January
7th 2010
Checking in on the AHA-hahahahaha? (Lolsob.)

Posted under: conferences, Gender, jobs, unhappy endings

From a distance, of course–Potterville is about 1,137 miles away, 4,659 feet higher, and 70 degrees colder than San Diego this morning.  Damn! but I wish I were waking up in the Hotel del Coronado today.  It’s -11 here now–but it will be sunny, at least!  The sun is about the only thing San Diego will have in common today with the High Plains Sub-Zero Freezer we’re locked in until the weekend.  Classy Claude will be filing a first-person report later this weekend, if he can peel himself off the beach, shake the sand out of his drawers, and find a wifi hotspot. 

First, the good news:  the 2010 annual meeting of the American Historical Association is in San Diego!  That’s it for the good news I’ve heard.  If you’re there and not interviewing for jobs, interviewing for jobs you’re unlikely to get, or interviewing dozens of candidates for a job at your institution, at least you can do it without wearing boots and lugging a giant coat around a big hotel because you’re stuck yet again in Chicago or Boston.  (Who’s with me on pushing the AHA to south and west, friends?  We’ll throw Denver in there too, for you winter sports enthusiasts.  How about instead of Chicago, Boston, Chicago, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, and Chicago, we have Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego/L.A., Denver, and San Francisco?)

Inside Higher Ed reports that attendance is down at the AHA this year, because of the economy and the related dearth of open positions in history.  (There are also fewer drop-ins than there would be in major Eastern cities because of the West Coast location, too, and the additional travel expense for people in the Eastern and Central time zones especially.)  And, the AHA itself reported that it’s “A Grim Year on the Academic Job Market for Historians,” because “[d]uring 2008–09 job advertisements fell by 23.8 percent—from a record high of 1,053 openings in 2007–08 to 806 openings in the past year. This was the smallest number of positions advertised with the AHA in a decade.  To make matters worse, a subsequent survey of advertisers indicates that about 15 percent of the openings were cancelled after the positions were advertised.”  Marc Bousquet at How the University Works takes issue with the AHA report’s conclusion that the problem is an oversupply of history Ph.D.s, and says that it’s not an oversupply of qualified job candidates, but that it’s an undersupply of tenure-track jobs because of university administrators’ decisions over the past 25 years to hire more contingent faculty than tenured or tenure-track faculty proportionally.

In his post, Bousquet flatters Historiann as a “really smart” person in history who thinks about these issues.  I have to admit that I do little more than think and occasionally write about them–so understand that I get all of my data from Robert Townsend at the AHA, too.  As to the question whether it’s the supply-side or the demand-side in history employment that ‘s the cause of this crisis, my sympathies lie with Marc’s analysis.  I think he also raises some great questions about which historians the AHA actually represents–my sense is that they represent most four-year institutions and people who teach there, not public historians, secondary school teachers, or community college professors, which may explain some of the biases of its data. 

I wonder, though:  where all these people are coming from on the supply side?  Why are there still so many smart, talented people rushing off to get Ph.D.s in history?  Townsend’s article notes that the numbers of history graduate students has been “have been relatively consistent over the past decade“–hovering back and forth close to 12,000.  No one I know is selling graduate students on the marvellous future employment opportunities, and I don’t think I’m the only historian out there with ethical and honest friends and colleagues.  (Jonathan Rees offers some interesting thoughts on the supply-side question, too–check him out.  And, bookmark this gossipmonger, C. Vann Winchell:  ze’s a lot less earnest and helpful than I am, but probably a lot more fun.)

So, on with the earnest and helpful:  Our current “crisis,” as Townsend notes, is a variation on a theme we’ve been seeing and hearing for 20 or 30 years.  From what I’ve heard from friends who finished grad school in the mid-70s and early 80s, our current crisis has nothing on what that generation faced (walking to the library through snowstorms, uphill, both ways, etc.)  But seriously:  the college tuition benefit of the G.I. Bill in the 1940s and 1950s, which along with Cold War funding of space and weapons research, led to a massive growth and expansion of American universities in the 1950s and 60s.  When the bottom dropped out of this expansion and concurrent hiring binge in the 1970s, there was truly a “lost generation” of historians who either left the profession, or went into public history.  (I think it’s this generation that elevated the stature of public history, because so many of them brought their professional training into museums, archives, and other public history ventures, which was all for the better.)  Since then, we’ve seen the chronic de-funding of public universities and the withdrawal of other public education subsidies, and the rise of corporate-style management in university administration:  get the most for the least by destabilizing the faculty (by shifting more of them away from tenure-track positions) and now de-skilling our work (with the rise of on-line courses.)  I’d welcome additions or corrections to this short history from those of you who are survivors of the “lost generation” especially–Susan?  Indyanna?  Random lurkers?  What have I left out that’s important for today’s whippersnappers to understand?

I have remarked to friends of mine that I feel like I won the lottery because I took my degree in December 1996, just as the job market was picking up in the later 90s.  I started my first tenure-track job in the fall of 1997, and then applied in the fall of 2000 for other jobs, and came to Baa Ram U. in the fall of 2001.  I hit the sweet spot almost perfectly–especially as a young woman.  At that time, it seemed like I and a lot of my women friends had good luck, because the departments that hired us were either hiring in women’s history, or they were looking to diversify their faculty after not having been able to hire since the 1970s.  I think the situation for young women on the academic job market has declined in the past few years–in part because people like me got hired 10 years ago, so there’s not as much of a sense of urgency to ensure an even playing field.  (But that’s probably a subject for another day.)

Are there any readers at the conference?  Interviewing for jobs, or interviewing candidates for jobs?  What are you seeing and hearing out there?”

43 Comments »

43 Responses to “Checking in on the AHA-hahahahaha? (Lolsob.)”

  1. Rich on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:04 am #

    Watching the kids ice skate on the beach during the winter at the Hotel Del (locals never say Coronado!) is awesome. A display of super conspicuous consumption, but still awesome.

  2. Nikki on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:58 am #

    My father’s career is an example of both the glut of jobs in the 1960s and how it all shut down in the 1970s. He taught psychology and got his first job ABD in 1968 at a state university. He told me he had always intended to “move up” to a more prestigious university but by the mid-1970s the whole market was frozen.

  3. Deborah on 07 Jan 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Bousquet’s book How the University Works should be required reading for all of us “smart, talented people rushing off to get Ph.D.s.” I wasn’t really thinking about getting a job eight years ago. Does anyone really enter a Ph.D. program in the humanities with the aim of earning money? For me, it was love of subject. I figured the job thing would take care of itself when the time came, and so I ignored casual warnings and warning signs. I figured if I did the things other graduate students who landed t-t jobs did, I would get a job, too. Foolish me! If I had read Bousquet’s book during my first year as a graduate student, I don’t think it would have changed my mind about pursuing the degree, but it would have made me start thinking about and preparing for the future in different ways — and much earlier. And it would have made me think about my position, in Bousquet’s words, as part of the “contingent faculty” in a much more circumspect way, indeed as part of the reason why my future employment prospects would be so very much more un-marvellous than even I expected they would be.

  4. Deborah on 07 Jan 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    Oops, I meant to say I couldn’t have read Bousquet’s book when I started out, as it hand’t been published yet. Wishful thinking…

  5. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    Deborah–I’m sorry. I really identify with what you said here: “I wasn’t really thinking about getting a job eight years ago. Does anyone really enter a Ph.D. program in the humanities with the aim of earning money? For me, it was love of subject. I figured the job thing would take care of itself when the time came, and so I ignored casual warnings and warning signs. I figured if I did the things other graduate students who landed t-t jobs did, I would get a job, too.”

    That was me, too–although I was just turning 22 when I started grad school, so the folly of youth had a lot to do with it, too. But it worked out for me, as I described above–finishing grad school from 1996-2004 or 2005 worked out proportionally for more people (but still not for all of us.) I used to say that if people 1) finished their dissertations, 2) applied nationally or even internationally for every job for which they were qualified, 3) they’d be offered a job. It might not be a great job, but they would get a job.

    I don’t know if this is the case any more.

    Nikki’s dad’s case sounds so familiar: back in the mid-60s to early 70s, there were a lot of guys (and they were 99.9% guys) hired ABD, because history departments were so understaffed they were looking for warm bodies and were willing to wait on the dissertation. It’s amazing now to think about those days. Some of the men in my department told me about their hiring process: the chair of my department called their dissertation director up and asked, “have you got any good men for me?” And some of them were offered jobs after just telephone interviews, IIRC.

  6. ej on 07 Jan 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    If nothing else, all the expected demonstrations outside of the hotel should liven things up at the AHA-should compensate for the eerie quiet of the job pen this year!

    I can’t wait to see what Claude has to say.

  7. GayProf on 07 Jan 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    I can’t speak to the sunny time at the AHA (I am seeing an inch of snow falling out my window as I type), but I can say the job prospects have been grim for graduate students at BMU. Few people seem to be scoring even basic interviews.

  8. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    GayProf: I’m sorry to hear that. Even back in my “lucky” day, it was clear that ABDs were lucky to get interviews at all. I was on the job market for two years as an ABD (one year seriously, one not so much) and then once I had my degree in hand, I got a LOT more interviews, and even more then that when I had 3-1/2 years’ experience as an assistant professor.

    I still think ABDs shouldn’t panic. Panic once you’ve completed your degree and you still aren’t getting many (or any) interviews.

  9. Indyanna on 07 Jan 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    So much to testify on here. They called my cohort in in the fall of, let’s just say that Erlichmann and Haldemann were still planning the Watergate thing, and John Dean was taking notes, to tell us the Titanic was about to hit the iceberg. It did. Everybody got washed overboard, and a few of us survived. In my case, by hiding out in “public history” before they began calling it that. After that, I can’t remember…

    It sort of amazes me to see the EARLY nineties being troped as the next “great job dearth” by Historiann’s contemporaries, out of which they were lucky enough to be lifted by a late decade recovery. In our field (mine and Historiann’s) I’m recalling 20-30 advertised jobs per year between 1989 and the mid-90s, many of them not choice, and in at least one year half of the searches cancelled. But compared to the 70s, it seemed almost cruel, their at least existence, if not abundance.

    On the oversupply v. underdemand question, I think addressing that on more than a rhetorical basis would require some much harder core empirical analysis than even Townshend’s astute reports convey, and levels of candor from various “stakeholder” groups that would be hard to sustain or tolerate. I’ll just say that I think the two dynamics feed on each other in perverse ways.

    Story, possibly apocryphal, from an old-timer emeritus colleague that even an oldtimer can call an oldtimer: Ze got hired from a high school job in 1965 when the department was reportedly ramping up to meet the baby boom head on. Had an almost done dissertation, and so was classified as an instructor. Second semester, ze received a letter from hir university that the doctorate had been awarded. Ze sent a copy of the letter to the U. president, not knowing what else to do with it. Three days later ze got a letter of congratulations back from the prexy, awarding hir tenure and promoting hir to Associate Professor! No kid! No committees, no outside letters, no pubs, no evals, no nuthin’!

  10. Indyanna on 07 Jan 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    p.s. On that first graphic up-top. Is the AHA really thematizing this one as the “surfboard” AHA? That’s mean. I move that the rotation for the next ten years should be Halifax, Anchorage, Minneapolis, Thunder Bay, Chicago (to thaw out), then repeat the same cycle! :)

  11. More labor pains. « More or Less Bunk on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    [...] for historians. Besides what’s at Marc’s home blog, I’ve only gotten to the part at Historiann (which, to return her favor, is well worth your time), but I’ll finish reading all the other [...]

  12. Kathleen Lowrey on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Something that maybe doesn’t get addressed enough is the lack of great jobs for young people in general — I’ve done my bit to look worried when students come to ask me about grad school but many of them aren’t so much starry-eyed about grad school as pragmatists about their options. If you were 24 years old and choosing between a few years reading and writing and thinking on a self-chosen schedule vs. a 40 hour week yea until death as a cubicle critter, you might take the gamble of grad school, too. Cake now vs. no cake ever (cake being leisure time, self-direction, feeling one’s existence is meaningful, being surrounded by interesting like-minded people) — I’d probably make the same choice.

    At my grad school during the hot-hot nineties, everyone’s secret fantasy was that they’d sacrificed a life on Wall Street or raking in bucks as a “consultant” in order to pursue higher, purer things (natch, all pointy headed grad students — whatever their social skill set — imagined only alternate lives at the privileged tippy-top of the boom economy) (no kidding — I cannot count how frequent a conversational topic “what I could be making had I sold out” was among my peers). By contrast, I think many students entering grad school today kind of know they are making a dubious choice but they don’t see more attractive options.

  13. perpetua on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    The supply-vs-demand issue is a bit of red herring, since universities should be tracking the supply side and adjusting the demand accordingly (rather than selling too-rosy job prospects to naive graduate students). My graduate department had smaller-than-average graduate classes for a department of its caliber (my former adviser, an Important Person, often goes years without a new student) because the dominant ethos has been that it’s unethical to admit more students than the market can bear. Of course there are still folks who have created a Factory for the purposes of churning out as many grad students as possible. And the uni is a privileged position because it doesn’t have the same pressure to fill spots as large state schools (doesn’t have the same TA demand – which is one of the major factors fueling the oversupply, in my opinion).

    While I agree that ABDs shouldn’t panic, they should be realistic. (I’m not sure the interview difference between an ABD and a PhD with a year or two of adjuncting is that different.) Many programs gloss over or ignore the market realities and I know many a ABD and freshly minted PhD who ended their experience deeply embittered, feeling deceived by their institutions.

  14. thefrogprincess on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    I’m with Perpetua. The mass use of adjuncts needs to be addressed but in the meantime I think there does need to be a decrease in the number of graduate students accepted, especially in the larger programs. My program continues to accept large numbers of graduate students (even though it doesn’t have the same needs for graduate labor as a larger, public university would) and I think this is grossly unethical. Recently somebody in my program got their hands on the placement figures from the dean, broken down by department and covering the past 5 years. They were appalling and certainly nothing like the spin we’d been fed for the past few years.

    I know this question has been discussed on several blogs before but it seems relevant to this question: what to say to people who want to go to graduate school. Nobody told me not to go, not sure I would have listened anyway. As a junior/senior in college, I was too young to understand exactly what I was signing up for and I naively assumed I’d be guaranteed a comfortable living. Is there an obligation to dissuade students and to be explicit about the economic realities and job prospects?

  15. Deborah on 07 Jan 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    The demand for TAs, at least at large, public universities, only seems to fuel a perceived oversupply (a point Bousquet makes in the book). Adjuncts and TAs fill an instructional need here but are treated as a cheap and disposable labor force. Something about this dynamic has to change. If programs like mine admit fewer graduate students, what happens to the courses they’ve been teaching? In my program at least, TAs and adjuncts teach all of the composition courses and a fair number of lit. courses. If the number of graduate students diminishes, who fills this need?

  16. Janice on 07 Jan 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    I feel survivor’s guilt when I watch the job market continue to tank. I got my job ABD (at least my dissertation was in the final revisions when I interviewed) in my first year on the market. But I knew how unlikely that was as, when I declared my intention of becoming a history major and going for grad school, way back in ’83, I was taken aside by the professor who’d inspired me and given helpful but dire warnings about the marketplace.

    I was fully prepared to take my debt and go back to the fabric store chain I’d worked at during my undergrad years: they’d told me there was a store manager’s position waiting for me if grad school didn’t pan out (though I’d probably have taken my office skills or tech skills and exploited those instead — as it was, I spent a few years moonlighting as a dotcom consultant in the late nineties).

    I give the same advice today to my own students: this is not a sure thing at all. It’s especially worrying in that a lot of my students aspire to the professoriate but don’t have the geographic mobility that I had. If you have to stay in one place, academia is a very dangerous bet. Now, even more than ever, as universities will increase their reliance on contingent faculty. And they can easily staff their sections with ABD and freshly-minted Ph.D.s who’re hanging around the cities where they studied.

  17. New Kid on the Hallway on 07 Jan 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    But it worked out for me, as I described above–finishing grad school from 1996-2004 or 2005 worked out proportionally for more people (but still not for all of us.) I used to say that if people 1) finished their dissertations, 2) applied nationally or even internationally for every job for which they were qualified, 3) they’d be offered a job. It might not be a great job, but they would get a job.

    Hmmm. I think this was probably the case (it certainly describes me), but I do know people never able to get a job in this context, and for most people who did get jobs, even at that time it took 2-3 rounds on the market before getting a permanent position. Still probably way better than it was in the 70s or now, but it was still seen as a trough at the time (having to be willing to take 1-2 one-year positions and move anywhere to get a job isn’t exactly an abundance).

    My first department was another example of the late 60s abundance followed by shutdown – the school was actually founded around 1960 so hired like made until probably 1972-74-ish. I think the next TT hire was in 1994. When I applied for other jobs, one of my sr. colleagues told me he and all his fellow sr. colleagues had also tried to get jobs elsewhere and had run right up against the crash (his point was that I should carpe the diem).

    I also kind of agree with the point about lack of great jobs for young people — but mostly only given the current economic meltdown. Otherwise, I think the problem is that students don’t always realize that everyone (who doesn’t go to grad school) starts out in crappy jobs right after college, gets experience, and wends their way to better things. I think students also don’t realize that the 40-hr a week cubicle job isn’t a death sentence, it’s only something crappy when you start out and that eventually you move on to better things. (Encouraging students to think that such jobs are mental death offering no intellectual satisfaction and never result in anything better is, I think, a huge problem. Especially since a lot of academics have never had such jobs themselves — it sounds like the stereotype that there’s no intellectual satisfaction outside of academia.)

  18. The History Enthusiast on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    As a first-timer at the AHA Job Center I can report that it was much quieter than I expected (everyone was so tense!) and there were very few people milling around. That shouldn’t really be a surprise.

    What struck me, though, is that when I smiled at people no one would smile back. I understand that the market is stressful (hello, I’m on it too) but some of the people I saw looked like they were going to cry. And there haven’t even been interviews yet! We were just dropping off CVs at the collection booth. I made small talk with one of the volunteers and he looked at me as if I had three heads. My guess is that none of the other applicants had spoken to him without having a look of sheer panic cross their face. Yes, I’m nervous too. Yes, this is a big frickin’ deal. But good God, it is not healthy to be so freaked out that you won’t even look other people in the eye. I find that very disturbing.

    Those are all things I’d expect on Saturday when the interviews are in full swing, but today? Seriously. I feel like I was the only sane person in the room.

  19. Susan on 07 Jan 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    Well, I’m at the AHA, but haven’t been near the Hyatt yet. Will report more. I can say that the line to check in at the hotel (but not the main hotel) was *much* shorter than usual.

  20. Crushing College Debt on 08 Jan 2010 at 12:32 am #

    The shit entry level cubicle jobs aren’t really there right now. I graduated in May 2008 with history undergrad state school. I thought law school. But older sister is cautionary tale and example of current american lawyer glut. she graduated tier 2 law school in 2006. works in state govt. for now. not practicing law, though wants to and has passed bar etc. has $150,000 debt from law school.

    I have 2 part time jobs in media for now, live with parents, make minimum payments on $35,000 tuition debt, no car, no mobility, no extra cash to blow on weekend or perhaps just buy some decent clothes, want to die some days. I just need a full time job and perhaps I wouldn’t be posting negatively on blog.

    Wish I had gone to school on GI bill in 1965 when the nation was wide open with opportunity to make fortunes. My generation got a bit fcked I think…we got a college arms race, inflated tuition, private loans. And the collapse of the American economy…perhaps not more fcked than Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation? My grandfather had a pretty crappy life working as a grocery clerk into his 30′s, then he went to ww2 for 3 years. they had to slog pretty hard to get to that post war boom.

    Still, I ask myself Is this the end of America as place to offer nice middle class life?
    I had a sweet childhood as son of lawyer so I am conditioned to alright life, I remember the late 90′s as pretty awesome and very optimistic time, many friend’s parents riding microsoft stock and taking nice vacations. I grew up in new england small town. It was probably pretty fun to be in your 20′s during dot com boom if you were educated and gainfully employed. Damn, I think I might have been born too late.

    Anyway, I loved college. My only complaint: a lot of students were without passion. and wanted
    only to have top grade for perfect transcript. It was hard to watch my best history professor give into students who complained that his reading list was too long, his essay tests were too hard: so he cut the list and he gave multiple choice tests. Soul crushing. This happened multiple times. morons complained, professors caved. the professors who caved were not tenured, so i guess that is why they gave in. ?

  21. Tom on 08 Jan 2010 at 4:11 am #

    @History Enthusiast: I imagine the people you ran into have been on the market multiple years. As one who tried to get a job for three years [before my partner got a tt job], my experience was that you get *more* stressed over time. The only thing worse than having a bad interview, is having a great interview and still not making it to the next stage.

    I served on a search committee as a graduate student; we interviewed about twenty people and the committee agreed unanimously that about seventeen of those were clearly qualified to come on campus. So, we set about whittling the list down to six (for two positions) based on factors completely beyond the control of those interviewed.

    Realizing that you can do a whole lot of things to disqualify yourself from a job, but very little to insure your success makes for a lot of jittery souls….

    Good luck to everyone out there this year!

  22. Jonathan Jarrett on 08 Jan 2010 at 6:00 am #

    The mass use of adjuncts needs to be addressed but in the meantime I think there does need to be a decrease in the number of graduate students accepted, especially in the larger programs. My program continues to accept large numbers of graduate students (even though it doesn’t have the same needs for graduate labor as a larger, public university would) and I think this is grossly unethical.

    I realise that this conversation is about the situation in the USA, so this perspective may be irrelevant, but in the UK (where adjunct teaching is rarer, though still vital) departments are scored in the competition for public funding on their research activity. One of the ways that this is measured is by number of research students. Cutting enrolment on graduate programs is therefore a threat to a department’s ability to employ. Catch-22. Any suggestions? (Apart from, ‘Oi, UK education, stop the score tables fetish’, I mean.)

  23. perpetua on 08 Jan 2010 at 6:37 am #

    Student expectations are in some ways commensurate with the programs they attend (at least, in my experience). If one goes to Top Ten program, then the assumption there is that everyone *will* get a t-t job with a 2-2 teaching load at a research uni, and anything less is viewed (by one’s advisers) as a failure, as wildly unrealistic as that might be. Few people are told this explicitly, but grad students are masters at picking up unspoken assumptions for their behavior and career. So we’re not just talking about expectations being built to get “a job” but expectations about what kind of job one will get. At a bigger, less prestigious program it’s possible that students are given more information about the spectrum of jobs out there (community college, for example).

    I do think we as graduate advisers have an ethical responsibility to be honest with our students (actually, it’s better to be honest with the ones who ask us for recommendations to apply to grad school). As I’ve mentioned before, I always discourage students from going to grad school for history, no matter how bright they are. I am candid with them about the difficulties of grad student life (including the temporary poverty) and even more so about job prospects. Working for 6-9 years to attain a degree and then finding oneself unemployable is a devastating experience, esp since people who get a PhD usually really love the work. (Besides the fact that it might not be super easy to transition to mainstream job market after 6-9 years in school with little employment experience.)

  24. The History Enthusiast on 08 Jan 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Tom: I certainly understand that this is a horrific process (having friends who were on the market multiple years), but I still maintain that being rude/unfriendly when someone is directly interacting with you is not a healthy approach. My feelings aren’t hurt on a personal level, but it contributes to the unpleasant aura of the room and makes things tense for everyone else.

    By all means, I don’t expect other people to initiate conversations and I don’t want to distract applicants from whatever it is that they are doing. If they want to mind their own business, that is more than fine with me; I haven’t tried to talk to any of these applicants if they clearly look preoccupied. Yet, glaring at people who smile at you strikes me as unprofessional. I may not have a tenure-track position, but alienating future colleagues isn’t a sound policy if you truly want to succeed in this profession. Perhaps this is just my Midwestern/Western upbringing speaking, since I come from a friendly part of the world where I can easily strike up conversations with random strangers at the bus stop!

    My point, I guess, is this: the interview process would be easier for all of us if we created an environment that wasn’t so soaked in desperation. Who knows? These individuals might do better in their interviews if another applicant (for a different position) made some pleasant small talk. Even confident, outgoing people like myself can’t help but get sucked into that negativity.

  25. The History Enthusiast on 08 Jan 2010 at 11:30 am #

    P.S. I realize that I sound terribly naive, and I’m not trying to judge these applicants and label them as terrible people. I would just like to see all of us band together and change the mental environment of the interview process.

  26. Historiann on 08 Jan 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    THE, I’m with you, although I think Tom’s explanation for the stricken expressions you’re seeing all around you is probably the best one.

    As many of you know, there’s a culture within academia (at least in the humanities–don’t know about other corners) of preening as more-miserable-than-thou, or working-harder-than-thou-and-therefore more miserable. This starts in grad school, and continues in some corners through some scholars’ lives.

    I don’t get it. It’s never been my pose. Grad school had its challenges, but it beats the hell out of breaking rocks or other “real” work. One of my theories for why I was treated so miserably in my former job is that I am a naturally happy and optimistic person, and my personality conflicted with (or actively grated on) my former colleagues. I guess what I’m saying, History Enthusiast, is that this might be just the beginning of your familiarity with a gestalt that may dog you in your career.

    Although happiness didn’t work for me in my first job, I’m pretty sure that cheerful and enthusiastic is a better way to approach your interviews this weekend–surely much better than the grim cynicism and hopeless you see on the faces around you. Don’t judge them–everyone’s got his or her own trip. Just be yourself, and hope that you’ll be hired by a department that will reward you for being yourself. (I was, eventually, and it’s great.)

  27. The History Enthusiast on 08 Jan 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Thanks for the nice response, Historiann! I’ve had great experiences at smaller conferences and was just a little put off, I suppose, by the attitude here. Luckily my sub-field is full of wonderfully kind people, so at least I’ve found my niche.

  28. Historiann on 08 Jan 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    Small conferences usually don’t have job interviews going on, which is why people are more focused on intellectual matters (or gossip and having fun with friends) than on high-pressure stuff. The only reason I’ve ever attended the AHA was either to interview for a job, or to interview other people for a job. (Thankfully I’ve never had to do both, but many of my friends have had to juggle the roles of interviewer and interviewee.) I think I went to AHA once when I was a pre-dissertator in grad school “just for fun,” because I happened to be visiting the town it was in, and dropped in for a day without registering. But, I picked up on that negative, flopsweaty buzz pretty strongly, years before I would know it myself.

    Another hateful thing about AHA, and all large conferences: no one looks anyone in the eye, they’re just looking at your nametag and deciding if you’re important enough to talk to. I get it, but it still bugs me. I wonder if more historians had better social skills this wouldn’t be so damned obvious. (But if more historians had better social skills, I guess I wouldn’t be quite so special now, would I?)

  29. Tom on 08 Jan 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    THE:

    I still maintain that being rude/unfriendly when someone is directly interacting with you is not a healthy approach….

    …the interview process would be easier for all of us if we created an environment that wasn’t so soaked in desperation.

    I definitely agree! Here’s hoping that a critical mass takes your (and Historiann’s) comments to heart. Apologies for having adding to the negativity…and good luck.

  30. Historiann on 08 Jan 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Tom–for the record, I didn’t read your previous comment as negative, but rather contextualizing. I think you’re right that the first time you’re interviewing, it all feels fresh and new, and you’re surprised and flattered by the attention.

    By the third or fourth year, however, the mood sours to one of “goddammit, I need a job, NOW, or I swear I’m going to go to law school/get my truckers’ license and to hell with academia!”

    Ah, good times, good times. . .

  31. ej on 08 Jan 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    I’m sure the sour mood of many is also due to the fact that cuts in travel money meant that a lot of people had to foot their own bill to the AHA this year. Bad enough if you think there’s a strong possibility of getting a job out of it, but utterly depressing in today’s market.

  32. Indyanna on 08 Jan 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Historiann, maybe you could tell ‘em again about the famous “Jackhammer” AHA in Boston, the year you (I think??) interviewed for your current position. You declaimed on this topic maybe as recently as a year ago, but there might be new readers out there who would, er, enjoy, hearing about what is generally still considered to have been the “Stalingrad of the Job Register” years. I was just hanging out that year–some people are perverted enough to do that–and it was way painful.

  33. Historiann on 08 Jan 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Ha! That year (2001) was teh suckity suck. But as bad as it was for those of us awaiting our turn in the “pit” for our interviews, imagine how dreadful it was for the poor search committees, who were stuck in the noise and draftiness all day long, having to pretend to pay attention to the candidates through all of the noise. I was self-conscious because I did’t want my former “colleagues” at my first job to know that I was interviewing–but the waiting pen was right in the middle of a heavily trafficked hallway between the main hotel and the connecting skywalk to the mall & other hotels. Literally *everyone* at the conference had to walk back and forth through there several times a day. I thought I should have worn a bag over my head or something.

    2002 in San Francisco stank too. We were in comfortable rooms, but there were no curtains or even pretense of privacy or discretion about the process. So, we’d interview a bunch of candidates, and we’d periodically see most of them hopping back in and out to interview with other search committees, and they’d see who else we were interviewing. Not far from the interview table I sat at interviewing new potential colleagues for Baa Ra U., my former “colleagues” at my first job were interviewing people for my former line. The former chair of the department glared at me–but then, she glared at most everyone, all the time–even the job candidates she was interviewing!

    (TMI, in my opinion.)

  34. AHA report: Put on a giant smiley-face mask, if you have to : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 09 Jan 2010 at 9:22 am #

    [...] be filed from this year’s meeting of the American Historical Association, I thought I’d draw your attention to a comment from The History Enthusiast, who said that everyone in the pit on Thursday was a real Debbie [...]

  35. Another Damned Medievalist on 09 Jan 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Gods, I hate the AHA. And it saddens me, because it’s pretty much the only conference besides Berks where I can see a bunch of my non-medievalist-non-Europeanist colleagues (I see bunches of the Europeanists in London, at least). My first AHA I had a couple of interviews and it was weird – I started talking to someone at a crosswalk (This was in Philly), and it turned out he was another medievalist blogger who had 13 interviews! Medieval Islam, natch. We had a great conversation. But the job room, and coming out of the interview suites, I said, “good luck” to people I met coming in, and just got filthy looks and grunts.

    Last year, I also interviewed at the AHA, and coming out, I saw a medievalist I knew slightly in the hall waiting. We said hi, and wished each other luck. As it turns out, the job went to a young scholar I met and for whom I chaired a panel at Kalamazoo. She and I have had a growing friendship since, and we have a ton of very good friends in common. I’m really happy for her, and would like to think I would be if I hadn’t already had a job.

    All of which kind of brings me to the point I was rambling towards. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — there is nothing more useful to me than having had really well-paying jobs outside academia. I’ve been jobless in several markets! But seriously, knowing that, if I couldn’t get a job doing what I love, I could still find work that used my skills and that I enjoyed and even paid better than being a prof? Priceless. I think it gives an air of confidence that sets one apart from many interviewees, and every at job I’ve had (two visiting before this one) I was told that my non-academic experience was one of the reasons they hired me, because it was seen as something that helped me to empathize with today’s student population AND was necessary for dealing with new accreditation standards.

  36. Historiann on 09 Jan 2010 at 10:05 am #

    If you’re out in San Diego, have a great time, ADM. I think your comments about having worked in other industries are important. I’m glad you found a place where your experience is (rightly) valued. (I’ve heard some grim stories from friends who had other careers who felt that it not only wasn’t valued, but that they were the objects of age discrimination to boot.)

  37. The History Enthusiast on 10 Jan 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Tom: I didn’t interpret your comment as negative either. We just have slightly different perspectives on the matter, so no worries!

  38. some aha reflections « parezco y digo on 11 Jan 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    [...] in the days before the conference. I really like the critiques of that report in the posts by Historiann and Marc Bosquet. It is simply galling to blame an overproduction of PhDs for the disjunctures of [...]

  39. Friday food fights! Plus evidence of my evildoing, with links. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 15 Jan 2010 at 9:32 am #

    [...] Checking in on the AHA-hahahahaha!  (Lolsob.) [...]

  40. From the Department of False Analogies: reforming professional training in the humanities : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 19 Jan 2010 at 9:12 am #

    [...] Things Considered last night?  On the one hand, he gave some important context for understanding that the academic job crisis in the humanities is nothing new–like Historiann, he sees it as directly linked to the halt of the massive [...]

  41. “Graduate school in the humanities is a trap.” « More or Less Bunk on 12 Feb 2010 at 9:05 am #

    [...] of you who were following the dust-up over this post by Marc Bousquet from about a month ago probably remember the division that me and [...]

  42. The academic life: movin’ on, part II : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 24 Feb 2010 at 9:40 am #

    [...] know how there are no jobs in history this year?  Well, unfortunately for me, my friends who are Associate Professors are finding jobs and leaving [...]

  43. What We're Reading: 124th Annual Meeting Edition - American Historical Association on 26 Jul 2013 at 9:29 am #

    [...] Checking in on the AHA-hahahahaha? (Lolsob.) [...]

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