February 23, 2004

"The Juggernaut of Academic History"

What did Gibbon, Macaulay and Carlyle have in common?

None of them had a Ph.D. in History, and all of them are cited by Simon Schama in his recent call for a revival of the "golden age" of history:

Simon Schama, one of Britain's best-known historians, has accused fellow academics of making the subject too dull.

Professor Schama is calling for a return to a 'golden age' of historians of the calibre of Gibbon, Macaulay and Carlyle. He says modern-day historians - with a few notable exceptions - have lost the ability to inspire the public with tales of the past in the same way as their predecessors (Jonathan Thompson, "History just isn't what it used to be: Schama slams academic historians")

Timothy Burke approves, but adds an important qualification:

The only caveat I have is that the existence of a broadly communicative, publically engaged rhetoric of history is dependent upon the existence of a body of much more meticulous scholarship. Schama couldn't have written Citizens if there hadn't been a large historiography to write about, and the same goes for any of the successful public-sphere historians of recent years.

Good point. There may not be a lot of story to be pulled out of detailed quantitative analyses of parish registers and village rent rolls. But without that detailed analysis, we know appreciably less about demographic trends, property relations, standards of living, and so on. Some of this can of course be rendered into lively narrative prose, but not unless and until someone has already done that detailed and meticulous research. Burke's post is well worth reading, and especially for his suggestion that the overemphasis on a narrower "professionalized craft" at the expense of broader "communicative ambitions" is not the "inevitable consequence of graduate training."


For Kieran Healy, Schama's call for a return to the golden age of history "mostly seems like promotional fluff for his new TV series" and Timothy Burke's caveat must be seen as "more than a caveat:"

Schama’s Great Historians fused authoritative judgment, great range and vivid prose and brought the result to large audiences, helping to define the practice of history as they went. What fun it must have been. He wants those things, too. Yet although he speaks to an audience bigger than any of his heroes, Schama must know he can’t occupy that niche, because it no longer exists. The vast differentiation of the academic division of labor over the past century and a half destroyed it.

Is Schama expressing the kind of "anachronistic wishfulness that historians teach us to avoid"? Perhaps.

Certainly, there can be no return to a golden age. Today's historian can no more write like Macaulay than today's novelist can write like Jane Austen. Any attempt to write like Macaulay would probably succeed about as well as the various prequels and sequels to Pride and Prejudice have succeeded, which is to say, would probably result in embarrassing failure.

But while I basically agree with Healy on the pastness of the historiographical past, I don't share the telos of progress that seems to underlie his comment. It's not that I don't believe that the past hundred and fifty years have seen enormous progress in the accumulation of historical knowledge, the refinement of research methodologies, and so on. I do believe that there has been such progress (and one reason why today's historian could not write like Macaulay is that the historian would have to pretend to be innocent of this historical knowledge, which would already be indulging in a kind of ersatz Macaulay fakery).

Healy writes that "whereas the mills of academic specialization can grind exceeding small, we can’t all have our own BBC miniseries." While the latter is indisputably true, I think the former open to question. It's just not a given to me that the current division of labor is sustainable. It's possible, of course, and maybe even probable, that the wheels can continue to grind. On the other hand, it's also possible that academic history will come to be dismissed as a kind of scholasticism, or perhaps consigned to an increasingly narrow and rarefied space (e.g., elite research universities) as a kind of cultural luxury item. When I read that the history now accounts for only 2 percent of all BAs (a dramatic decline in both relative and absolute terms since 1970), and when I think of the funding cuts that the history mill has suffered over the past decade, I do have to wonder. And when Timothy Burke warns that the monograph does have value and insists that "one of the functions of academic research institutions should be to subsidize the work that does not and cannot seek a public audience," I think he too recognizes the possibility that such work might not be subsidized, or at least not subsidized at the current rate.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:56 PM | Comments (21)

February 16, 2004

Response to Robert "KC" Johnson

My response can be found here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2004

Comment for Cliopatria Discussion

But posted here due to a problem with my Cliopatria registration. This is a rambling response to Timothy Burke, who responds in turn to Robert "KC" Johnson, at this entry at Cliopatria. Not meant to serve as a blog entry, and probably not of much interest to most readers of this weblog. So don't click unless you care, deeply and passionately, about current trends in historiography.

"'And as I said, there's a historiographical reason for that: if one has a
beef with social history in this respect, one has to contend with the fullness
of the reasons for its rise.' [this quotes Tim Burke]

I agree. I also suspect one might have to look beyond academic history in
order to fully account for this rise. If we look at various versions of history
that address themselves to wider publics (historical films, museum exhibits,
and so on) it seems clear that there's something else going on than a takeover by the New Left. For some reason (or rather, for some complex set of related
reasons), what resonates with people outside of academic history can be broadly
classed under social/cultural history: histories of everyday life, histories that
pay attention to various social/cultural factors (what did people eat? what
did people wear? did they have premarital relations? and so on). In other
words, I think many people aren't so much interested in What happened? as in What was it like?

To be sure, there's obviously an audience outside the academy for military
history (and also, I would add, for women's history in a women worthies
vein -- not for histories of gender roles, histories of women and property law,
but for biographies of inspirational women). But I think there's at least as much
of a demand for histories that provide access to some version or other of lived
experience. And even in the case of military history, it would be interesting to
know how people are reading and interpreting these works. It may sometimes
come closer to What was it like? than to What happened? (think civil war

I don't know exactly what's going on here. My point is that it's probably a
conceit on the part of academics to think that the direction of the field is
exclusively, perhaps even mainly, shaped from within.

Which brings me to my next point, which doesn't often get raised in these
discussions: namely, the issue of student interest or student "demand." To
what extent does the current pie chart (more social than military history, eg)
stem from student interest? This must vary from place to place, but I suspect
at many schools this *is* a factor, and I know from personal experience that at
some places it is openly acknowledged as a factor: if you want higher
enrollments, you need to do more of X and not so much of Y. This is a topic that makes a lot of academics uncomfortable, because open admission of a need/desire to capture student interest can come to close to sounding like a desire to capture market share (the student as consumer and etc), and because there are also obvious problems with having to cater, perhaps, to what might be seen as current fads and fashions.

But my point, again, is that I don't think the shape of the field (in terms of
scholarship and teaching) is solely due to the conscious choices and interests
of professional academic historians. To put it another way, one hundred or
two hundred years from now, someone doing a history of late twentieth-century
historiographical trends will probably come up with explanations that are
not yet available to us because we're in the middle of something the full
significance of which we don't and can't yet see.

Which brings me, finally, to my own hobbyhorse. I think the rise of social
history at the expense of political history has to be viewed within a
larger historical frame. Social history first emerged in the eighteenth century,
thanks to people who were most decidedly not New Leftists (ie, by people
who are now often dismissed as dead white males who helped secure the triumph of capitalism). These people (mostly French and Scottish: in the
Anglo-Scottish case, people like Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, John Millar, Lord Kames, William Robertson, David Hume [though Hume combined traditional
constitutional-political narrative with the newer stuff on commerce and
manners]) invented the modern concept of "society," and they invented an
historiography that sought to account for the history of this entity. In practical terms, what this approach entailed was attention to the history of commerce, of manners, of arts, of laws and customs, of women, and etc. They were quite explicit about what they saw as the shortcomings of political narrative, with its focus on individual actors and particular events. Some of them (eg John Millar) went so far as to argue that such actors and events were merely
instances of broader conditions and trends. Though this approach to history obviously didn't replace conventional political narrative, it did offer a challenge to the political paradigm that continued to exert some influence throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. None of this is to deny the particular significance of the rise of the new social history in the 60s and 70s, but rather to emphasize that there's a longer history to the social v. political history debate.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:31 PM | Comments (14)

January 12, 2004

Historians and the Public Sphere

'For once,' as one of the five historians behind the microphones in the cavernous ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel cheerfully announced, 'history's relevance is quite clear.'

Why, then, did the audience at this opening session of the 118th annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington last Thursday night -- like Gen. Douglas MacArthur's old soldiers -- appear to be fading away?

'I can see we've conducted a war of attrition,' joked Harvard's Charles Maier, as he watched his fellow association members quietly but steadily get up to leave. The scholarly papers presented under the rubric of 'Thoughts on War in a Democratic Age' had been a classic academic combination of insight and obscurity, thoughtful analysis and mind-numbing delivery, and by the time the question period finally rolled around, even the AHA's president, James McPherson, was ready to head for the door.

-- Bob Thompson, "Lessons We May Be Doomed To Repeat"

Another reader who wishes to remain anonymous emailed me about the above-linked piece, which carries the subtitle: "American Historians Talk About War, but Is Anyone Listening?" According to Thompson, the historians aren't even listening to each other:

The AHA conference, which will wrap up its business today, exemplifies a conundrum that faces all practitioners of history. In a world ever more dominated by rapid-fire, sound-bite-size units of information, how can they make their painstaking reconstructions of the past more relevant to the community at large?

To put it a bit more harshly: If they can't even hold the attention of their colleagues on such an innately compelling subject, how can they expect ordinary humans to absorb what they have to say?

Actually, I think historians can and do hold the attention of nonhistorians on topics of war and diplomacy. Military and diplomatic history may be marginalized in the academy, but check out the history shelves at the local Barnes and Noble.

(For a really interesting discussion of historians and the public sphere, check out Timothy Burke's latest entry at Cliopatria, where he looks at controversies over how to represent history in public spaces.)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:51 PM | Comments (4)

January 08, 2004

Historians in the Blogosphere

I had to laugh when I read Kieran Healy's Historians of the World, Unite:

A group of well-known history bloggers — including Timothy Burke, Robert ‘KC’ Johnson, and Ralph Luker — have banded together to form Cliopatria. Proof if proof were needed that group blogs are continuing their irresistable rise to global dominance. Or, as a historian would put it, proof if proof were needed that at least one, probably quite atypical, group of historians launched what we can loosely refer to as a group blog (with all the difficulties that amorphous term implies) in late 2003 or thereabouts, according to the best available sources (but see below for futher discussion on this point).

And I thought of it again as I read Timothy Burke's recent post on the use of historical analogies, where he sets forth "some loose, informal standards of discursive fairness when making explanatory historical analogies in general public debate, so as to preserve the mutual transparency between all participants." It's a really nice piece, and well worth reading (and not only by historians).

Burke's post intersects with a set of questions I've been thinking about lately, which have to do with the boundaries between academic and popular history, or between history as an academic discipline and the use (and possible abuse) of history in other spheres (e.g., the blogosphere). What, if anything, can historians contribute to public debate and discussion, and how might they go about doing so?

In terms of analogies, much as I agree with the substance of Burke's post, I do wonder how exactly his guidelines would play out in an actual online conversation. The problem, I think, is that people tend to use analogies as a kind of shorthand or shortcut -- which requires, as Burke quite rightly notes, that the analogy "should be one that a generally educated person not only recognizes but can evaluate fairly." You say B is like X on the assumption that everyone already knows what X is like. And if people don't already know what X is like, then you're not saying anything useful about B.

So far so good. Where things get trickier is with the case of the "unfamiliar example," in which case, writes Burke, it is

incumbent on the person citing the analogy to provide some details at a very high standard of preemptive fairness to those who might disagree with the reasoning. Meaning, if I use an unusual or unfamiliar analogy, I should provide the kinds of details that I myself might use to argue against as well as for the relevance of the analogy in question.

Which is only fair, and the only productive way to make use of the analogy. But at some point, I think the analogy starts to lose its shorthand/shortcut force, as the historian enters the territory of making a lengthier and more detailed argument from history -- which is a very good thing to do, of course, but not necessarily what is required in a conversation about this or that contemporary issue, question or policy.

I suppose the larger question is: What do people want from history, and are historians willing and able to provide it?

Must run. More on this later...


Edward at Mildly Malevolent responds to Tim Burke's post on the use of historical analogies.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:35 PM | Comments (13)

December 13, 2003

Early Modern Portrait Prints?

Just by the by. If anyone looking at this site studies the social context of early modern portrait prints I'd be delighted to hear from them. I'm writing my PhD on links between portrait prints and the news in later Stuart London.

-- Claire, comment to "Life Outside the Academic History Box"

You can reach Claire via Claire's Seventeenth Century.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:43 AM | Comments (1)

December 03, 2003

Life Outside the Academic History Box

Since 1990, there has been a growing disparity between the number of PhDs in history and the number of academic jobs, with American graduate programs overproducing historians on a yearly basis...

... For years, academics have maintained that this problem was only temporary. But the facts do not bear this out. The last ten years have witnessed a growing tendency to replace tenured positions with adjunct and visiting professors. Having found a good and steady source of cheap labor, it is unlikely that universities will rush to restore more expensive tenured positions. Further complicating the problem is the growing budget crunch facing almost every state...

-- Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo, Beyond Academe

Via The Cranky Professor, Beyond Academe is a new website designed "to educate historians about opportunities for historians 'outside the box' -- that is outside of academia." The creators are two history PhDs who left academe after years of teaching and who "have both come to love life 'outside the box,'" so much so that they can "heartily recommend it to others."

Among the "Useful Tools" on the site: The Culture of Academia, or How to Combat the Barriers Which May Prevent You From Leaving Academia, Five Quick tips for Transforming a CV into a Resume, and Rules of Conduct. Very useful indeed. Kudos to Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo for creating this site!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:39 AM | Comments (47)

November 19, 2003

History as Self-Help: A Draft Proposal

My fellow historians,

Our field has lost its lustre. Numerous surveys inform us that high school students rank history as the most boring subject ever; the AHA reports that the history major now accounts for a mere 2 percent of all bachelor's degrees; and all available indicators suggest the academic history job market crashed some time in the late 1990s and has yet to make a recovery. In short, things are looking rather grim.

Cast off your gloom.

Inspired by two rather different items that I came across quite recently, I propose to take us out of the rut we now find ourselves in. By "quite recently" I mean within the last hour or so. Please consider this proposal an early draft.

The first item is Rebecca Mead's review of Rachel Greenwald’s Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School. I like that title: it's not "how to find a husband," but rather "find a husband" issued as a sort of directive. The title also tells us, of course, that Greenwald has a Harvard MBA and that she means to apply her business expertise to the area of the marriage market. To this end, she has devised a 15-point program, which she describes as “a ‘strategic plan’ to help you ‘market’ yourself to find your future husband.” Apparently, it's all about branding, targeting and marketing:

'When you’ve finished this book, you will be able to devise and advertise your personal brand, know how to get out of your rut, be able to create a winning plan to increase the volume of men you meet, conduct an exit interview and much more,' Greenwald promises.

There is also talk of "rigorous market testing," "focus groups," "online marketing," telemarketing and even the old-fashioned direct mail campaign.

While some of her strategies sound "achingly familiar," Mead suggests, Greenwald appears to be proposing something new: never mind all this "women who love too much" agony, get out there and circulate. I'm sure Greenwald is basically right about this (whatever one thinks of the personal "branding"). And I'm not so sure this is so very different from what our mothers and grandmothers told us. But the conceit of the marketing strategy is obviously a new twist on an old theme. And it appears to resonate with some significant segment of the reading public: this review calls Greenwald "the hottest thing to hit America's dating scene since Sex and the City" and notes that her book has hit the bestseller lists.

The second item is a letter from William Robertson to Miss Hepburn of Monkrig, dated 12 January 1759. William Robertson was a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the period's most celebrated -- and commercially successful* -- historians. As for his correspondant...well, I'm afraid I can't tell you much about Miss Hepburn of Monkrig. Indeed, I can't even supply you with her first name. I can report, however, that in his Life of Adam Smith (1895) John Rae described her as "one of those gifted literary ladies who were then not infrequently to be found in the country houses of Scotland" (already, the gifted literary lady in her country house was viewed in the light of a charming anachronism). Rae also noted that Roberston sent Hepburn the manuscript of his History of Scotland (1759) "piece by piece as he wrote it" in order to benefit from her comments and criticism.

Miss Hepburn was grieving over the recent death of her father when Robertson wrote her as follows:

It is very unlucky that the inactivity of female life does not present you with any business, which is the great amusement & resource of men under distress. How to supply this defect I know not. Can you contrive nothing so interesting as to engross your attention, & to fill up your time. Is there no History which is new to you & which you would wish to read?

Now, please don't allow yourself to be distracted by that bit about the "inactivity of female life" as "unlucky." Yes, I know what you're thinking: he's reducing a complex set of legal, economic, political and social norms and structures to a question of luck? But never mind: we can do our gender analysis some other time. Just now, I want you to consider that he has recommended the reading of history as a coping strategy, and that he has done so in all sincerity and as an expression of real concern. In other words, I ask you to think about the therapeutic possibilities of history.

Fellow historians, the solution to our malaise couldn't be more obvious, and frankly, I'm surprised it's taken me this long to figure it out: Historians need to move aggressively into the self-help market. I'm talking books; tapes; weekend seminars; greatest-hits-of-the-Hapsburgs inspirational videos; page-a-day calendars; Anthony Robbins meets Thomas Babington Macaulay and discovers he has finally met his match.

Think about it:
A Harvard MBA writes a husband-hunting manual based on the conventions of the business self-help guide. Meanwhile, the business gurus have been drawing inspiration from history for at least a decade now: thus, we have Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, Leadership Secrets of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth I, CEO, Lincoln on Leadership, to name just a few. Where are the historians in all of this?

Consider the market potential that has yet to be tapped. Do you specialize in the history of women? An update of the Plutarchan "women worthies" mode – something along the lines of Women Who Lived Too Much – could get you a spot on Oprah. Do you have a passion for archival research? Imagine the potential audience for Finding Aids: What I Learned in the Archives about Life, Love and Happiness. Are you a Renaissance scholar? A book titled Renaissance Self-Fashioning in Ten Easy Steps could make the New York Times bestseller list. You get the picture. The field is wide open, the possibilities are limitless, and I say it’s time we get out there and circulate.

*Robertson's histories brought him fame and fortune. For the copyright to his History of Charles V (1769), he received from his publisher the unprecedented sum of £4000. I believe that's well over £200,000 in today's currency (no doubt Brad DeLong could supply a more accurate figure.)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:42 AM | Comments (18)

November 16, 2003

Which Founding Father Are You?

This has been around for months and months (and by the way, three months in calendrical time is equivalent to half an eon in blogtime). But I just re-discovered it through Ghost of a Flea, and it may be new to some readers. Anyway, I'm too spent (see previous entry) to write a post on the decline and fall of the university.

I come up as Hamilton. Does this mean "I shall hazard much" to lose my life in a duel? And will anyone volunteer to be my second?

Which Founding Father Are You?
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:05 PM | Comments (24)

November 11, 2003

11 November 2003


In remembrance.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:00 AM | Comments (9)

October 20, 2003

2 Percent of all BAs

According to data published by the U.S. Department of Education in June, history degrees comprise a relatively small proportion of the totel number of degrees conferred, and the field is significantly diminished from its standing 30 years ago.

-- Robert Townsend, "History Takes a Tumble in Degrees Conferred: New Data Shows Field Lagging Behind," Perspectives 41 no. 7 (October 2003)

The above is not yet available online, but should be shortly (at which point I will add the URL). Townsend reports that in 2000-01 "history accounted for 2 percent of all bachelor's degrees." In 1970-71, by way of contrast, "history comprised more than 5 percent of the bachelor's degrees conferred." This represents a decline not only in relative but also in absolute terms: in 1970-71, 44, 663 history BAs were conferred, while in 2000-01 that number had shrunk to 25, 070 history BAs. This must surely help account for the history job market decline, and provides yet another reason for history PhD programs to scale back admissions.

Should history departments do more to encourage undergraduates to major history? And if so, what exactly should they do?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:14 PM | Comments (70)

September 17, 2003

A Light-Hearted Observation on a Weblog Comments Policy

Is a sense of humour right-wing? I think it is. I know the BBC uses right-wing to mean simply bad, but I use it to indicate support for a spontaneous society made by the free economic and personal decisions of its members. Left-wing implies support for a more centrally planned society which seeks to reproduce in the world a vision of what some people think society ought to be like.

Left-wingers see how far the world falls short of their ideal, and are impatient to put it right. They are very political, for they see problems to be solved by collective effort. Right-wingers see opportunities for enjoyment and fulfilment by people of all stations, through social interaction and enjoyment of art or nature. They have time for wry comment, irony, and an appreciation of the funny side of things.

Left-wing humour is heavily loaded to satire, and is but another weapon in the unending fight to make the world conform to their ideal. They see too many problems and injustices to allow time out for light-hearted observation on human follies and absurdities. Most right-wingers also want a better life, but even in the world's present, imperfect state, they find space enough for laughter.

-- Dr. Madsen Pirie, "Laughing all the way to the market"

Via Maria at Crooked Timber, I came across the above post at the new Adam Smith Institute Weblog. I read said post, strongly disagreed with the sentiments expressed therein, and decided to post a comment. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted with the following announcement:

*Note* - Comments are subject to moderation and so will not appear immediately.

Now doesn't that smack of left-wing nanny state interference with the free market exchange of ideas?

By the bye, I could explain why I think Dr. Pirie's understanding of society (a "spontaneous" creation made by the "personal decisions" of its members) is very far from that of Smith. But alas, as a left-winger I've little time for "wry comment, irony, and an appreciation of the funny side of things."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:32 PM | Comments (13)

June 23, 2003

Do We Really Need Another 'Other'?

Not since Joan Wallach Scott heralded a new age with her 'Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis' have historians faced such an exciting time to rethink what we do. Over the past two decades, our cousins in anthropology and literature have produced essays and monographs dealing with disability as a historical subject. The fields that blazed the trail for studying race, gender, and sexuality while introducing postmodernism and the linguistic turn have provided valuable analytic and theoretical tools for exploring this new Other. Now the work of more and more historians -- some who have been studying disability for decades, others who have been doing it without consciously describing it this way, still others recently inspired by different disciplines -- is beginning to bear fruit in the form of a fresh area of inquiry that could well reshape our scholarly landscape. One need not identify oneself as disabled in order to reap the benefits of this up-and-coming field.

-- Catherine J. Kudlick, "Disability History: Why We Need Another 'Other,'" The American Historical Review vol. 108 no. 3 (June 2003): 763-793

The life of an academic high-flier such as myself is a relentless round of conferences, symposia, and (well-paid and well-attended) speaking engagements, and an endless series of dissipations. Catch me if you can, and I'll bring you up to speed. But you'd better act quickly: I'm a whirlwind of energy and a blur of motion, and I'm sure I spend more time in the airport lounge than I do in my own living room. Ocassionally, however, I do condescend to take valuable time out of my gruelling schedule in order to ensure that the readers of this blog can confidently place themselves on the cutting edge of contemporary historical scholarship.

So then:

At the risk of repeating myself (because I know I've said it elsewhere on this blog, though at the moment I can't remember exactly where), this is an age of immodesty.

In this very recently published article, which might be seen as the birth announcement of a new field of historiography, Kudlick asserts that disability "should sit squarely at the center of historical inquiry" (p. 765) and argues that "disability is so vast in its economic, social, political, cultural, religious, legal, philosophical, artistic, moral, and medical import that it can force historians to reconsider virtually every concept, every event, every 'given' we have taken for granted" (p. 767). These are bold claims, and they are uttered in a tone of breathless and unqualified enthusiasm. Indeed, Kudlick can barely conceal her sense of excitement at being the herald of the good news: with the discovery of disability history, Kudlick has apparently identified a new growth industry for historians desperately casting about for a new project, or at least a new angle. When viewed in the "protean terms" that she recommends, Kudlick assures us, "the field offers possibilities for intellectual exploration that will appeal to a variety of scholarly tastes," while "its very ambiguity and changing meanings open up uncharted areas of research and modes of analysis" (766-7). Best of all, "one need not identify oneself as disabled in order to reap the benefits of this up-and-coming field." Though "in light of these sweeping implications," Kudrick writes, and without a trace of irony, "it is curious that disability did not capture historians' attention sooner" (767).

It is curious indeed.

Well. I don't dispute the claim that disability has been overlooked. And I'm open to the idea that its significance is greater than most historians have realized. Moreover, I will readily acknowledge that Kudlick cites a number of works -- on deafness, on disabled veterans, on the medical history of autism -- that do indeed sound valuable and interesting. And then of course, given the whole campus culture wars routine, it is difficult for a liberal feminist type to criticize a new field without fear of aligning myself with the fuddy-duddies.

Nevertheless. I have to say that, as announced by Kudlick in this article, the enterprise smacks of academic opportunism. Now that we've exhausted the possiblities for race, class and gender, runs the subtext, it is time to find or else to create for ourselves a new Other.

Granted, I'm feeling a wee bit cranky these days (yes, thank you for asking, and welcome to my blog). But I read something like this and I think, Good grief, has it really come to this? Can we not encourage the exploration of new topics and themes without requiring grand gestures and hyperbolic claims of world-historical significance? How likely is it, after all, that someone or some group has recently discovered a previously overlooked category of such breadth and scope that it will overturn our basic understanding of all that we had, up until the day before yesterday, taken as given? I'd say it is not at all likely. Indeed, I'd go further and say that the very suggestion strikes me as a-, or perhaps even as anti-historical. But then, I'm not one of your high-fliers, just a humble and invisible adjunct.


Rebecca Goetz agrees that the Kudlick article "was, um, a tad overdone," and finds it "really sad that historians feel like they have to present every idea as the next new thing--the greatest contribution to history since last year's major paradigm shift" (permanlink bloggered; scroll to Tuesday, June 24 2003).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:08 PM | Comments (26)

June 03, 2003

History PhDs, Ten Years Later

Fresh-faced graduate students begin their quest for a Ph.D. certain that they are on a path to academic glory. Along the way, reality sets in. Friends and neighbors warn them that no one ever gets a job. Mothers worry that offspring will be teaching as part-timers for years.

... At the University of Washington at Seattle, the graduate school has created a survey that tries to track the career paths of the more than 3,000 students who have received its Ph.D.'s in the past decade. The survey, done mostly recently in 2001, provides a glimpse of where those doctorates have gone. About a third are tenure-track faculty members, 10 percent have non-tenure-track jobs, and about 20 percent have jobs in industry. The survey also drills down to the departmental level -- showing, for instance, that 55 percent of the 77 history Ph.D.'s covered by the survey have tenure-track jobs. Just 3 of those 77 hold jobs entirely unrelated to their doctoral degrees.

-- Scott Smallwood, "The Path to a Ph.D. -- and Beyond"

Here's an interesting report on "how a group of historians has fared, 10 years after graduation." Presumably these people received their PhDs in 1991. The academic job market in history has considerably worsened since then (e.g., 1999 saw a record number of history PhDs produced, without anything near a corresponding increase in tenure-track jobs).

Yes, this blog is gloomy. I need to lighten up with some fluffier topics. How about, "How not to be victimized at the cosmetics counters at Bloomingdale's" (hint: bring your toddler, that's as good as shouting "Back off, Makeup Lady!")

In the meantime, what I want to know is: Has Scott Smallwood been talking to my mother?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:22 AM | Comments (20)

May 27, 2003

Time Travel Fantasy Game

'But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in...I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either weary or vex me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all -- it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs -- the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books.'

-- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)

It may be laid down as a general rule, though subject to considerable qualifications and exceptions, that history begins in novel and ends in essay.

-- Thomas Babington Macaulay, "History," Edinburgh Review (1828)

One reason for the gap between academic and popular history is that most people would rather read novel than essay. Given the choice between narrative or expository prose, that is, most people will choose narrative. The historian of the early modern village insists on the necessity of a detailed examination of probate inventories, and from one perspective, of course, that historian is right. But who, beyond specialists in the field, cares to read about probate records? What most people want to know is: what was it like to be a lord or a peasant circa 1600 and how did it feel? What did they wear and how did they speak and did they engage in premarital sexual relations? A cast of colorful characters, a fully realized plot, a richly imagined evocation of the quotidian detail of everyday life...this wins out over detailed analyses of crop rotation and exogenous marital practices any day. Hence the enormous popularity of historical novels and films, and the corresponding unpopularity of historical monographs.

It is easy enough to blame academic historians for failing to make their work accessible to a wider audience. And calls for a "revival of narrative" are recurrent in the field. This does all very well for political history, whether at the level of high politics or popular protest or what have you. But there are many areas of historical inquiry (certain types of social and economic history, for example) the results of which simply cannot be rendered as narrative. Though narrative history can and often does rely on the knowledge gained through non-narrative approaches, it is not necessarily possible to do this in reverse: how is the historian to plot a story out of those probate inventories?

Of course I am oversimpifying here: many historians try to combine the two, and some of them are successful. But in general, I believe that the professionalization and specialization of history has increased the gap between the kind of history that academic historians do and the kind of history that non-historians would like to read. Nor am I convinced that there is an easy solution to the problem of bridging this gap.

All of this by way of a lengthy apology for my Time Travel Fantasy Game:

If you could travel back to any time and place of your choosing, where would you go and with whom would you like to have dinner?

If I were a professional historian, I suppose I would blush with shame to acknowledge any interest in such a trifle. But since I've been deprofessionalized, I'll admit that I occassionally entertain time travel fantasies. What was it like and how did it feel and what did they wear and how did they speak and did they engage in premarital sexual relations...and what would it be like to travel back and experience the sights and sounds and smells firsthand? (In fact, such questions form the basis of an engagement with history for many professional historians, but then they are supposed to move to a higher level of theoretical sophistication and no longer indulge in such games...)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:29 PM | Comments (25)

May 21, 2003

Postmodernism as a Democratization of Irony?

It would be an understatement to describe this portrayal of 'the tradition' as a caricature. It asks us to believe that, until very recently, no one had noticed the existence of 'historical contingency,' and so it exaggerates quite fantastically the novelty of the historical turns... It is the same revelation of contingency which is experienced by characters like Gulliver, Papageno and Candide on their journeys of disillusionment, and the theme is not far removed from classical skepticism either. It resembles, too, the kind of lofty detachment which the Athenians detested in Socrates. In fact it might even be identified with the kind of languorous, snobbish cosmopolitanism which likes to smile at the intuitive enthusiasms of simple folk. Consciousness of the contingency of value is more like a recurrent ideal of high culture than its belated comeuppance.

-- Jonathan Rée, "The Vanity of Historicism," New Literary History, 1991

I don't know that I agree with the narrative that Rée offered in the above-cited article. In describing the recognition of contingency as a "recurrent ideal" that can be traced back to ancient scepticism, I think he underestimates the significance of a more recent and more decisive undermining of the tenets of traditional humanism. By "recent" I refer not to the various "linguistic, deconstructive and postmodern turns" of the past thirty years which are the subject of Ree's critical scrutiny, but rather to the various epistemological "turns" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

There is a certain kind of conservative anti-pomo "campus culture war" defense of tradition that I can't quite take seriously, because I don't believe its proponents appreciate the seriousness of the challenges to the tradition which they seek to defend. On the other hand, a proponent of traditional humanism like Alasdair Macintyre I take very seriously indeed: Macintyre does not begin with the late 1960s, of course, but rather understands his tradition well enough to locate what he calls "the breakdown" of unity and coherence in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

That said, I am intrigued by the suggestion that "consciousness of the contingency of value is more like a recurrent ideal of high culture than its belated comeuppance." I do sometimes wonder whether postmodernism -- understood here not in strictly and rigorously philosophical terms but rather more loosely as a sensibility/orientation that has exerted an enormous influence on humanities scholarship over the past few decades -- doesn't represent a democratization of the ironic and skeptical stance that was once the privilege of first a senatorial and then an aristocratic elite? There is no god but don't tell the servants; let the people have their superstitions and enthusiasms though we know differently; and so on...?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:21 PM | Comments (16)

Kings without Kingship?

My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representations of persons to Tory prejudices.

-- David Hume to John Clephane (1756)

I once had my picture taken at the Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh. I was an academic tourist, striking an ironic pose before a monument to the historian and philosopher who thought we might have kings without kingship, but who could not have anticipated the unintended consequences.

The king is dead, long live the king
Kingship is dead, long live philosophy
Hume is dead, long since dead,
Long live Bonnie Prince Charlie on a biscuit tin.

Whig principles, Tory prejudices? I think I get that. But it's no longer relevant, of course, and no more am I.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:00 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2003

A Market Solution to the History Job Market Problem?

I am a 33-year-old historian with three monographs (published by Cambridge University Press, Greenwood, and Rowman & Littlefield), a forthcoming six-volume edited series, and scores of book chapters, refereed articles, book reviews, paid speaking appearances, and the like to my credit. Moreover, with an M.A. in intellectual history and a Ph.D. in economic history, I have taught a variety of courses in history, economics, and evolutionary psychology at three research universities, a state college, and two private colleges.

Alas, I remain a member of the academic underclass.

-- Robert E. Wright, "A Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians"

Here's an interesting proposal from an economic historian. He is the author of Origins of Commercial Banking in America, 1750–1800 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic (Greenwood, 2002), and The Wealth of Nations Rediscovered: Integration and Expansion in American Financial Markets, 1780-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), and co-editor (with Richard Sylla) of the 6-volume The History of Corporate Finance: Development of Anglo-American Securities Markets, Financial Practices, Theories and Laws (Pickering and Chatto, 2003). Publish and perish? When this article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (in April 2002) he was "a relatively well-paid freeway flyer." I really hope he has since found a tenure-track position, though it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he had not.

Wright seeks to explain the history job market with reference to "a few common-sense microeconomic concepts." I don't know much about economics, micro, macro or otherwise. Most historians don't. I wonder if this is why we find ourselves in such a mess? We speak of a job "market," but do we understand what is generally meant by this term?

Is there a job market for academic historians? Or is it a market of a particular type: a labor monopoly that has gone awry (or that has gone the way of all labor monopolies, I suppose some would argue)? Or should we rather speak of a job system?

I don't know.

I think I now have at least a rudimentary grasp on the supply and demand thing. There are too many history Ph.Ds chasing after too few tenure-track jobs. In other words, there is an oversupply. Some argue that there isn't really an oversupply of PhDs, but rather an undersupply of tenure-track jobs. They argue that there is sufficient demand for Ph.Ds to teach history courses, but that this demand is now being met by adjuncts and part-timers. Thus the problem is not not so much "economic" as "political": the profession or the professoriate does not have the will or the power to insist on tenure-track instead of adjunct and part-time appointments. There is probably something to this, but I still think it is related to something that should be called an oversupply: it is the production of a surplus, I suspect, that has weakened the bargaining power of faculty. We have cheapened the value of the history Ph.D. by producing too many history Ph.D.

Anyway, Wright -- who is committed to market analyses -- diagnoses the problem as follows:

While the average salary for new tenure-track assistant professors in history, around $40,000 per year, is modest given the demanding nature of the job and the many years of training it requires, the salary is, in fact, higher than necessary to attract qualified applicants. We know that is the case because it is quite common for an advertisement of a single tenure-track job opening to attract several hundred serious applicants. With rare exceptions, every tenure-track offer made in history is accepted.

And he recommends the following solution:

The solution is clear. The salaries for new assistant professors should be lowered until the number of qualified job applicants (not the number of new Ph.D.'s, which is just a subset of that group) and the number of job openings become more equal.

According to Wright, lowering the starting salary would give rise to the following advantages:

Departments could afford more tenure-track historians, which would reduce institutions' dependence on adjuncts; and search committees could no longer reject qualified applicants for frivolous reasons. New Ph.D.'s would have more freedom to speak their minds, because they would be more in demand -- thus increasing the profession's diversity. Finally, fewer new students would enter graduate programs in history if they knew their future earnings would be low, thus preventing an overabundance of history professors in the future.

I have to say I am sceptical of this solution (though I am with him 100 percent on the need to cut down on the number of new students entering history graduate programs).

I'm just not convinced that lowering the salaries (which are already relatively low) would have the desired effects. Could departments then afford to hire more tenure-track historians? Or would the money simply go elsewhere? That is, would university administration simply take the money saved on salaries and put it into faculty recruitment in other departments, new buildings, technology upgrades and the like?

Would this really tend to raise the value of history PhDs, or would it rather tend toward a further devalution? Given the two-tier system, and the way the existence of a bottom tier is already devaluing the top tier (ie., through the elimination of tenure-track in favor of adjunct and part-time positions), would lowering the salaries at the top tier help to bring about the desired adjustment? Or would it rather have the effect of further widening the bottom tier and narrowing the top tier so that history faculty go the way of the adjuncts at the University of Phoenix -- i.e., all in one tier, and that tier one of low-wage contingent labor?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:12 PM | Comments (14)

May 16, 2003

Lynne Cheney Creates James Madison Book Award

"But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

-- "Publius" (Madison),* Federalist Paper 51

Lynne Cheney has set up a fund to award a yearly James Madison Book Award "to the book that, in Mrs. Cheney’s words, 'best represents excellence in bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to the next generation.'” The award carries a cash prize of $10,000. Eligible books include "historically accurate fiction as well as nonfiction" aimed at "children in elementary school and middle school."

Among other things, Cheney is known for her advocacy of an anti-PC get-back-to-basics approach to history teaching (as articulated, for example, in her "Why History Shouldn't be a Mystery"). So it's interesting to note her reliance on a rather newfangled explanation in her "James Madison: The Man Who Loved Books." In this essay, Cheney offers children a psychologized account of Madison's entry into public life, informing them that revolutionary politics delivered Madison from a "deep depression."

Anyway, I'm sure the book award is a good thing in its way. But I wish Cheney and her crowd would take a closer look at Federalist Paper 51.

*Most commonly attributed to Madison, though apparently some scholars think it might have been Hamilton?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:15 PM | Comments (3)

May 11, 2003

"Consumer Protection": Statement by AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment

"Everyone in the historical profession has a stake in ameliorating this situation. It is important to halt the erosion of tenure track positions, and where possible to increase them. It is equally important to improve the working conditions and lives of part-time/adjunct faculty and their ability to support student learning."

-- AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment Press Release

The American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians have recently formed a permanent Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment. This committee has recently issued a statement with the following five recommendations:

1. the inclusion of adjuncts in "the collegial relations and communications of their departments;"

2. accurate statistical reporting by history departments on their use of adjunct faculty;

3. the recognition of standards for the "appropriate proportion for courses taught by adjuncts" (they recommend an absolute maximum of 20 percent for 4-year institutions, and of 30 percent for research institutions);

4. a pay scale for "part-time faculty [that would ] be set at a minimum of 80 percent of what a full-time faculty member of comparable training and experience would be paid for teaching a course at that particular institution;"

5. and finally, since none of these recommendations are enforceable, they recommend that "history departments should undertake to meet these standards and will be commended for substantial progress and good practices in the AHA and OAH newsletters."

The above is a start (it comes rather late in the day, but it's a start nonetheless). Implementation of any of the above recommendations would be good, implementation of all of these recommendations would be even better. But given budgetary constraints, how are history departments to implement such recommendations? To do so, they would need the cooperation of university administrations, and how are they to secure such cooperation?

What I find promising is the following request, which comes at the very end of the statement:

"Additional Request for AHA Council Action:

The AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment requests that the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council vote on the following action. We believe that this action has potential for moving for change in many places and without major long-range organizational effort.

That the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council contact all college accrediting organizations and all journals and media that list colleges and universities by various criteria and ask them to include the following information in their reports:

- number and percentage of part-time/adjunct faculty

- number and percentage of courses taught by part-time/adjunct faculty

This is a matter of public information to which prospective students and their families are entitled as a matter of consumer protection."

This I like. Here I think they are on the right tack. I suspect the only way to change things is to make this "a matter of consumer protection." This means that students and their parents are consumers, of course, which suggests that education is a product. Am I not therefore buying into the very commodification of education of which I so often complain? Yes.

I honestly don't see another way. Universities have a vested interest in continuing with business as usual, increasing their reliance on adjuncts while doing whatever they can to make this reliance invisible to parents, students, accrediting organizations and the public at large. It is very probably the case that the only effective way of pressuring them to stop the erosion of tenure-track positions is to make this reliance on adjuncts visible to the tuition-paying students/parents/consumers who currently do not understand just what it is they are paying for.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:13 PM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2003

James II (Partially) Vindicated?

Be still my Jacobite heart.

Yeah, I'm part Jacobin, part Jacobite. I will not speak of a "Glorious Revolution," the principles of which I basically support. I call it the "Revolution of 1688." It's my Irish Catholic upbringing: the iron entered the soul.

Via Rebecca Goetz (Tueday, April 22, permalink bloggered), Scott Sowerby, a history graduate student at Harvard, finds evidence suggesting that James II really did support religious toleration. The Whig narrative: the Catholic James II spoke of toleration for Quakers and Catholics, but would have shown his true colours -- his true, continentally Catholic and absolutist and "divine right of kings" autocratic colours -- had he been allowed to sit on the throne. For what it's worth, Sowerby finds an entry in James II's personal diary that reads as follows:

"Suppose there should be a law made that all black men should be imprisoned, it would be unreasonable. We have as little reason to quarrel with other men for being of different opinions than as for being of different complexions."

Like Rebecca, I look forward to Sowerby's book.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:50 AM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2003

Adam Smith on "political speculators"

"The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different pieces of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces on a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. It those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder."

-- Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, VI.ii.2.17

Many conservatives like to claim Adam Smith as a founding father and intellectual predecessor. I suspect many of them have not read much beyond the famous "BBB" passage ("It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest," An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I.2). Perhaps they should delve a little more deeply.

And I don't mean this in some silly and snooty intellectually snobbish kind of way (you may only invoke or comment on a text if you've devoted your life to its explication). It's just that, with all this talk of regime change, and remaking and reordering the world, and drawing up constitutions from scratch, and free people having the freedom to commit crime, and so on, I'm beginning to wonder what exactly conservatives now mean when they call themselves conservatives?

(Btw, and just for the record: within the context of his own times, Adam Smith was most emphatically not a conservative).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:52 PM | Comments (3)

April 13, 2003

Herstory Should be History

"Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife."

-- Jane Austen, The History of England, from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st. By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian

Comfortably ensconced Precariously placed as I am within the walls just inside the gates of the Ivory Tower, every now and then I am reminded that in the world beyond the narrow confines of academic history, the coinage of "herstory" still circulates as valuable currency. I greet each reminder with impatience and dismay.

The purpose of this blog entry is to argue that herstory should be history.

1. It should be history, first of all, for reasons of etymology. Quite simply, the term "history" does not derive from a running together of "his" and "story." Rather, the term derives from the Greek term for "knowing by inquiry," which the Romans rendered as the Latin historia. The his in the Latin from which our term history emerged (via the French histoire) did not and does not denote the third person masculine possessive pronoun. Not in Latin, not in French (where "his history" or "his story" is son histoire), and not in English either.

Having said this, I have of course said very little, which is to say, I have merely stated the obvious. Problem is, the term herstory works to obscure the obvious, and seems to encourage people in the misguided belief that the word "history" really can be broken down etymologically into "his" and "story."

This is no mere exercise in pedantry. As I see it, there is both a defensiveness and a defiance to the term herstory. It is a term that boldly announces something, a term that intends to make a statement. This it does through a pretended play on etymology. It is worth asking whether this play is effective, and whether indeed this play is even very playful.

2. It should be history, secondly, for reasons of historiography (or, if you will -- though I hope you won't -- herstoriography: but can anyone say herstoriography with a straight face?). The fact is, professional historians of women and gender (and even deprofessionalized historians of women and gender such as myself) do not use the term herstory, do not call themselves herstorians, do not talk of herstorical trends, do not contribute to the herstoriography of women and gender, and so on. Are we merely dupes of "the patriarchy" (another term that needs to go, but I'll take this one on in later entry)? Or do we have some good reasons to call ourselves historians and to view our work as history? I have think we have some pretty good reasons, which I'll briefly explain as follows:

First, though it's quite true that women are largely excluded from traditional history, it is not at all accurate to characterize traditional history as "his" story. From Thucydides on, traditional (or classical) history addressed itself to an elite male audience, narrating the great deeds of great men in order to instruct a ruling class in the art of politics. The authors and readers of this history had as little interest in the great mass of men as they had in women. Indeed, while the ocassional female ruler such as Elizabeth I could certainly figure in the traditional or classical account, you will search its pages in vain to find the story of Tom, Dick or Harry.

Second, the term herstory smacks of a special pleading that is no longer warranted. The history of women and gender is now a well-established field that is firmly entrenched within the academy. The historiography of women and gender, moreover, is both enormous and enormously rich and complex. Anyone who claims that women have yet to figure in the historical record has simply not done her homework. Are the past thirty-odd years of careful and creative historical research and writing by hundreds of historians of women to be dismissed out of hand, to be accounted as nothing at all?

Third, the term sets up a kind of "separate spheres" approach that can only contribute to the marginalization of women as historical actors and historical subjects. In my opinion, the point is not to create two separate (different but equal?) streams of history -- blue for the boys, pink for the girls, or what have you -- but rather to integrate our knowledge of previously excluded groups (including women, but I would hope not to the exclusion of other previously neglected historical subjects and historical actors) into the main lines of mainstream historiography.

3. Finally, I want to conclude with my own personal and admittedly idiosyncratic reasons for objecting to herstory. I am of course well aware of the fact that my own distaste for the term hardly constitutes a valid reason for others to abandon its use. For such valid reasons, please see points 1 and 2.

If I am not mistaken, the term was first coined by Robin Morgan in her Sisterhood is Powerful (1970). Now, I will readily give Morgan credit for the mythopoetic impulse that inspired her coining of the term. It was inspired, it was perhaps even a brilliant flash of insight. But it belonged to an historical (no, not herstorical, but historical) moment, and that moment has passed (see point 2).

When I hear herstory, I think of patchwork skirts, Moosewood broccoli forests and macrame plant holders. What I don't think of is a valuable research agenda that would make a meaningful contribution to our ever-increasing knowledge of the history of women and gender. The term evokes the issues and concerns of an earlier era (which makes it of interest historically), but without translating into the issues and concerns of the present (which makes it ill-suited to serve as a designation for present and future historial practice).

Finally, (and again, this is my own idiosyncratic opinion), for all its "play" on male-oriented history, the term is remarkably devoid of wit and humour. It's just not funny.

If we are looking for playful criticism of male-oriented history, we could do worse than consult the young Jane Austen's brilliant send-up of the dull, plodding history that she was exhorted to read as a schoolgirl (though please note that Jane Austen did not object to all male-authored history, and had the very good taste to appreciate the works of William Robertson and David Hume). Among the characteristics that Austen satirized was the pretence of impartial omniscience (hers was a history by "a partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian"), and the absence of women from its pages ("It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife."). For me, this translates. Some two hundred years later, it is still fresh, and it is still funny. Will the same be said of herstory in two hundred years' time?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:26 PM | Comments (8)

March 13, 2003

Reshaping the Job Market?

In a recent letter to Perspectives (the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association), Alexandra M. Lord of the United States Public Health Service says some important things that need to be said. I wonder if anyone is listening?

As Lord points out, "Year after year, Perspectives seems to be publishing the same articles on the current academic job market and the poor prospects which confront most new PhDs. Judging by the trends of the last few years, it seems highly unlikely that the academic job market will improve this year or anytime in the future." Lord is irritated by this narrow focus, and so am I.

I am especially irritated by Perspective's tendency to trumpet an infinitesimally small increase in the number of job openings as a sign that the job market is improving. See, for example, "Job Market Report 2002: History Posts Gains Despite Economy;" "Job Market Report 2001: Openings Booming...but for How Long?;" and "Odds for Applicants Improving, According to Survey of Job Advertisers." Note the titles of these reports, and then read the reports carefully with a close eye on the numbers: it doesn't take an advanced degree in statistics to spot the discrepancies between the optimism of the titles and the pessimism of the figures cited. I would also recommend Russell L. Johnson's very useful 1998 Job Market: A Realistic Appraisal), which Perspectives declined to publish.

Alexandra M. Lord wants Perspectives to take another, "more aggressive and more varied" approach to the job problem: Instead of "discussing minute differences in the number of jobs each year," she writes, "Perspectives needs to initiate and publish studies and information on historians who work outside of the university. Although rarely discussed within academia, there are incredible opportunities for historians in policy positions, business organizations, and a variety of other fields—but this information as well as the pleasure nonacademic historians have found in their jobs is never openly or seriously discussed in Perspectives." I think Lord is exactly right about this. The "job market" for academic history is bad, has been worsening for almost a decade, and will probably get even worse before it gets better (if it ever does get better, and it won't improve until those who are in a position to do something about it actually start doing something). Many history PhDs are simply not going to find full-time employment in the academy and will have to look elsewhere. Why not take an active role, Lord asks, in "[placing] historians in business, government, and other professions"?

Lord's proposal is not another version of "a Ph.D. in the humanities can serve as preparation for a wide variety of careers outside the academy," which I discussed a couple of weeks ago. That is, she does not say something like, 'Let's continue to train people very narrowly for academic careers that many of them will never have, and then at the end of the day tell them, Your training has somehow or other served as preparation for a variety of unspecified pursuits about which we can tell you nothing.' Instead, she makes the connection between academic and non-academic job markets and points out that the development of non-academic job markets for historians would help not only those historians who must look outside the academy for employment but also those historians who remain within:

"Moreover, if we educate historians about job opportunities outside of the academy, we can reshape the job market. Scientists can and do command higher salaries and lighter teaching loads because university administrators recognize that scientists have job opportunities outside of the university. If historians can introduce a similar form of competitiveness into the history job market, opportunities, salaries and teaching loads may shift."

This is very different from the current laissez-faire "You've got your Ph.D., now go find your own parachute" approach. And for me, it helps to clarify what I now see as a crucial point about the academic history job market: namely, that the academic history job market is not a "market" at all but is rather a failed labor monopoly. Indeed, I think the academic history job system now combines the worst of both worlds: it uses the language of the market to describe what is effectively an increasingly ineffective and unsuccessful guild system, and then tells those who are shut out of the guild to compete openly in a non-existent external market. And the only way that this job system could become a "market" in any meaningful sense, I believe, would be through the development of a real, identifiable alternative market for historians outside the academy. Legal academics have such a market, as do some scientists working in some fields. And of course, historians will never command the salaries and benefits that law professors can command, because there will never be the equivalent of the Manhattan law firm as an alternative career path that the historian foregoes in order to work in the academy. Nevertheless, there could and should be another, albeit somewhat more modest, market for historians, and I think Lord is absolutely correct to suggest that the AHA should be doing much more to develop and promote such an alternative.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2003

An Online Adjunct Advertisement

I wonder if the future of academic history can be glimpsed through advertisements for online adjunct teaching positions? Here is a recent example, taken from the Chronicle of Higher Education's online Career Network, where one can find many more advertisements in the same vein.

Devry University Online, the advertisement reads, "invites applicants for history adjunct position." The position "offers the capability to work from any home office in the United States." Any home office?! Well, that's quite an offer, no? But isn't it the job candidate who would offer such a "capability" to the employer/university? Ah well, why be a stickler for details? Moving right along, we find that the requirements for this exciting employment opportunity include an MA in History and "a minimum of 5+ years successful teaching experience." For "successful teaching experience," you may substitute "positive teaching evaluations from students whose grades were inflated." Now is it just me, or is there not something profoundly depressing about the idea that someone who had been teaching for five or more years would be desperate enough to apply for such a position?

Nice to know that Devry University Online is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity Exploiter (er, Employer). But they left out one crucial detail, almost a prerequisite for an academic job announcement these days: that is, they forgot to mention that the university is fully committed to the pursuit of excellence.

Off to polish my CV.


When I question the notion that the university is offering the adjunct teacher the "capability" to work from a home office, I am not merely being snarky.

Think about it: The university pays the adjunct a wage to "teach" (if we may use that term to apply to this brave new world of online pedagogy) X number of units to X number of students. Since the adjunct does this from his or her own home, much of the overhead cost of running the course is effectively transferred from the university to the adjunct teacher -- ie, from the employer to the employee. All of the costs of running an office -- heat, electricity, telephone and internet connection, wear and tear on equipment and the like -- are absorbed not by the university but by the adjunct. The adjunct cannot bill the university for these expenses. Indeed, the adjunct's wages for the "teaching" of an online history course will not even suffice to keep body and soul together, never mind covering the overhead costs of the endeavor.

So the employer enjoys the advantages of little to no overhead, minimal investment in fixed capital, and extreme flexibility in its workforce (adjunct teachers are paid by the course and are hired and fired at will). Electronic sweatshop? No, I don't think we've advanced quite that far in the economic restructuring of the university. Sounds more like the proto-industrial putting-out system that characterized the early modern textile industry. The sweatshops came later.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:50 AM | Comments (3)