The job market for historians continued to deteriorate last year, although there is reason to hope it may be poised to rebound somewhat, according to a report released on Monday by the American Historical Association.
The report, published in the group's Perspectives on History, a newsletter, in advance of its annual conference this week, said the number of jobs posted with the association fell by more than 29 percent—from 806 to 569—during the 2009-10 academic year. Since two years ago, when the association posted an all-time high of 1,059 job openings, the number of jobs advertised with it has dropped by more than 46 percent, to the lowest level in 25 years.
The report does contain a glimmer of hope: Looking at the current academic year, it found that the number of job advertisements posted as of December 1 was up by more than 21 percent from the same period a year earlier. The report also offers an important caveat to its findings: Not all of the jobs available in the discipline are listed with the association, and some "are advertised only in The Chronicle of Higher Education or H-Net, for instance."
Whether or not the financial situation for colleges rebounds, newly minted history Ph.D.'s are likely to have more difficulty finding jobs in academe than those who earned doctorates before them. One reason, discussed at length in the report, is that fewer people who hold such jobs seem poised to retire. Only about 21 percent of current full-time faculty members listed in the association's Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians are over the age of 64, and an additional 18 percent are over the age of 54, the lowest proportion of late-career faculty members employed since 1985.
Even if many history departments were not working under hiring freezes imposed in response to the tight economy, "it is clear that over the next 10 to 15 years the discipline will not be generating as many jobs from retiring faculty as it has in the recent past," says the report, written by Robert B. Townsend, the association's assistant director for research and publications.
Among the various subject fields within history, African history and Latin American history experienced the largest proportional declines in the number of jobs available, with job postings in African history dropping by 62 percent from 2008-9 to 2009-10, and postings in Latin American history falling by nearly 43 percent. The two largest fields in terms of job openings—European and U.S. history—saw the largest absolute declines in available jobs. Together, those fields posted 383 open positions for junior faculty members in 2008-9 but just 266 in 2009-10.
Even fields that had experienced significant growth over the past decade, such as Middle East and Islamic history, saw significant reductions in job postings last year. Although fields with no geographic specialization, such as the history of religion, posted fewer jobs as well, they did not see declines of the same magnitude as did geographic specialties.
A separate analysis published in the same newsletter, based on a survey of history-department heads, found that, while most history departments appeared to be suffering from budget cuts last year, the degree of pain they experienced varied significantly. Except mainly for a few institutions in the South, department heads at public colleges were much more likely to report problems as a result of the broader economic crisis than did the heads of history departments at private institutions.