Walla
30Northwestern14Mount Holyoke8Allegheny
30U. of Washington14Rutgers8Clark
29Brooklyn14St. Johns (N.Y.)8Denver
29Pittsburgh14Southern California8Georgia
28State U. of Iowa14Southern Illinois8Gettysburg
28St. Louis14Vanderbilt8Kentucky
26Catholic13Washington and Lee8Michigan State
25Indiana13Wheaton (Ill.)8Morningside
25Swarthmore12Bowdoin8New Mexico
24Alabama12Carleton8North Texas State
23George Washington12Iowa State Teachers8Union College (Nebr.)
23Johns Hopkins12Occidental8South Carolina
23Ohio State12Reed8Vermont
23Wesleyan12Wake Forest7Butler
22Cornell11Birmingham-Southern7Concordia Seminary
22Rochester11Bryn Mawr7Creighton
22Boston College11Dickinson7Franklin and Marshall
21Nebraska11Loyola (Ill.)7Indiana Central College
21Pennsylvania11Northeast Missouri State7Manhattan
21Williams11Temple7U. of Notre Dame
21Wooster11Utah7Ohio Wesleyan
20Duke11Washington U. (Mo.)7St. Olaf
20Miami U.10Fordham7Wabash
20Smith10Gonzaga7West Virginia
20Vassar10Maine7Western Kentucky State
Source: Constructed from the statistics in National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council (M. H. Trytten and L. R. Harmon), Doctorate Production in United States Universities, 1936-1956, with Baccalaureate Origins of Doctorates in the Sciences, Arts, and Humanities (Washington, 1958), 70-141.


History graduate students are to be found in every cultural, economic, and social stratum of America. Few women earn Ph.D.s, and yet 10% of the 1958 Ph.D.s in history were women. One Negro and two Orientals were in the sample of 182 (two other persons failed to respond to our question about racial origin). Two-thirds (63%) came from Protestant families. In religious background another 20% were Catholic, 13% were Jewish, and 4% were of some other faith, but many of the 1958 Ph.D.s have departed from the religious attachments of their families. Two-thirds of the Ph.D.s of 1958 were married males, and 44% had children-most of them fewer than four but some with more than four. Only 1% were under twenty-six years of age when the Ph.D. was awarded. Three-fourths had passed their thirtieth birthday and 35 % their thirty-sixth.

This profile of graduate students in history is warped somewhat-but not much-by the fact that the persons providing the data had fully completed graduate study and were older than most graduate students. The main features of the profile are reinforced, and comparison with graduate students in other disciplines is made possible, by an independent study of graduate students conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) in 1958-1959.20 Thus history students seem to retain a religious affiliation more often than those in other disciplines. Notably more Catholic graduate students are found in history than in other disciplines. History students more often than others tend to come from the New England region. Married students are slightly less common in history than in other disciplines, and history students who are married do not differ significantly from other married students in the number of children they have: 26% of the history students reported having at least one child. Finally, in comparison with others, twice as many of the history students (12%) are forty years of age or more and somewhat fewer (26%) are under twenty-four.

Berelson and others have shown that Ph.D. candidates tend to come from somewhat lower economic-social-cultural levels than medical and law students.21 Ph.D. candidates in various disciplines tend to be much alike in this respect.22 Class origin seems to have little effect upon scholarly promise in one’s field of specialization. The level of education of one’s parents is a more important factor, but a recent study of psychologists showed that the parents of 39% of a sample of “significant contributors” went beyond the high school level, while the parents of 42% of a sample of undistinguished psychologists had also gone beyond high school.23

Table 3-3 shows the educational and social background of history graduate students in comparison with others in the NORC study and with a separate sample of graduate students in Education. Some historians may well conclude from Table 3-3 that graduate students from “better” families must be recruited in the interest of maintaining the professional prestige of academicians. But recruiting cannot be limited to any class. Indeed, most college history teachers will be found in the future where they are now being found, in families that do not rank by education, occupation, or income in the uppermost prestige levels of American society. This has especially important implications for the financing of the graduate education of historians.

Table 3-3. Social Origins of Graduate Students, 1958–1959

CriterionHistory sampleTotal NORC sampleEducation sample
Failed to complete high school40%40%63%
Earned bachelor's degree31%30%15%
Earned higher degree(s)18%18%8%
In "low prestige" occupation55%54%(about 55%)
In "elite" occupation21%19%(about 20%)
Failed to complete high school37%37%63%
Earned bachelor's degree18%17%8%
Earned higher degree(s)2%5%2%
Graduate students:
% meeting half or more of undergraduate expenses by own earnings30%32%x*
% for whom no undergraduate expenses were met by parents38%30%x*
* Data not available.
Source: Data on social background of history graduate students in comparison with others taken from Joe L. Spaeth, "Graduate Students in History," mimeographed report prepared by the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, for the American Historical Association, 1958-1959. The data on graduate students in Education are from American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (J. Marlowe Slater and others), "Inquiry into Conditions Affecting Pursuit of the Doctoral Degree in the Field of Education,'' a mimeographed report made available to the AHA committee through the courtesy of Dr. Paul M. Allen, tables XV-XXI.


Financing Graduate Study

In 1948 Elbridge Sibley showed that graduate students in the natural sciences held grants more often than those in the social sciences, and that the natural science grants tended to be larger. Six years after Sibley wrote, the National Science Foundation confirmed his findings. The NSF study showed further that only 1 out of 5 (21%) history graduate students held stipends, “a lower proportion than in most social sciences,” and that the median stipend for history students with grants was $930-“among the lowest in social sciences.”24

The general observations of 1948 and 1954 must be altered in only one respect in 1960: because of expanded institutional grants, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowships, and the National Defense Fellowships, the financial difficulties of beginning graduate students have been somewhat alleviated. About 15% of the Woodrow Wilson Fellows in recent years have undertaken graduate study in history. With 167 Fellows in 1959-1960 and 202 in 1960-1961, history ranks second only to English in numbers of Woodrow Wilson Fellowships. It appears that 72 (4.8%) of the 1,500 National Defense Fellowships for graduate study in 1960-1961 were allocated for study in history.25

While additional financial support for beginning graduate students is needed, the scarcity of aid is now felt much more severely in the final stages of Ph.D. work, when the candidate must devote a year or more to research and the writing of a dissertation. Fulbright grants for study abroad help a limited number of students at the dissertation level. But many others look unsuccessfully for aid at this stage, especially to defray the costs of travel in doing research. Some travel for dissertation research was reported by 85% of the Ph.D.s in history of 1958. Even in the seven Ph.D. programs that ranked highest in prestige in a questionnaire survey of 1959 (see page 226, below) Ph.D. candidates find it necessary to leave the campus to complete dissertation research. Thus 57% of the 1958 Ph.D.s in history from California, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Wisconsin, and Yale report “considerable” or “extensive” travel. Yet only half the Ph.D.-training departments report that students are sometimes given grants if travel is required because of “significant gaps in library holdings.”

Another serious deficiency in financing graduate study is the lack of help available for summer study. Since the stipends now granted do not provide for summer work, many students must interrupt their studies to earn a livelihood. The result is a break in the continuity of training and delays in progress toward the Ph.D.

Even the initial financing of graduate study remains troublesome for most graduate students, for there are many more students who are capable of earning a Ph.D. than there are grants to go around. Only about 1 out of 8 of the nominees for Woodrow Wilson Fellowships in recent years have won them, though the officials of the Woodrow Wilson program report that “the majority of the almost 9,000 nominees … deserve encouragement, and most of them actually do not have enough money to go to graduate school.”26 While about 274 Woodrow Wilson and National Defense Fellowships were available for graduate study in history in 1960-1961, they supported only a fraction of the first-year history graduate students (probably about two thousand in the Ph.D.-training departments alone).27

Financial need is, of course, a relative condition. It is important to emphasize, therefore, that graduate students in history are stipend-poor in comparison with other graduate students, especially those in the natural sciences. (The term “stipend” here means a grant that is not to be repaid and that involves either no services at all or only services that contribute to professional training, e.g., part-time research and teaching.) The NORC study of graduate students in 1958-1959 speaks of the “disadvantaged position” of history students as “the group with fewest academic sources of income available to them.” Table 3-4 compares the financial status of some three hundred history students with that of students in other disciplines in the NORC survey.

Table 3-4. Financial Conditions of Graduate Students, 1958–1959

Financial conditionHistory sample (about 300)Other social sciences (about 640)Total sample (about 2,750)
Holding scholarship36%37%35%
Holding teaching assistantship or fellowship18%21%28%
Holding research assistantship2%17%16%
Having no income from stipend (excluding veteran's benefits)66%45%39%
Having tuition plus $1,000 or more from nonduty stipend21%22%24%
Receiving financial aid from parents24%23%22%
Receiving some income from investments19%12%14%
Holding a job43%40%35%
Job only source of support33%24%21%
Having no savings available27%24%24%
Own automobile60%67%67%
Not very worried about immediate financial condition48%51%53%
Optimistic about long-run financial condition29%44%42%
Expect to need 7 years or more to get Ph.D.47%40%38%
Source: Data from Joe L. Spaeth, "Graduate Students in History," mimeographed report prepared by the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, for the American Historical Association, 1958-1959.


Data released in mid-1961 by Dr. John L. Chase of the U.S. Office of Education show that grants made by individual universities (139 reporting) to graduate students in the social sciences and humanities were on the average several hundred dollars lower than grants to students in other disciplines. These data (which include tuition fellowships) reported a total of $1,482,357 was available in the nation for history fellowships in 1959-1960. This is enough to provide 927 fellowships of $1,600 for study in history. More money was available for graduate study in chemistry, physics, mathematics, English-and-dramatic-art, psychology, and Education. Fields except those just cited received less fellowship aid than history (and all of them except agriculture-forestry produced fewer Ph.D.s in 1958). History, with 3.5% of the 1959 Ph.D.s in all fields, obtained 4.2% of the fellowship aid; political science, with 2.0% of the Ph.D.s, got 2.8 % of the aid; mathematics, with 2.7 % of the Ph.D.s, got 7.1 % of the aid.28

Table 3-5, compiled by the NORC, shows even more vividly how inadequately graduate study in history is financed.29) Other NORC statistics show that history students compare favorably with others in the holding of scholarships but less often hold teaching and-especially-research assistantships.

Table 3-5. Stipends Held by Graduate Students in Selected Disciplines, 1958–1959

Discipline% of all students in discipline holding one or more stipends% of stipend students with stipends of $2,000 or more for 9 months
Political science4530
Source: Compiled by National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago: Joe L. Spaeth, "Graduate Students in History," Mimeographed report prepared for the American Historical Association, 1958-1959.


The result is that great numbers of history graduate students must work full time-often in nonacademic services. A survey of 143 recent Ph.D.s in history by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) has shown that 89% did one year or more of fulltime work during the period between award of A.B. and Ph.D. and that half (51%) worked full time for six years or more between A.B. and Ph.D. The periods worked by history Ph.D. candidates-mostly as college teachers-were on an average longer than the periods worked by Ph.D. candidates in all but one other discipline (English) among more than 15 disciplines covered in the SREB survey.

Full-time work is the major delaying factor in prolonged Ph.D. programs. Of the 1958 Ph.D.s who were thirty-six years of age or more upon award of the degree, half (52%) cite full-time work as the chief cause of delay. Objective statistics support their opinion: 54% of the total sample of 1958 Ph.D.s report that they worked full time for more than one academic year between beginning graduate study and award of the Ph.D.; and 73% of those who finished after thirty-five years of age report having done so. Prolonged part-time work also takes its toll. Part-time teaching by graduate students is valuable experience, but the delay in Ph.D. programs that is caused by more than one or two years of it is undesirable.

Altogether almost two-thirds of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 (65%) report having done full-time or part-time work as independent teachers, leaders of discussion sections, or assistants in grading papers while working toward the Ph.D. Another 9% served as research assistants. Others performed a wide variety of services as library assistants, dormitory counselors, assistant editors, professional writers, machinists, recreation supervisors, piano teachers, grocery clerks, operators of businesses, preachers, or in a number of other capacities. At least one Ph.D. of 1957 found lodging in a District of Columbia jail (in return for services!) in order to carry out research at the Library of Congress.

Even with part-time or full-time work, almost one-third (30%) of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 emerged from graduate school in debt. They most often borrowed from their families; but 6.6% of the total sample of 182 Ph.D.s borrowed money from commercial agencies, and 5.5% borrowed from their graduate schools. Two out of five (44%) of those who borrowed obtained noninterest loans, but 20% paid interest at 5% or more. Two-thirds (66%) could repay their loans in installments “whenever possible.”

Will Durant has pungently suggested that more than a revival of antiquity was needed to make the Renaissance, that “first of all it took money-smelly bourgeois money.”30 It will take more of the same to meet the demands of graduate education in history during the next decade. The need for stipends for research and teaching assistantships has already been suggested. The armed services could appropriately provide fellowships if they were to send many of their new ROTC officers to graduate schools for their required active duty assignments; graduate study in history and other social sciences would be excellent training for future intelligence and staff officers. Graduate schools that have not already done so need to make noninterest loans available to graduate students.

The graduate schools, the national foundations, and the Federal government might all consider the merits of establishing a system of “loan-scholarships” in which a large portion of loans to students would be canceled upon successful completion of the Ph.D. Such grants would have the advantage of being equally available to students in all disciplines. They would provide strong incentive to complete the Ph.D. and to complete it with all proper speed. Some graduate faculty members fear that students would not be attracted by loan-scholarships, but experience at Tulane University with noninterest loans (with no part canceled) suggests that this fear is partly without foundation.31 The attitude of the 1958 history Ph.D.s toward the loan-scholarship idea is also reassuring. They were asked if they would have borrowed money for a year of full-time work on the Ph.D. dissertation, with no interest, 30% of the indebtedness to be canceled upon successful completion of the Ph.D. degree and repayment of the outstanding indebtedness within ten years after borrowing the money. Two-thirds of the respondents answered “yes” to this question.

Loan-scholarships should not take the place of service-free fellowships for the best Ph.D. candidates in history; on the contrary, more of them are urgently needed. Berelson has predicted that “the main costs of graduate study over the next years will … have to be borne by the Federal government.”32 He will be proven right unless the graduate schools and the national foundations make even more generous provisions for financing graduate education than they have made in the past.

Career Plans

The career plans of history graduate students as well as the modest incomes of their families must be considered in any discussion of ways to finance graduate study. Three-fourths of the history graduate students surveyed by the NORC in 1958-1959 report academic careers as their first choices, and as was reported in Chapter 2, 88% of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 actually filled academic positions. Our data are confirmed by a separate study of 143 recent Ph.D.s in history conducted by the Southern Regional Education Board: 89% were employed by colleges or universities and 3% were employed by other educational institutions. While faculty salaries have improved in recent years, they cannot now attract sufficient numbers of superior students unless stipends for graduate study are offered.

The kinds of college careers the graduate students want are even more noteworthy than the numbers that hope to become teachers. Only one-fifth aim at positions in large universities; slightly more than half (53%) want careers in liberal arts colleges. While 19% prefer research to teaching, 57% describe teaching as “intrinsically more satisfying” than research.33 In response to another question in the NORC survey, graduate students in history and other disciplines described their career choices. As Table 3-6 shows, undergraduate teaching attracts the history and humanities students far more than those in the social and natural sciences.

Table 3-6. Career Aims of 2,754 Graduate Students, 1958–1959

CareerHistory (290), in %Humanities (513), in %Social sciences (649), in %Biological sciences (366), in %Physical sciences (366), in %Total sample (2,754), in %
Teaching undergraduates444716181525
Teaching graduate students171813101414
Academic administration414212
Other careers21223991421
Source: Joe L. Spaeth, "Graduate Students in History, mimeographed report prepared by the National Opinion Research Center for the American Historical Association, 1958-1959.



The need to recruit graduate students more systematically and energetically is implicit in much of this chapter. That need has been recognized by virtually all disciplines. A study of political science pointed to the problem in 1951; physiologists in 1958 called recruiting the “serious deficiency” of training in their disciplines; the president of the American Bar Association has warned fellow lawyers that legal study is failing to attract its rightful share of students because of competition from the sciences, engineering, and medicine; and the Association of Medical Colleges has expressed concern about a 33% drop in the number of applicants for admission to medical schools since 1950. History faculties would do well to consider the consequences reported by the medical schools: “The ratio of acceptances has risen, resulting in a disturbing decline in the quality of those admitted. This, in turn, has led to a higher rate of failure.”34 Unless historians recruit, they are likely to be left only the students that other disciplines do not want, students uninspiring to teach and often unable to complete the Ph.D. degree.

The tasks of recruiting and advising potential historians about particular grants and graduate schools must be shared by those who teach and counsel high school and college students. Table 3-7 shows the persons who “directly or indirectly” influenced the decisions of Ph.D.s of 1958 to undertake graduate study in history. The struggle for survival in graduate study would be conducted on a higher level, attrition there would be lower, and the interests of the profession would be served if professors of history played a more active part than they do in choosing those who seek professional education. It would be especially helpful if students interested in graduate study could be persuaded to begin their preparation by the end of the sophomore year of undergraduate study.

Table 3-7. Persons Influencing Decision to Undertake Graduate Study in History, 182 Recent Ph.D.s

Teacher in a small college68114
Teacher in a large university55127
High school teacher30152
Teacher in elementary or junior high school7175
Another relative4178
Friend of the family5177
Another person20162


Interesting students in graduate study and advising them about grants and graduate schools are important beginnings in a recruiting program. A third task, that of the careful selection of students for admission, must be assumed by the graduate faculties. Elsewhere Jacques Barzun has written that “in the exertions of Intellect those who lack the muscles, co-ordination, and will power can claim no place at the training table, let alone on the playing field.”35 The great majority of historians on graduate faculties who were interviewed by the director of this study agreed that the admission of first-year graduate students was not sufficiently rigorous, and that it should be made more so.

It is, of course, impossible to devise a system that will guarantee the success in graduate school of every student who is admitted. As one critic has pointed out, available tests “cannot measure either a student’s motivation or his ability to withstand the ordinary pressures, shocks, and temptations of life.”36 But the most fundamental obstacle to selectivity in most institutions has been the relatively small number of applicants. Thus more active recruiting would be the basic step and the chief hope for raising the quality of graduate students in history even if larger numbers of students were not needed. As Berelson has suggested, the way to get better students is to get more applicants.37

Undergraduate teachers in both colleges and universities readily recognize the specifically historical qualities of mind that a graduate student in history should possess. He certainly needs to have learned that change is the one immutable law of history and the unique subject matter of history courses; that most historical change has been gradual rather than revolutionary. He should also know that historical changes are accomplished by multiple causes, whether he is concerned with the fall of the Roman Empire or the outcome of the Yalta Conference. While sensitive to the dominant features of an age, he should give full allowance to the complex character of every historical period, whether colonial America, the era of the Industrial Revolution in England, or the Nazi era in Germany. He should show some awareness of the ambiguous legacies that historical forces leave to the future, recognizing that both authoritarian and democratic impulses flowed from Calvinism, Marxism, and the New Deal.

The potential graduate student also should possess some essential personal traits. Remembering Leo Tolstoy’s mocking flattery that “history would be an excellent thing if only it were true,”38 as he must seek absolute honesty as his indispensable guide to a realistic view of history. It is well for him to be reminded of the noble admonition that “history that is not entirely honest is entirely contemptible, degrading to the writer and fraudulent and pernicious in its influence upon public opinion.”39 If he has shown a certain balance of courage, tolerance, and modesty, then so much the better; for he should early begin to do what Alfred North Whitehead once said a professor should do: “exhibit himself in his own true character—that is, as an ignorant man thinking, actively utilizing his small store of knowledge.”40

Obviously these traits in students cannot be bought; but students who possess them cannot be expected to use their rare qualities in sacrificial rites lasting a lifetime. The most important weapon historians could use in recruiting superior undergraduates would be a drastic improvement in faculty salaries. A second would be outstanding college teaching. The teacher of history must exemplify the mental qualities he hopes to find in the best of his students. Informal advice and inspiration from individual professors has been helpful in the past and will be helpful in the future.

More systematic efforts to recruit students can also be made. Dickinson College invites speakers in various fields to lecture to undergraduates about careers in teaching. Harvard University in 1958 created a faculty committee on teaching as a career. Some graduate schools send faculty members to visit colleges in their regions in order to discuss graduate training with able students. High school students can be made aware of the possibilities of college teaching as a career.41 The development of programs for superior college students can aid in recruiting future college teachers.42 Through history clubs able students can be made aware of the possibilities of graduate study and careers as teachers of history. Service as undergraduate research or teaching assistants is known to have influenced the decision of many students to undertake teaching as a career, and these assistantships might well be expanded.43

Programs that reach many students have been operated at the University of Pittsburgh and at Tulane University in recent years. In these institutions multiple committees of faculty members identify, encourage, and advise undergraduate students who show promise as scholars during their freshman, sophomore, or junior years. Early attention to the possibilities of a teaching career enables students to achieve proper undergraduate preparation for graduate study. Furthermore, as a result of these recruiting programs it is possible to recommend the best-prepared seniors for the various scholarship competitions. Officials of the Woodrow Wilson program have expressed the hope that the “Pittsburgh Plan” might become a model for similar recruiting efforts, “especially at larger universities.”44


History faculties are getting some very good graduate students, but they have no cause to be complacent. The best graduate students are too often attracted to disciplines that offer more lucrative stipends for study and financially more profitable careers.

Graduate students in history come from upwards of six-hundred colleges, some large and some small. They have diverse socio-cultural backgrounds and their families seldom have high incomes. Because of these factors and the relatively low salaries that have been offered in the past to teachers-which most of them become-history students need stipends to finance graduate study. It is of the greatest importance that additional financial support for fellowships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships be found. Loan-scholarships would be helpful supplements, but they alone are not sufficient. History students should be offered as generous support for graduate study as students in other disciplines are given, for the significance of their work is not to be denied.

An age of striking accomplishments in science and technology must have scholars and citizens who face the past without fear as well as those who fearlessly face the future, unless it wishes to confront tomorrow with only the cheap courage that arises from unreason and lack of knowledge.

Without adequate financial support for graduate study in history, greater efforts by historians to recruit graduate students are likely to be both embarrassing and relatively unsuccessful. But if increased financial aid and higher professional salaries than have been common in the past can be won, the number and quality of graduate students in history can easily be increased to meet the needs of the 1960s.

“Why,” Boyd Shafer has asked, “should anyone take up a profession that pays … less in a lifetime than a cheap ballad singer gets for one hastily-made platter of vulgar songs?” He provided a large part of his answer when he added: “And yet, … teachers … are paid for doing what they want most of all to do: teaching, reading, research, writing, continuing to learn.”

We owe it to our students to tell them that there are many ways of being made rich by one’s work.45

Next section: History in the Colleges


  1. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Education of the Academically Talented (reprinted from the 1958-1959 Annual Report of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), 1. []
  2. John Emerich Edward Acton, Lectures on Modern History (London, 1907), 33. []
  3. Hans Rosenhaupt, Graduate Students: Experience at Columbia University, 1940-1956 (New York, 1958), 4. []
  4. Berelson, Graduate Education, 129, estimates the total number of graduate students in 1959 to be 278,000. Eighty Ph.D.-training history departments report the following number of graduate students in 1958-1959: 3,256 master’s candidates; 1,555 on-campus doctoral candidates; and 1,210 off-campus doctoral candidates (a total of 6,021 graduate students). Many other graduate students attend institutions that offer the master’s degree but not the Ph.D. []
  5. See, e.g., Kenneth E. Clark, America’s Psychologists: A Survey of a Growing Profession (Washington, 1957), 117. []
  6. The 1953 conclusion by Anne Roe is quoted by R. W. Gerard (with M. L. N. Bach), Mirror to Physiology: A Self-Survey of Physiological Science (Washington, 1958), 75. []
  7. Berelson, Graduate Education, 154. []
  8. Elbridge Sibley, The Recruitment, Selection, and Training of Social Scientists (New York, 1948), 29-31, 38-39, 128. []
  9. George L. Gropper and Robert Fitzpatrick, Who Goes to Graduate School? A Study of the Decision to Enter Graduate Training (Pittsburgh, 1959), 46, 48, 50. There were 221 history students in the sample. []
  10. See Educational Testing Service, Graduate Record Examinations Scores for Basic Reference Groups (Princeton and Los Angeles, n.d.), tables 1-6, 9; Sibley, The Recruitment, Selection, and Training of Social Scientists, 29-31; ETS, National Program for Graduate School Selection: Score Interpretation Handbook for Deans and AdvisersNovember, 1959 … (Princeton and Los Angeles, n.d.), 14-16. See also mimeographed report by Gerald V. Lannholm and Barbara Pitcher, “Mean Score Changes on the Graduate Record Examinations Area Tests for College Students Tested Three Times in a Four-year Period,” prepared in 1959 for the Educational Testing Service (Princeton), which provided us with a copy. []
  11. ETS, National Program for Graduate School Selection, 14-19. []
  12. This proportion is based upon data from 312 recent Ph.D.s in history. Of the 312, 169 are from our sample of 1958 Ph.D.s. The data on 143 other Ph.D.s in history were provided by the Southern Regional Education Board through the courtesy of Dr. John K. Folger. []
  13. Paul A. Brinkner, “Our Illiberal Liberal-Arts Colleges,” Journal of Higher Education, XXXI (March, 1960), tables 2-3 and pp. 136-137. []
  14. Ibid., 136. []
  15. Berelson, Graduate Education, 141. []
  16. Black and Thompson (eds.), American Teaching About Russia, 39. []
  17. Data provided by Southern Regional Education Board through the courtesy of Dr. John K. Folger. The statement that 80% of Ph.D.s receive their degrees at an institution other than their undergraduate institution is based upon Wellemeyer, “Survey of United States Historians, 1952,” 347. []
  18. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Report for 1959, 11; Robert H. Knapp and Joseph J. Greenbaum, The Younger American Scholar: His Collegiate Origins (Chicago, 1953), 11, 16, 70. []
  19. Ibid., 77. Apparently institutions with 3,000-5,000 students are the undergraduate colleges of a disproportionately large number of “Significant Contributors” in psychology. Cf. Clark, America’s Psychologists, 121. []
  20. Joe L. Spaeth, “Graduate Students in History,” a mimeographed report prepared by the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago, for the American Historical Association. The NORC survey included about three hundred graduate students in history. Its sample seems to contain a disproportionately high percentage of Catholic institutions (see appendix I). []
  21. Berelson, Graduate Education, 134; Sibley, The Recruitment, Selection and Training of Social Scientists, 40; Gropper and Fitzpatrick, Who Goes to Graduate School?, 50-51, 55. Gropper and Fitzpatrick report median annual income of fathers of graduate students in history in their large Sample of 1957-1958 was $5,600; fathers of law students, $8,300. []
  22. See Wilson, The Academic Man, 19. []
  23. Clark, America’s Psychologists, 106-107. []
  24. Sibley, The Recruitment, Selection, and Training of Social Scientists, 113-126; National Science Foundation, Graduate Student Enrollment and Support in American Universities and Colleges, 1954 (Washington, 1957), 92-93. A comprehensive study of fellowships for graduate study undertaken by John L. Chase in 1959 showed the following numbers, governmental and private, in the nation: Humanities: 1,139 (17%); Social Sciences: 1,043 (15%); Natural Sciences: 4,578 (67%) ; Education: 5 6 (1 %) . Grants by individual institutions were not included in this survey. For a reliable published guide see Virginia Bosch Potter, Fellowships in the Arts and Sciences, 1960-61, 3d ed. (Washington, 1959). []
  25. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Report for 1959, 29; announcement of fellowships dated Jan. 5, 1960, by U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. []
  26. Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Report for 1959, 71. []
  27. The Ph.D.-training departments in 1958-1959 reported 3,256 master’s candidates in residence. Perhaps 2,000 of them were first-year students. []
  28. John L. Chase, Doctoral Study: Fellowships and Capacity of Graduate Schools (Washington, 1961), 18, 48, 64-65. []
  29. This is borne out by Gropper and Fitzpatrick, Who Goes to Graduate School?, 51. It is possible that both this and the NORC survey fail to report instructorships held by some history students who might not think of them as “stipends.” But the number of these instructorships is not great enough to alter very significantly the relative financial condition of graduate students as reported in tables 3-4 and 3-5. The general NORC report, completed in 1960, confirms the conclusion that history students in 1958-1959 were probably receiving “the least support of any field of study in graduate school.” (From James A. Davis and others, “The Financial Situation of American Arts and Science Graduate Students,” mimeographed report, National Opinion Research Center [Chicago, 1960], 82. []
  30. Will Durant, The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 A.D. (New York, 1953), 67. []
  31. Berelson, Graduate Education, 243. []
  32. Ibid., 245. See also David D. Henry, “The Role of the Federal Government in Higher Education,” Educational Record, XL (July, 1959), 197-202; John A. Perkins, “Financing Higher Education: Perspectives and Possibilities,” Educational Record, XL (April, 1959), 99-112. []
  33.  It is interesting to note that a good many persons who leave college teaching for other careers actually take decreases in salary in doing so. See John W. Gustad, “The Choice of a Career in College Teaching,” a mimeographed report prepared in 1958 for the Southern Regional Education Board, 18. We are indebted to the author for providing a copy of the report. []
  34. The concern of the medical colleges is reported in the Journal of Higher Education, XXXI (March, 1960), 163. See also, on recruiting: Dimock and Hawley, Goals for Political Science, 263; Gerard, Mirror to Physiology, vii, 12, 191-192; report of address by John D. Randall, president of the American Bar Association, in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 7, 1960. See also: Berelson, Graduate Education, 245-247. Trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, “The Education of College Teachers,” 7; Strothmann and others, The Graduate School Today and Tomorrow, 9-11. []
  35. Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (New York, 1959), 94-95. []
  36. Sibley, The Recruitment, Selection, and Training of Social Scientists, 22; George Williams, Some of My Best Friends Are Professors: A Critical Commentary on Higher Education (New York, 1958), 135. []
  37. Berelson, Graduate Education, 145. For suggestive material on recruiting students for teaching see Ruth E. Eckert and others, “College Faculty Members View Their Jobs,” American Association of University Professors Bulletin, XLV (December, 1959), 513-528. []
  38. Quoted by Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox (New York, 1957), 25. []
  39. William Harbutt Dawson, The German Empire, 1867-1914, and the Unity Movement, 2 vols. (New York, 1919), I, x. []
  40. Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays (New York, 1929), 58. []
  41. Cf. Dimock and Hawley, Goals for Political Science, 243; Gerard, Mirror to Physiology, 191-192. High school teachers can do much to “recruit” potential graduate students by making history challenging, intellectually exciting, and meaningful. The publications of the American Historical Association’s Service Center for Teachers of History can help in this. See, e.g., W. Burlie Brown, United States History: A Bridge to the World of Ideas, one of the booklets in the AHA series (Washington, 1960). Asked to name persons who influenced their decisions to undertake graduate study in history, one-sixth of the Ph.D.s of 1958 named “a high school teacher.” []
  42. See, e.g., George R. Waggoner, “The Development of Programs for the Superior Student in Large Universities,” Educational Record, XL (October, 1959), 319-325. []
  43. Gropper and Fitzpatrick, Who Goes to Graduate School?, 44; Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Report for 1959, 69. []
  44. The Tulane program is cited as exemplary by Berelson, Graduate Education, 246, and by Frederick W. Ness, The Role of the College in the Recruitment of Teachers (Washington, 1958), 62-63. For an account of the somewhat similar plan at Pittsburgh see Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Report for 1959, 49-50. []
  45. Boyd C. Shafer, “The Teacher and the Taught,” an address delivered at Dickinson College in 1959. []