Where Historians Work: An Interactive Database of History PhD Career Outcomes

Where Historians Work is an interactive, online database that catalogues the career outcomes of the 8,515 historians who earned PhDs at U.S. universities from 2004 and 2013. Powered by Tableau, Where Historians Work provides the fullest picture of PhD careers available for any discipline, and signals the AHA’s commitment to transparency in discussions of careers for history PhDs. This new tool allows current and potential graduate students to understand the full scope of career options open to history PhDs and to research which departments best fit their values and goals, enables departments to better meet the professional development needs of their doctoral students, and documents the broad impact of doctoral education in history.

Where Historians Work is a product of the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For full information on the methodology used to create Where Historians Work, please see the methodology section below.

Exploring the Visualizations

Where Historians Work is a slideshow of 7 interactive data visualizations. Toolbars near the top of the window allow users to view career outcomes in the aggregate and filter the results by variables such as gender, graduation year, department, and field specialization. Many slides contain additional information that can be accessed by hovering your cursor over individual data points. Where Historians Work is best viewed in full screen. 

We hope users will explore the data, make discoveries, and share them with us. Find a summary of initial findings here. Please send any comments to Dylan Ruediger, the AHA’s Coordinator of Career Diversity for Historians and Institutional Research, at druediger@historians.org.


Where Historians Work tracks the current employment status (as of 2017) of history and history of science PhDs who graduated from all 161 history PhD-granting departments in the United States from 2004 to 2013. We selected this time frame for two reasons. First and most important, we wanted to understand career trajectories rather than initial employment. Selecting 2013 as the final year for our study allows our data to be both recent enough to be aligned with contemporary employment conditions and old enough to capture many mid-career historians who have settled in to careers. Second, our 10-year window splits neatly across the 2008-09 recession, giving us the opportunity to see how employment patterns vary before and after the Great Recession.

To create Where Historians Work, AHA researchers began with a list of names and dissertation titles pulled from the AHA’s Directory of History Dissertations. History departments report completed dissertations to the AHA. Though it depends on voluntary reporting, the Directory is remarkably complete: a comparison with federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data suggests that it includes over 95 percent of the dissertations completed in the discipline during our target years.[1] The Directory provided us with names, graduation years, and departments, as well as information about specialization as reflected in the dissertation title.

Using the Directory as a basis, we identified the current employment of history PhDs using publicly available online sources, including: university, organization, and company websites; LinkedIn; personal blogs and websites; newspaper announcements; bios on publishers’ websites and conference programs; and various social media outlets. Positions listed on department websites often proved a useful starting point, but to avoid the risk of recording outdated information, we corroborated all such listings with a secondary reference. AHA researchers recorded employer name, job title, and employment location (city, state, and country) and a variety of other information about each located individual. At no time were the individuals themselves contacted to supply information.

We identified the employment of 7,991 history PhDs, 93 percent of our total population.[2] An individual was designated “Not Found” if, after a reasonable duration of search time, no online record of current employment could be located. It is not safe to assume that historians in the “Not Found” category are unemployed. Several types of employment seem associated with a weaker online presence, including certain types of government or military occupations, self-employment, and faculty work at institutions outside the United States. Anecdotal impressions gathered during the research process also suggest that many “Not Found” historians are retired. We classified historians as “unemployed” or “retired” only if this information was self-reported (such as on LinkedIn or a personal website) or conveyed through a media announcement.

In addition to collecting information about current employment, AHA researchers also tagged the data in several ways as described below:

Gender: We inferred gender from names, photographic evidence, stated pronoun preference, and other references found while searching for employment. Obviously, there is room for error at the individual level, but our overall gender distribution (42.8 percent female) closely matches IPEDS data for the discipline during the same period (42.6 percent female).

Specialization and Specialization Era: These data were determined on the basis of the dissertation title listed in the AHA’s Directory of History Dissertations. Dissertations were placed in the modern category if the temporal frame listed in the dissertation title (e.g., 1789-1820) crossed into the 19th century.

Carnegie Classification: All individuals employed at post-secondary institutions in the US with Carnegie Classifications were so classified. The charts presented in Where Historians Work group Carnegie Classifications into a slightly simplified schema to allow employment patterns to be more readily discerned. Special focus schools include military schools, tribal colleges, and institutions awarding over 75% of their degrees in a single program (e.g. art schools).

Employment Category: AHA researchers assigned employment categories from among the following options: business, deceased, federal government, higher education, incorporated self-employed, nonprofit, retired, state and local government, unemployed, unincorporated self-employed. When individuals held more than one job in different employment categories (for example, a lawyer who worked as an adjunct professor), we used our best judgment as to primary occupation. As this category describes the characteristics of an individual’s employer, K-12 teachers at public schools are classified under state and local government, while independent school teachers are classified under non-profit.

Tenure Status: Higher education faculty tenure status was designated by four categories: two-year college tenure-track, two-year college non-tenure-track, four-year college tenure-track, and four-year college non-tenure-track. We inferred tenure status from the individual’s job title. Researchers used their best judgment about how to classify professors at non-US universities, which often have quite different academic nomenclatures, or at US institutions with non-standard nomenclatures. We categorized tenured faculty who occupy administrative positions, such as deans, as tenure-track. However, for the purpose of Where Historians Work, librarians—some of whom hold tenure—were considered non-tenure-track faculty. The non-tenure-track designation includes all non-tenure-track faculty, including visiting professors, adjuncts, and lecturers with multi-year contracts.

SOC Code and SOC Title: We assigned each individual a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Code and SOC Title, occupational codes developed by the US Department of Labor. SOC codes and titles are based on individuals’ job titles and the nature of the work they seemed to perform. One code that may require some clarification is SOC Code 19-3093, titled “Historians,” which the system defines as workers who “research, analyze, record, and interpret the past as recorded in sources.” Non-teachers who have variations of “historian” “researcher,” or “historical consultant” in their job title, as well as research-oriented postdocs and those who identify as independent scholars, are included in this category.

Geographical Data: All geographical data refers to the address of the individual’s employer.

[1] The AHA Dissertation Directory contains 8,563 entries for 2004-13. IPEDS data finds 8,951 PhDs in history granted from 2004-13. (https://www.humanitiesindicators.org/content/indicatordoc.aspx?i=250)

[2] This rate compares favorably to similar PhD tracking projects such as the University of Toronto’s 10,000 PhD Project and The Stanford PhD Alumni Employment Project.