Published Date

December 1, 2003

From The Education of Historians for the Twenty-first Century

The Committee on Graduate Education was charged by the AHA Council to study graduate education; to examine current concerns that faculty, students, and employers have about it; and to make recommendations to the profession at large.1

While the broadest issues for local and national discussion are outlined in the preceding chapter, more specific recommendations, often in the form of “best practices,” are addressed in this chapter. These two chapters thus work together, with the suggestions and recommendations complementary and equally important.

Some of the Committee’s recommendations are based on practices that we have observed through surveys, site visits, the published descriptions of various graduate programs, or direct communications from our colleagues. Other proposals have emerged from conversations with hundreds of historians across the country, consultations with our board of advisors, and the Committee’s own deliberations. These recommended practices are thus either adaptations of current practices or the product of dialogue and are not yet, at least to our knowledge, currently institutionalized in the form we propose.

That the Committee has discovered so many ways to improve graduate education does not mean that current practices are in utter disarray. Rather, it is an indication of the degree of responsibility that graduate faculties and historians in every professional setting feel toward the next generation of historians.

Several of our recommendations concern the pressing need for more extensive and effective collection of data regarding doctoral education and the importance of making relevant data about programs and the historical profession widely available. We are especially committed to making that information available to current and prospective graduate students. But its value goes beyond that. It is essential for program administration and effective policy development and advocacy by the AHA.2 A related theme running through our recommendations is the importance of clarity about the purposes and mutual expectations of graduate training, especially regarding academic requirements, financial aid, and employment. Effective communication of department procedures, regulations, and norms is crucial to a successful match between students and graduate programs.

A final but fundamental point before the specific recommendations: The kinds of data collection and dissemination that we recommend are labor-intensive. Indeed, many of our recommendations may require additional staff support and other resources. We have avoided unrealistic expectations of support, but certain levels—which will in many local cases represent an increase—seem unavoidable to us. Adequate administrative support is not a luxury; it is a cost of managing an effective program and an essential complement to the substantial personal and professional investments being made by students and faculty. We hope and indeed expect that deans will recognize this institutional obligation.


Program Size

The total number of Ph.D.’s seeking professional employment, especially academic employment, greatly exceeds present and anticipated opportunities. The problem is especially intense in modern American history. In this circumstance, we urge every program to question its size, field by field, asking whether that size is best serving its program’s goals and its students. While reductions in size have been prompted by the employment situation, these changes have also been guided by a commendable desire to improve program quality by increasing financial aid and by providing closer and more responsive supervision of students. But downsizing also raises both professional and pedagogical issues. Teaching loads will surely change, with a larger proportion of undergraduate teaching. Smaller cohorts mean fewer courses and, probably, less-specialized ones. Fewer courses may bring new and unwelcome demands for directed reading courses; departments will need to clarify the purposes of these courses. While they serve to provide coverage of fields for students, too many of them would significantly decrease the students’ opportunities for the give-and-take among their peers and the rigor of regular courses. More courses will doubtless appeal across special fields and may have students from other disciplines. These changes will pose pedagogical challenges, but they will also serve the aim of a broader and more cosmopolitan doctoral education program.

At too many institutions, a demand for graduate-student teachers encourages excessively large programs. Such practices are not only unethical, but they may not be necessary. Smaller programs will free faculty for more undergraduate classes. When New York University’s history department decided to reduce the size of its doctoral program, it also voted to change the basic teaching pattern, shifting from two graduate and two undergraduate courses per year to one graduate and three undergraduate courses.

More radically, institutions might give serious thought to the creation of mentored postdoctoral teaching fellowships. Such fellowships would provide new Ph.D.’s with an intermediate point in the transition from graduate school to a faculty role, while providing two or three years of secure employment, with faculty benefits, to revise their dissertations or publish portions of them as articles. The institution gains, too: It can do something more honorable than exploiting graduate students and adjuncts while obtaining the regular presence of a full-time teacher. Cost, of course, is an issue. But the increment is not so large as one might suppose, particularly at private institutions. Taking into account tuition costs, the graduate student stipend, and the larger teaching obligation of full-time postdoctoral fellows, postdoctoral fellowships are cost effective.3

At Princeton, where the doctoral program has historically been relatively small and undergraduate lecture classes large, the department has often hired recent Ph.D.’s from other institutions as preceptors for undergraduate classes. There is a more fully elaborated program at the University of Chicago, which offers a particularly fruitful way to begin thinking about a postdoctoral teaching fellowship program. The Harper-Schmidt Fellows are appointed to four-year postdoctoral fellowships, and they teach courses in the liberal arts core.4

Program Information and Recruitment

The effectiveness of a department in articulating the goals of its doctoral program determines much of the future relation between the department and its students. The ready availability of information about a program’s faculty, course requirements, current and former graduate students, and financial aid policies and procedures—among other details—contributes to the program’s success.

We recommend that the American Historical Association create a uniform and digitalized departmental checklist of “vital statistics” pertaining to doctoral education in the form of a Web-based template available to all history departments offering doctoral degrees. Departments would be strongly urged—but not required—to participate by supplying this information in common form. This “virtual” central compendium of information on departments would be available through the portal of the AHA Web site and directly through the Web sites of participating institutions. Departments would not have to fill in every “cell” on the template, but they would be responsible for any information they included. Departments that knowingly supplied inaccurate information would necessarily be subject to sanction by the Council of the American Historical Association. The AHA should inform undergraduate advisors of the Web site and more generally advertise its availability. The data that we propose to make available are substantial, but the value of systematically collecting and posting such data is also substantial. With this data at hand, departments will have ready access to information necessary for the administration of their own programs.

The AHA-sponsored departmental Web pages should include the following detailed information:

  1. A mission statement and/or list of the program’s goals, including the program’s official requirements (field requirements, languages, examinations, etc.), which could take the form of a departmental “handbook.” This should enable prospective students to determine what fields are offered (and emphasized) by a given program, what career(s) the program trains historians to pursue, and the specific preparation for them they might expect.
  2. A list of faculty members’ current research, teaching interests, and involvement in the public presentation of history, with an indication of current and planned leaves. There should be links to the full curriculum vitae of faculty members.
  3. The number of doctoral students in the program, with a breakdown of how many students are currently taking courses or working on dissertations, as well as a list of the current students’ major fields and the number of master’s degree students in the department (if there is a separate M.A. program).5
  4. The number of applicants in the most recent academic year, the number who were accepted (including the percentage who had M.A. degrees), and the number who enrolled (broken down by field).
  5. The breakdown of current graduate students by racial and ethnic identity and gender.
  6. The number (or percentage) of incoming students in the most recent year who were funded, with an indication of how many students received one-year versus multiyear commitments; an indication (though not a promise) of the typical aid package offered to incoming graduate students; the number (or percentage) of students who entered in the previous four years with no funding who were subsequently funded (and the number of years funded); and the maximum number of years for which a student can expect funding.
  7. A list of the different funding opportunities available to graduate students (tuition waivers, fellowships, assistantships, external funding, loans, etc.), with an indication of how many current students received each type of funding. Also include a description of the typical duties and responsibilities of teaching assistants (grading, discussion sections, self-contained courses, and the number of undergraduates normally taught in a semester). If the department offers other types of assistantships, include a description of those duties as well.
  8. The average time to degree (by major field) over the previous five years, as well as the number of students in the most recent entering cohort who dropped out after one year in the program and the percentage of students who entered the doctoral program eight years prior to the current academic year who have completed their Ph.D.’s.
  9. Placement information for the previous five years, listing names, completion dates, dates of entry into the program, fields (and/or dissertation topics), and current positions held (academic or nonacademic). Include graduate students who left before completing their Ph.D.’s, if the students left to pursue a history-related position or continue their training in history at another institution. Indicate by year of degree the number of students not placed in history-related positions.
  10. The names, dissertation topics (or titles), and advisors for Ph.D.’s conferred in the previous five years and the same information for current students with approved prospectuses.
  11. The availability of graduate student housing, including housing for graduate students with spouses, domestic partners, and/or children.
  12. An estimate of the annual local cost of living for a graduate student, including any training-related costs (such as medical insurance or student fees) not covered by the typical financial aid package. Use the sample budgets provided by the graduate schools at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley for models.6
  13. Whether any or all of the following are available: summer support; funding for research-related travel or conference participation; funding for advanced training in foreign languages or in such ancillary skills as paleography, statistical analysis, computer applications, etc.
  14. Whether there is a formal program of teacher preparation, offered by either the department or another unit of the institution.
  15. Whether the department (and/or another unit of the institution) offers a formal program of career planning and whether nonacademic careers are included in the program.
  16. Whether there is an internship program for students who may be interested in public history careers. Indicate whether there are any formal arrangements with other schools to provide the department’s students with an opportunity to explore teaching and faculty roles at non-research-oriented institutions.
  17. Whether the program offers formal training in professional ethics and practices.
  18. Whether there is a graduate student association or a T.A. union. Indicate whether graduate students are invited to serve on faculty committees or otherwise participate in the governance of the department.
  19. A description of any programs that invite lecturers, of any regular student-faculty seminars, or of other institutionalized practices devoted to nourishing intellectual community in the department.
  20. Finally, a description of special or even unique opportunities and/or priorities that are distinctive to the program.

There is, we believe, a significant benefit for the institution and the prospective student if those applicants on a short list for admission are brought to the campus as part of a recruitment day or weekend—at university expense. We recognize that there are financial implications to this recommendation. Students who expect such visits to be paid should be aware that some institutions may feel that limited resources for graduate students might be better spent otherwise—as in summer stipends or research travel. But we hope that deans will recognize that such visits may in the long run save money for the graduate school, for they are likely to reduce attrition rates, which are costly to the institution as well as to the student. Such anticipated savings could be allocated to the department for these visits. The visit should include meetings with history faculty and, if relevant, faculty in other departments or programs; tours of the library and other research facilities; a visit to graduate and undergraduate classes; informal gatherings with current graduate students; and a tour of graduate student housing, if available. By inviting candidates before the final decision is reached, the visits become more than a “selling job”; they become a mutual exploration of the possible fit between student and program.

As discussed earlier in this report, we strongly urge that promising students whose paper credentials might be a cause for hesitation should be invited to these recruitment days in order to obtain more information upon which to base a final decision. However, a candidate’s inability to visit the campus, for whatever reason, should not be held against him or her in the final decision-making process; in these cases, the department should replace the visit with a personal phone call or other extended communications.


The adequate funding of graduate students is fundamental to doctoral education. For the most part, however, departments have no control over the level of stipends for graduate assistantships and fellowships, which are usually set by the graduate schools. But departments should always be vigorous advocates for adequate student funding—defined as a level that enables the dedicated pursuit of a doctoral degree. Where student work is involved, departments should be advocates on behalf of fair and equitable pay for work performed. To the extent that a department has resources and discretion of its own, these should also be deployed on the side of equity. Departments should ensure that students are fully informed about deadlines, procedures, and selection criteria for fellowships and assistantships. A sense of fairness (and actual fairness) in the process is essential.

Master’s Degree and Doctoral Education

The master’s degree has become something of an orphan in most doctoral programs, but it remains an important degree nonetheless. Here, we want to reinforce our earlier point that one of the many uses of the master’s degree is credential enhancement for prospective doctoral students. We believe that master’s degree programs with this emphasis can help maintain reasonably broad access to the historical profession, but only if two conditions are met. First, the master’s degree program should provide relevant and rigorous training, including primary research; students in these programs need to have the opportunity to reveal a capacity for doctoral-level work. For history departments that maintain separate M.A. and Ph.D. programs, it is very much to the advantage of these students to take some classes that include both M.A. and Ph.D. students, as this enables faculty members who are asked to write reference letters for the M.A. students to make direct comparisons. Second, doctoral programs have to recognize the “M.A.-first” strategy on the part of prospective students and consider seriously applicants with an M.A. from elsewhere. In fact, we urge selection committees to examine these applications with special care. (A companion report by the AHA will address the status of the master’s degree in history.)

Director of Graduate Studies, Placement Officer, and Staff Support

The work of the director of graduate studies is described in some detail in chapter 2. As doctoral programs grow smaller, it may be possible for the DGS also to serve as placement officer. Whether as a separate office or as part of the DGS portfolio, some faculty member in addition to the student’s advisor should have general responsibility for preparing a student to pursue professional employment. The placement officer should make sure that every faculty member in the department knows who is on the market, the kind(s) of employment they are seeking, where they are applying, and whether they are successful in securing employment. Some university career centers have become sensitive to the issue of nonacademic careers for humanities doctoral students, and the placement officer should explore possible cooperation and coordination to assist students who are pursuing nonacademic careers.7

Together, the DGS and placement officer should be responsible for tracking recent graduates and keeping in touch with alumni. Sustaining connections with alumni is an intrinsic good, but it also provides an invaluable network for current and future graduates of the program, whether they are seeking jobs or just looking for professional contacts.8 The actual work of maintaining these data, as well as the other data mentioned above, and maintaining connections with graduates requires adequate staff support for the DGS and the placement officer. This work—in addition to other administrative support described elsewhere in this report—requires a professional administrator; graduate schools should recognize this and be prepared to fund such a position at appropriate skill and salary levels.

The DGS should organize not just an orientation program for new students upon their arrival but a continuing series of group meetings that gradually introduce students to the regulations, effective norms, and practical workings of the program. Students should be informed about the procedures for determining financial aid and teaching assignments; the greater the perceived fairness of these procedures, the better for everyone involved.


A student’s advisor bears the principal responsibility for mentoring that student, not simply as a researcher, but across the full range of his or her professional formation. Without compromising that authority and obligation, we strongly encourage involving additional faculty members in the mentoring process. Students should feel free to consult with a variety of professors while preparing for their exams and working on their dissertations. With the accord of the student’s dissertation advisor, the second and third readers could be more involved throughout the process, instead of waiting until the penultimate or final draft. There should also be a formal defense of the dissertation prospectus involving the whole committee meeting together with the student. In general, we are proposing a balance between an excess of authority in one person and the opposite danger of placing a student in the crossfire of multiple presumptive “mentors.” The balance point will vary from program to program and student to student, but we hope that departments and advisors will always look for that professional and intellectual equilibrium.

Though we typically turn a blind eye to it, many faculty and surely too many students are aware of irresponsible advising that causes unnecessary pain and confusion for the student and sometimes has serious, career-ending consequences for students. Such dereliction of professional responsibility is (thankfully) not commonplace, but it exists in forms ranging from laziness to erroneous advice to wildly inappropriate, even vicious, behavior. Such practices should be noticed and monitored. If there is a continuing pattern of serious harm to students, the DGS and admission committees should consider halting admissions and work in a field where responsible advising is not available. To reverse the case, it is incumbent upon the DGS and the admission committee to avoid undue clustering or overload of students with any single advisor who for any number of reasons may be perceived as a “model” mentor. When such an unbalanced pattern emerges, it often produces uneasiness in the department. Moreover, in practical terms it is unfair to the faculty member, and it ill serves the students.

Annual Review

Fewer than half of the nation’s history departments conduct annual reviews of student progress that include candid reports to the students themselves.9 Each student deserves a periodic review and a report on his or her performance. Such reviews, presumably coordinated by the DGS, should involve the participation of all regular faculty members with whom the student has worked during the year. If there is reason to believe that a student will not successfully complete the program, the faculty must share that judgment with the student—with all due caution but also with complete honesty. Retaining a student who is unlikely to successfully complete the program does that student no favor. In fact, it is hurtful. It will have serious financial implications, it may inflict unnecessary emotional and psychological tolls, and it may entail a hidden cost in opportunities forever lost to the student. The average age at completion for a Ph.D. in history has increased in the last quarter-century from thirty-one years to nearly thirty-five (see table 3.1). These are key years for establishing oneself in a successful career and for establishing the commitments and the patterns of one’s personal life. If a history Ph.D. does not seem to be the right choice for a student, that student should know it as soon as possible, while there are still ample opportunities for alternative career choices.10

Retention and Attrition

Retention and attrition are extremely important issues for students and for the institution. Far more doctoral students are enrolled in graduate programs than complete the degree. It is essential that departments and the profession as a whole determine the dimensions and causes of attrition and focus their attention on retention. The human and financial costs of high levels of attrition demand responsible action by the profession.

The Committee found surprisingly little departmental concern about attrition. Very few departments conduct exit interviews to learn why students are leaving.11 Instead, anecdote and opinion reign—especially the opinion that most attrition can be accounted for by the students’ own needs or (in)capacities. In fact, attrition is more complicated and important than that. On an individual level, attrition has obvious costs for the students involved, while on a programmatic level patterns of attrition may say something important about the admissions process, the intellectual content and quality of the program, and the departmental culture. We therefore strongly recommend better data collection and exit interviews.

Attrition in the first year is not all bad; it may mean that history at an advanced level is not what the student anticipated or simply was not to the student’s taste.12 But considerable evidence suggests that other sources of attrition—starting with social isolation—are more problematic yet also remediable.13 Departments should take care to incorporate graduate students into the intellectual and social life of the community. Social and academic events both help. Some departments post snapshots of entering students (as well as continuing students and even faculty members and staff) on a prominent bulletin board, which eases the process of making initial acquaintances. An e-mail directory of all the graduate students, new and continuing, should be ready at the start of the academic year. There should be a place for students to meet casually with each other and with the faculty. Departments should have a graduate student lounge, with mailboxes, perhaps a basic reference collection, a bulletin board for important notices, and a computer terminal and printer with e-mail and Internet connections. Many departments combine social and intellectual activities by organizing regular, though informal, presentations by members of the department (often including graduate student presenters), sometimes with a meal or followed by a meal or other refreshments. Other departments host regular weekly “social hours” where students and faculty can interact in an informal setting. There should also be events that welcome nonstudents, such as spouses and domestic partners. All of these gatherings are an important opportunity for intellectual exchanges, mentoring, and social connections. Such social activities not only work against attrition, they also help build a stronger sense of collegiality in the department.

Grievance Procedures

Whether managed by the DGS or an ombudsperson (inside or outside the department), every graduate program should have a widely publicized, clear, and formal process for appealing decisions and filing grievances, ranging from strictly academic issues to incidents of personal disrespect toward students and violation of the law (as in sexual harassment). These must be more extensive and protective of the student than an invitation to bring the matter to the attention of the department chair.

At some institutions such procedures are centrally mandated. If they are not, any procedures developed at the departmental level are usually subject to approval by university legal counsel. In general, it is advisable for departments to be part of the conversation on grievances at the central level, if there is one. If there is not one, they should develop their own grievance policies in consultation with the office of university legal counsel.

A Space of Their Own

Departments should provide adequate common space for informal interaction between students and faculty. In addition, there should be a comfortable space reserved for graduate students. Whether in that space or elsewhere, doctoral students should have individual mailboxes; the graduate student lounge might contain other amenities (reference books and journals, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Perspectives, Directory of History Departments, Internet access, etc.). Such space is both practical and symbolic. As such, it sustains and enriches a sense of belonging in the department, while enabling student to develop a collective sense of themselves. (See also “Retention and Attrition,” above.)


The search for employment is a complex process that requires planning, coordination, and cooperation. The advisor and placement officer have important roles to play in the process, but students have the most direct responsibility for finding a job. Students should clearly communicate their career ambitions and plans to both their individual advisors and the department’s placement officer. Students should keep track of application deadlines and provide any requested materials to the placement officer in a timely manner. In particular, students should recognize the importance of giving writers of reference letters as much relevant information as possible—and doing so well in advance of deadlines. Of course, the obligation of timeliness is reciprocal.

A placement dossier is the most appropriate and effective approach to initial academic employment. The argument for dossiers rather than individual letters for each application is not only efficiency, both for the writers of letters and for the recipients of dossiers; it also enables the placement officer to review files before they go out to make sure that letters are substantial, appropriately detailed, fair-minded, supportive, and up to date. At some institutions, the dossiers are managed by a central placement office or by a contracted service, but significant numbers of history departments are handling the preparing and mailing of dossiers themselves. Although this approach requires significant staff (and faculty) time, it facilitates the important oversight we are here urging. (References for employment in other careers and for postdoctoral fellowships often require specialized letters rather than dossiers.)

The placement officer should begin the work of preparing students for a job search early in the doctoral program, explaining how both the academic and nonacademic employment markets work, the etiquette of the search process, what potential employers will expect of them, how they can prepare themselves for the search, how to develop a dossier and placement portfolio over time, etc. At the actual point of the job search, the placement officer (in conjunction with students’ individual advisors), should review each student’s curriculum vita and letters of application, give specific advice as needed, and organize mock interviews and job talks. Students can and should enrich this preparation by attending closely to the procedures and activities associated with searches in their own department. This is an argument for involving students formally in searches. And students should make it a point to attend job talks in the department.

As the range of career options expands, many faculty will need to extend their knowledge of the placement process. Doctoral faculty generally lack knowledge of the recruitment process for teaching positions at community colleges, even though this is the fastest growing sector in higher education. They know even less about nonacademic employment markets, whether in public history, government work, publishing, nonprofit institutions, the business world, or elsewhere. It is essential that the placement officers and other academic historians overcome this ignorance, and, as we recommend below, we believe that the AHA has an important role to play in this process.

While most of the responsibility for preparing graduate students for a job and career falls on the students, their advisors, and the placement officer, all faculty members who have worked with a student should be actively involved in his or her placement. This means not just writing letters of recommendation but offering advice and being an advocate whenever it is appropriate. Launching a student on a career, inside or outside the academy, ought to be a department-wide project, just as all faculty members ought to contribute to a student’s developing sense of professionalism.

Intellectual Community

For many faculty members and doctoral students, history departments are failing as intellectual communities. Although we are recommending a variety of administrative procedures, at root they all have the same purpose: sustaining an intellectual community that advances the learning of all members. A graduate program is more than courses and examinations and hours in the archives. There needs to be an open engagement with ideas; public conversations about research, pedagogy, and professional issues; and discussions that place history in the larger culture. This work can be achieved in a regular program of outside lecturers or in a seminar series, with presentations of work-in-progress by outside scholars, department faculty, and/or graduate students. Some departments combine a regular late-afternoon social gathering, including food, with formal presentations and informal talk about disciplinary and or program matters.

We recognize that such practical enactments of intellectual community are difficult to organize and sustain. Faculty and students are always and seemingly increasingly pressed for time. Dual-career families often mean tight constraints on schedules. Students’ schedules are also constrained by various obligations, including outside employment. And there are typically budget allocations to be secured. Often these activities are seen as dispensable extras, requiring additional organization, time, and funds. But they are not. They are an essential aspect of the formation of professional historians and a vital part of a stimulating departmental culture. By inviting graduates of the program into this community, stronger and continuing ties are developed, providing an invaluable and unique departmental resource.

Dissertation Seminars

There is a considerable focus on the dissertation (too much in our opinion), yet many students are left adrift during the time—sometimes years—they are working on their dissertations. Students who drift away from their dissertations represent perhaps the most unfortunate form of attrition. A particularly unhappy attrition narrative is the case of a student ending up with a topic or approach to a topic of more interest to the advisor than to the student. Such is not the model of mentoring we are seeking to encourage. Another reason for the prolongation of dissertation writing, sometimes to the point of effective attrition, is intellectual isolation. A number of institutions have dissertation writers’ seminars, and we are convinced that the supportive, yet critical, intellectual community that one finds in the best of such seminars not only improves the dissertations but makes drifting away from the work less likely. Students often organize their own dissertation writing groups, and these should be encouraged. But there is a departmental responsibility here as well.

There are many forms a dissertation seminar might take—in some cases, a particular dissertation advisor will run a continuing seminar for students working with her or him, but with declining enrollments it will be less and less common for one advisor to have enough advisees for this model. In other instances, the dissertation seminar may be organized by major field; and in yet others, across fields. All of these models—and perhaps other forms we have not seen—are most helpful if they are part of a continuing intellectual community. Some programs require seminars for the first year of dissertation writing, and these seminars are helpful in getting students on their way. But the need for and value of a dissertation seminar does not end until the dissertation is completed. Such a seminar need not meet weekly and it need not be for credit (or involve tuition costs). Fairly informal voluntary seminars meeting three or four times per semester are effective in creating the requisite intellectual community.

Losing contact complicates the student-faculty relationship, and the longer its duration, the more difficult it is for the student to reconnect. Much better is an ongoing conversation about the dissertation; it keeps matters familiar and avoids the discomfort of the inevitably formal (and apologetic) meeting after a long interval. Worse yet is a lack of interaction until the moment when the student submits a full draft. It is not always possible to maintain contact, and the occasional student will intentionally break off communication with his or her advisor. But individual advisors should make it a point to maintain contact—in person, if possible, perhaps with a meal—with each of their advisees each semester. Likewise, students should discuss their work—in person, if in town—not only with their advisors but also with the other members of their dissertation committee.

Preparation for Teaching

There are various ways of preparing students for their responsibilities as T.A.’s and for their future careers as academic historians. All departments should have some formal and systematic program for preparing their doctoral students as teachers. The program may be entirely within the department or offered in cooperation with other departments, the graduate school, or a university-wide teaching center. In any case, the pedagogic preparation should be more extensive than an introduction to techniques of classroom management and grading for T.A.’s. All graduate education—even for students who see themselves pursuing a nonacademic career—should address the teaching of history as an intellectual challenge, a challenge that brings historiography into conversation with pedagogy. There is a growing and important literature on this issue, and students should be familiar with it.14 More than that, historians should be encouraged to explore these issues—and such inquiry into the relation of the specific disciplinary knowledge of history to pedagogy should be recognized as a form of scholarship in its own right.15

The challenge of teaching is to find the mode of presentation and engagement that works best for the discipline of history in a given situation and with a specific audience, whether in a classroom or elsewhere. The preparation for this challenge depends upon such skills as clarifying the aims of a public education program or a course within the larger context of an undergraduate history program, constructing a syllabus to achieve specific pedagogical goals, and developing techniques for lecturing and other ways of stimulating critical historical thinking. But teaching also includes advising and writing letters of recommendation—and inevitably demands a role model.

The preparation of teachers should be a progressive and cumulative development, concluding, if possible, with responsibility for a self-contained course. There are different opinions about the best kind of class for the first-time solo instructor. From the point of view of initial preparation, a small seminar on a topic close to the student’s research field seems most appropriate; from the perspective of the student’s likely responsibility in the future for a broad survey course, developing such a course in the context of the mentoring available in a doctoral program also makes good sense. We do not recommend one experience over the other. The main point is that teacher preparation should have a degree of mentored progression, moving beyond the immediate needs of a T.A. to the teaching responsibilities of a future faculty member.16

With more ambition, a department can take up the challenge and the model of the Preparing Future Faculty initiative. That project’s emphasis on learning about different teaching environments is admirable and invaluable. On their own, other research-intensive universities have also developed relationships with nearby community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and comprehensive universities to provide their doctoral students with experience in different teaching environments and to prepare future faculty for very diverse student populations.17


For students seeking careers in public history, internships are an essential part of their education. But they offer more than that: they are often paths to employment. One of the best ways to familiarize students with careers outside the academy is through internships. Any department that proposes to prepare students for public history careers should work to develop a network of institutions—from museums to foundations, from libraries and archives to learned societies, from publishers and other media to government agencies—willing to receive and supervise interns. Internships with scholarly journals or projects devoted to editions of the papers of individuals or groups are valuable for all students, whether they intend to pursue academic or nonacademic careers.

Professional Ethics and Practices

Every doctoral program should provide its students with a formal introduction to professional ethics, covering such topics as plagiarism and intellectual property, (im)proper relations with students and colleagues, the sharing of authorial credit, academic freedom, conflicts of interest, conducting research with human subjects, the management of research funds, writing letters of recommendation, and confidentiality. We do not offer any recommendations about the format of this training in professional ethics, which could, for example, be part of an introductory seminar or a series of special workshops. But we are convinced that the training needs to take place.

Graduate students should learn about the importance of professional collegiality. They should also gain a sense of the professional tasks they will be asked to undertake as working historians, whether as teachers (e.g., working with diverse student populations), as members of a faculty (e.g., serving on committees), or as scholars (e.g., reviewing manuscripts and books, evaluating their peers). By the time they receive a Ph.D., students should understand how the world of scholarly publication works as well as the etiquette of publishing, including ways of approaching publishers, the propriety of multiple submissions to journals or presses, contracts, editorial and production processes, etc. They should know how to get on conference programs, the obligations of a panelist, and how to make an effective presentation at an academic conference.

Graduate students are keenly aware that they need to know more about these ethical issues and professional practices.18 While we believe that graduate programs must do much more to address this problem, responsibility does not end with graduate school. Academic and nonacademic employers have a responsibility to guide the professional development and nurture a professional ethos among beginning professionals. There is a role for the AHA here, too, in promoting a deeper and wider discussion of ethics among all members of the historical profession. There are important statements on professional ethics—especially in regard to intellectual property and employment practices—that have been developed by the Professional Division of the AHA, and these are on the Association’s Web site and in various publications. But authoritative written material on more aspects of professional ethics and responsibilities need to be developed by the AHA, as well as workshops on these issues.


Students who become faculty and those in public history careers deserve more preparation in becoming professional citizens, perhaps as a part of their instruction on professional ethics and practices or in separate courses or workshops. Citizenship requires knowing something about the history and sociology of not only the history profession but higher education in the United States and about the other key institutions that serve and employ historians. Faculty must take more responsibility in providing guidance and information. But students can do much on their own; the Chronicle of Higher Education is readily available in university libraries and should be available in departments; students will find it to be a good source for following contemporary higher education issues. Joining and participating in relevant professional organizations, not only the AHA, but also more-specialized organizations, is a significant way of learning about the profession and signaling one’s commitment to it.

There is too little explicit discussion of the professional historians’ obligations to students, colleagues, and the institutions that employ them, as well as to their local communities and society in general. Citizenship carries rights as well as responsibilities, including the right to participate in the work of one’s department, whether as a faculty member, an employee in a museum, or a graduate student. Learning something of academic structures and procedures is important for graduate students, and such learning is greatly advanced by direct experience on appropriate departmental committees. It is clear that more and better dialogue between faculty and students about educational and professional issues is necessary to make the local improvements we are seeking, and we strongly endorse such citizenship in practice.

Students deserve opportunities for professional collaboration in research, teaching, and institutional tasks. The collective organization of a small conference or a proposed multiauthored volume around a particular theme would be good experience, whether as a class exercise or, resources permitting, for real. Students might also collaborate on designing a Web page or other supplemental materials for a course. Well-conceived public history programs, such as those at Arizona State University, the University of South Carolina, and several other places have made collaboration a standard part of the student’s experience; all historians would profit from such experiences.

The logic of citizenship extends to the various settings for professional historical work. All historians, but especially those working in nonacademic institutions, must know the history and contemporary roles of historical museums, libraries and learned societies, foundations, and documentary film and media (old and new), as well as the role of history in public policy. In these institutions no less than in the academy, knowledge of the relevant ethical issues, roles and responsibilities, and collegial obligations are an essential part of one’s professional preparation.

Institutional citizenship is only part of the responsibility inherent in professionalism. Academic professionalism has from the outset promised a broader citizenship. Historians as professionals serve both the discipline and the public interest as part of their commitment to research, teaching, and service. For public history careers, this civic dimension of professionalism is central.

The American Historical Association

The AHA should provide guidance and a framework for the systematic collection and dissemination of data on graduate education. Beyond creating the template for mounting basic information on graduate programs that has been described above, the AHA should maintain a Web page with links to all participating doctoral departments. The AHA should also maintain a directory of links to selected sources of online information that are most likely to contribute to the professional development of history graduate students. These links should make the AHA Web site a reliable and up-to-date gateway to information on graduate education that is useful to historians.

The AHA has been supportive of public history, but it can do more to promote careers in public history. It should develop better and more regular means of communication with nonacademic employers of historians in the interest of enhancing both educational and career opportunities. Collaboration with other professional societies associated with public history already exists, but it can be expanded in the interest of achieving the highest possible standards for professional work and working conditions, including model agreements that provide clarity on intellectual property issues, pay equity, and professional development in nonacademic institutions. Another, more practical initiative should be to encourage nonacademic employers to advertise their position openings in Perspectives, where most academic opportunities for historians are already listed. The AHA should also bring the work of nonacademic historians more fully into the consciousness of the profession by continuing and expanding its regular coverage of public history in Perspectives, including interviews with practitioners, as well as more collaboration with local public history institutions in cities hosting the annual meeting of the AHA.

The Committee recommends that the AHA in collaboration with the National Council on Public History create a Task Force on Employment Opportunities to look beyond the academy, perhaps working with the Organization of American Historians, the American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, and the Society for Historians in the Federal Government. The purpose would be more than simply identifying careers in these areas (about which there is increasing knowledge); it would include identifying the methods of recruitment into them, creating better routes to them.

Building on recent efforts to increase the profession’s awareness of the importance of history education in community colleges, the AHA should work to bring the recruitment of historians by community colleges more firmly into the existing framework of academic recruitment through listings in Perspectives and interviewing at the annual meeting.19

The increasing detail and sophistication of the annual AHA survey and analysis of job openings and placement by field, as well as in the aggregate, is invaluable and should be strongly supported, both by the AHA and by the various departments that provide the necessary data. Unfortunately, our analysis of academic positions advertised and hires as reported in the Directory of History Departments reveals that not all jobs are being posted in Perspectives. The AHA should do all it can to establish universal posting, both for reasons of equity and opportunity and so that academic employment patterns in the profession can be accurately reported and effectively analyzed.20

The AHA’s role in the employment process goes beyond serving as a bulletin board. The Professional Division provides information and sets some standards. We strongly endorse efforts by the Division to increase the likelihood that all job seekers will be treated honestly and with dignity. That goal will require a clearer notion by employers and job seekers of an institutionalized etiquette, one that would include, for example, accurate descriptions of the position; acknowledgment of applications; an appropriate setting and tone for interviews, including mutual awareness of what is or is not an appropriate question at an interview; an indication of the likely schedule of the search process, updated if necessary; and timely notification when the search is completed or suspended.

In order to facilitate the development of adequate training in professional ethics, the AHA should sponsor—probably through its Professional Division—the development of a guide to professional ethics that will provide material (including case studies) to facilitate teaching on this important issue.21 There should also be regular workshops in professional ethics in conjunction with the annual meetings of the AHA.

Finally, the Committee recommends that the AHA seek funding to develop a program of annual workshops or retreats for department chairs, directors of graduate studies, and other faculty members interested in developing their leadership and strategic planning skills—whether within their department or at higher levels of academic leadership. There is much to gain from improved governance and resource management in individual history departments.

The leadership network that will grow out of these workshops will be a collective resource for the AHA and will be prepared to advance the interests of the discipline at their home institutions and in general. The project will also build capacity within the AHA for its own strategic planning.

Historical interest among the public is substantial, and it is vital that professional historians continue to play a substantial role in serving that interest, both in formal educational institutions and in a variety of more public settings, ranging from local historical societies and museums to the media. As a profession, we are committed to a level of quality that is not apparent in all the historical materials available to the public.22 We have both a responsibility and an opportunity to expand the influence of professional history. As long as we continue to train new generations of graduate students, we historians must sustain our historical commitment to extend the civic role of professional history, whether in American schools and universities or in a variety of public sites and media.

Next section: Chapter 4


  1. Thomas Bender, “AHA Launches Study of Graduate Education,” Perspectives 38:6 (September 2000): 12-3. []
  2. The National Science Foundation and the National Research Council collect these data for the sciences, but systematic data of a comparable sort for the humanities do not exist. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has long proposed the development of such data, but nothing is on the horizon. See Robert M. Solow et al., Making the Humanities Count: The Importance of Data (Cambridge, Mass.: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2002). []
  3. One should note, however, that if such postdoctoral experiences became customary, as they are in the natural science disciplines, it would extend the interval between starting one’s graduate career until tenure-track placement for yet additional years—something that is less of a problem in the sciences where the average time to the Ph.D. degree is several years shorter than in history. []
  4. For a description of the fellowship, see . []
  5. Implementation of this data collection will require the development of a precise and common terminology describing these different stages in graduate education. []
  6. For Harvard, see; for Berkeley, see Historians typically ignore or condemn much of the history presented on commercial television and even public television, but they may have to engage it, either in public discussion of particular issues or by working with producers to enhance its quality—or both. []
  7. Eighty-one percent of the institutions in our survey of doctoral programs have a career services office, and most of these offices (54 percent, say the respondents) seem to devote at least some resources to helping graduate students and nonacademic jobs. However, 41 percent of the respondents admitted that they did not know whether graduate students found these offices to be a useful source of information and assistance. []
  8. Our observation is that most doctoral programs do not take enough advantage of their alumni, as a source of information, a placement network, or a pool of potential donors. See Philip M. Katz, “Committee on Graduate Education Update,” Perspectives 39.7 (October 2001): 5. []
  9. This according to a recent survey of graduate students in history and other disciplines; in fact, only 41 percent of the historians in the survey had ever received feedback from an annual review. See Golde and Dore, At Cross Purposes, table 10. []
  10. This concern was also raised by the Committee’s predecessor in 1962. See Perkins and Snell, Education of Historians, 154. []
  11. Our survey found that only 44 percent of departments collect formal data on the attrition of their own graduate students, and even fewer (10 percent) conduct exit interviews. []
  12. Chris M. Golde, “Beginning Graduate School: Explaining First-Year Doctoral Attrition,” in The Experience of Being in Graduate School, ed. Melissa S. Anderson (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 55­64. []
  13. Barbara E. Lovitts and Cary Nelson, “The Hidden Crisis in Graduate Education: Attrition from Ph.D. Programs,” Academe 86 (November­December 2000): 44­50; Barbara E. Lovitts, Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of Departure from Doctoral Study (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littleeld, 2001). Lovitts’s analysis is based, in part, on a comparative study of graduate students at two midwestern history departments. []
  14. See Calder, Cutler, and Kelly, “History Lessons.” []
  15. For a recent argument along these lines for literary studies by a former president of the Modern Language Association, see Elaine Showalter, “What Teaching Literature Should Really Mean,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 17, 2003, B7­9. []
  16. Stanford University’s history department has developed an excellent sequence of teaching experiences for its graduate students. []
  17. For an example of this involving the University of Michigan and Oberlin and Kalamazoo Colleges, see Dan Curry, “University and Colleges Team Up to Help Ph.D.’s,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 15, 2001, A10. []
  18. See Golde, “Career Goals of History Doctoral Students,” 21­26. These survey data have been conrmed by the Committee’s own conversations with graduate students. []
  19. See Nadine I. Hata, ed., Community College Historians in the United States (Bloomington, Ind.: Organization of American Historians, 1999), a report that was cosponsored by the AHA and the OAH. See also Maureen Murphy Nutting, “Teaching History at Community Colleges: It’s a Job for Historians,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 30, 1998, B7­8. []
  20. It is said that graduate students rely more on H-Net than the AHA postings. The point is not where the positions are posted but the importance of having all positions posted on a known site. Perhaps electronic posting at the AHA would make it a more attractive central site. []
  21. It would thus be different from the AHA’s indispensable Statement of Standards of Professional Conduct. For a good example of the sort of guidance and materials needed, see Carla Rahn Phillips, “Moral Fables and Cautionary Tales from the Job Market: Annual Report from the Professional Division,” Perspectives 36:4 (April 1998): 1. []
  22. Historians typically ignore or condemn much of the history presented on commercial television and even public television, but they may have to engage it, either in public discussion of particular issues or by working with producers to enhance its quality or both. []