Job Offers Up for Young Historians

New Ph.D.'s face less competition and a bevy of professorship offers


Job offers for newly-minted history Ph.D.'s are up 13 percent this year—a spike that experts say stems from a less competitive market in the field, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week.

Fewer students earned doctoral degrees in history last year, a drop which will improve job prospects for aspiring academics this year, according to the paper.

Graduate students at Harvard were mixed about their job prospects in light of the study.

Third-year African history graduate student Harmony O’Rourke said that she felt her job prospects were good.

But former graduate student and history lecturer M. Michelle Morris said she felt differently.

After spending ten-and-a-half years in graduate school before earning a Ph.D., Morris said she is still looking for a professorship in American colonial history. “There’s a difference between being optimistic and actually getting a job. It just takes a few years.”

For now, Morris said she is pleased with her appointment as a lecturer in the history department.

James T. Kloppenberg, the chair of the history department's graduate admissions committee*, said Morris’ experience is not uncommon.

“I think people are finding it is taking longer to get a tenure-track position than it used to take,” he said. “Increasingly it is necessary for people to do post-docs or other teaching positions before they land the tenure-track job of their dreams.”


The employment trends can be partially attributed to the retirement of baby-boom professors, said Kloppenberg, who is also the Kemper professor of American history and a Harvard College professor.

In fact, there are more than three times as many emeritus professors on university payrolls than ten years ago, according to a report published in Perspectives, the journal of the American Historical Association.

Aside from demographics, Kloppenberg also cited historical factors as a reason for this year’s good employment prospects.

“There may be an increasing sense of the importance of history in college,” he said. “And I think that happens whenever there is a sense of crisis in America.”

Students after the Vietnam War applied to history graduate programs in droves, Kloppenberg said.

And according to the Harvard Gazette, he was among them.

“As someone who came of age during the Vietnam War, I decided I wanted to help change American culture, and I put my bet on education,” Kloppenberg told the Gazette in 1999.

Current events can have a marked impact on academia. Recent increases in history faculty hiring have occurred in specializations dealing with the Muslim world. There was a 92 percent increase in African history junior professorships and a 64 percent increase in Middle Eastern and Islamic history junior professorships last year, according to the American Historical Association.

Chinese history graduate student Denise Y. Ho said that graduate schools are taking in fewer history students than before.

“There’s a long history of graduate programs taking in more people than they can find jobs for,” she said. “And that is a general trend that graduate programs are trying to reduce.”

While the majority of doctoral students in history take jobs in academia, some graduate students trickle into consulting every year, particularly those with quantitative skills, Ho said.


The print and original online versions of the Feb. 3 news article, "Job Offers Up for Young Historians," incorrectly stated that the director of graduate studies for Harvard's history department is James T. Kloppenberg. In fact, that post is held by Hue-Tam Ho Tai, who is also the Young professor of Sino-Vietnamese history. Kloppenberg is the chair of the department's graduate admissions committee.

The Crimson regrets the error.