Taking the Road Less Travelled
Ty Geltmaker, February 2010
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To the Editor:
It was enlightening to see outgoing AHA President Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s " The Trouble with History" and Martin Mulford’s " Ageism and Hiring in the History Profession" followed by Michael H. Creswell’s " Navigating the Graduate Admissions Process" (Perspectives on History, December 2009). While offering solid advice on the traditional graduate admissions process, the latter article accepted as a given, without any questioning of such a premise, that “For undergraduates bitten by the history bug, pursuing a graduate degree in history seems the next logical step.” But why, as Ulrich’s and Mulford’s measured comments suggest the benefits of other routes taken, should graduate school be “logical” and “next” right after earning a history BA? Why not apply to the Foreign Service or join the military; or become a plumber or carpenter or paralegal or nurse; or work for a local newspaper; or go abroad and rough it studying a language without institutional affiliation or support, finding a menial job on one’s own; or read independently while working for cheap wages in a bookstore or restaurant with no benefits (good experience for any future academic work) all while writing one’s first attempt at the great American novel, or a little poetry or even a simple history of a local event? Through such experience future adult “non-traditional” PhD candidates might bring a wealth of hands-on knowledge to every sub-field of the historical profession while also raising the level of discourse beyond the careerist tenure-from-cradle-to-grave system which rewards taking few risks and submitting to the unquestioned authority of mentors who more often than not are seeking to replicate their own subservient pasts. When I was an undergraduate history major in the 1970s at an elite, small New England college (Trinity) my best teachers encouraged me to go back out into the tumbled world from which I had come, only to return to academe when enough of the world out there was held within me.