The AHA’s Career Diversity work began with a series of research questions. Gaining a firm sense of where historians were employed, why they chose their line of work, and how they drew upon historical skills and perspectives in their work was a necessary prelude to any large-scale initiative.

To answer these questions, the AHA gathered quantitative and qualitative evidence about the careers of history PhDs. “The Many Careers of History PhDs” established a basic statistical portrait of career outcomes in the discipline, including the crucial fact that about a quarter of history PhDs worked outside the professoriate in nearly every conceivable sector of the economy. This large number suggested that the PhD opened many professional doors, even as it reinforced the potential efficacy of broadening the curriculum to facilitate transitions into a range of careers.

Focus groups of employers, history PhDs working outside the academy, and ACLS Public Fellows articulated how their graduate education prepared them for their work. But these historians also identified what they had not learned but wished they had: skills not often taught in graduate programs but that are crucial to thriving beyond the professoriate. We synthesized those deficits into five skills imperative to a Career Diversity effort. These are not intended to replace traditional components of doctoral education; they represent new categories of knowledge and experience that help history PhD recipients navigate career transitions and better prepare themselves for jobs in and outside academia.

Two key insights emerged from the initial research phase of Career Diversity. First, the quantitative research demonstrated that large numbers of history PhDs work in a dizzying array of careers. How could the AHA and history departments better support this diversity of outcomes? Second, in examining how history departments could use the “five skills” to enhance doctoral education, we soon realized that these skills would also help doctoral students become better teachers and faculty members. This “both/and” insight addressed a major source of skepticism: that preparation for a broader range of careers would “distract” graduate students from progress to degree and from work more essential to preparation for the academic job market. It also would prove essential in planning and executing the next two phases of the initiative.