History Jobs Drop

Openings are down and the number of new Ph.D.s in the field far outpaces available positions, report finds.

February 5, 2016
 

New data from the American Historical Association add to the bad news for academic job seekers in the humanities.

The number of job postings the AHA received in 2014-15 was down 8 percent from the prior year. This is the third straight year for which the association is reporting a decline. Job listings are down 45 percent from the 1,064 that the association reported in 2011-12.

Not all faculty jobs are listed with disciplinary associations, but many are, and most experts on the academic job market believe that the ups and downs of disciplinary association listings are a reliable barometer of the market as a whole. This year, the jobs news has not been good in the humanities. In December, for example, the Modern Language Association reported declines in the number of jobs in English and foreign languages.

In history, the situation may be especially challenging for new Ph.D.s, because their numbers have continued to grow as the market has become so tight.

"Notably, for the first time in 41 years, the number of jobs advertised with the AHA fell below half the number of Ph.D.s conferred in the previous year. Approximately 1,183 new Ph.D.s were conferred in history in the 2013-14 academic year," says the report on the jobs data, written by Robert B. Townsend, who oversees the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Humanities Indicators Project, and Julia Brookins, special projects coordinator at the AHA.

And if that's not bad enough news, there are also issues related to a mismatch between the specialties of new Ph.D.s and those of the available positions.

For jobs that specified an area of focus, 21.8 percent specified an expert on the history of North America. But 36.5 percent of the latest cohort of new Ph.D.s have that as their area of focus -- suggesting a particularly tough time getting jobs in the field. The odds also are difficult for those in European history, which is the preferred subject of 14.8 percent of positions but the specialty of 19.4 percent of new Ph.D. recipients.

The proportions of jobs and of new Ph.D. specialties are closer (and the numbers are small) in Latin American and Middle Eastern history.

Areas where there are proportionately more jobs than are reflected in the new Ph.D. pool are Asian history (9 percent of listings and 6.6 percent of new Ph.D.s) and African history (4.4 percent of listings and 2.7 percent of new Ph.D.s).

Some job listings include qualities aside from geographic focus. The largest nongeographical specialty sought was the history of religion (3.6 percent of listings). Work with digital history was also listed as the prime focus of 2.6 percent of jobs and as a desirable quality in 5.5 percent of jobs.

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