Odds for Applicants Improving, according to Survey of Job Advertisers

Robert B. Townsend, January 2001

Recent improvements in the supply of history jobs are easing the competition for history jobs, if evidence from an AHA survey of Perspectives advertisers is to be believed.

The Association surveyed the 897 advertisers in Perspectives in 2000 to find out how many applications they received for their jobs, whether the position was filled, and what the rank and tenure status of the new hires was.1 The findings reinforce the anecdotal perceptions of an improving job market for historians. As reported in the December 2000 issue, last year marked the largest number of openings in the past decade.2

The survey received responses from 451 advertisers (just over 50 percent). Responses from history departments were well over 60 percent. Most of the advertisers who did not respond were not in history programs, or were outside of the academy.

According to the respondents, 442 historians were hired over the past year, while another 23 received fellowships paying $20,000 or more per year (Table 1). Surprisingly, eight departments hired more than one new faculty member, even though the advertisement indicated that applications were being accepted for a single position. In three instances, the additional hires were temporary transitional faculty--presumably filling the position until the new tenure-track hire could join the faculty. However, in four other instances, the department hired a senior faculty member (associate or full professor) and a junior faculty member (assistant professor) in the same field. The former were hired with tenure, while the latter were given tenure-track appointments.

The vast majority of those hired into academic positions (80 percent) were brought in at the rank of assistant professor. Almost 90 percent of the faculty hired at this level were brought in on the tenure track.

Of the remaining academic hires, 5 percent were hired at the rank of lecturer, 7 percent were hired at the associate and full professor levels, and 2 percent were hired as part-time or adjunct teachers. Not surprisingly, 88 percent of the faculty hired as lecturers were not on the tenure track. Surprising, however, is the significant number of faculty hired to senior positions off the tenure track, accounting for 13 percent of new associate professors and 8 percent of the new full professors. This reflects a recent growth in senior level endowed chairs that only come with one- or two-year appointments.

Respondents reported that the great majority of the openings (72 percent) were replacement positions. Where the new hire was to replace a departed faculty member, most (70 percent) were hiring in the same field specialization and with the same tenure opportunity as the faculty member that was being replaced.

As noted in the December 2000 article on the job market, when compared with responses to a similar survey conducted three years ago, there is a notable drop in the average number of applications received for jobs in most history fields (Table 2). When viewed as aggregates of the geographic fields, respondents in every field reported that the average number of applications received was down 13 to 40 percent from findings of a survey three years ago. Jobs listed in the history of North America, for instance, received an average of about 82 applications per job, down from an average of over 109 in a similar survey three years ago. Applications for jobs in Latin American history and Asian history are down over 30 percent from the previous survey, averaging 50 and 45 applications per opening respectively. The averages for European, African, and Middle Eastern history declined significantly, but not quite as fast. The number of applications for positions in European history fell 19 percent, to 88 per opening, while applications for African history openings fell 13 percent, to an average of almost 44 per job.

However, when the data is further refined to differentiate among different time periods, the findings become a bit more complex. While applications for openings in North American history are broadly down, they are up markedly in the fields of colonial and early national U.S. history and up slightly in the field of 20th-century U.S. history. Similarly, while the trend for European history as a whole is a drop in applications, search committees reported an increase in applications for ancient and modern European history.

The reduction in the number of applications is making it a bit more difficult for departments to fill openings, as a growing number of job candidates now have the unusual opportunity of being more selective in the job offers they accept. More than 4 percent of the responding departments reported that the advertised position was not filled because their first (and in some cases the second and third) choices declined the offer. This is up from the 1997 survey, in which less than 2 percent of the positions went unfilled because the chosen candidate had declined the offer.

In all, of at least 58 of the positions advertised last year, 38 percent went unfilled because selected candidate(s) did not accept the offer, while a third of the positions remained unfilled because the department was dissatisfied with the pool of applicants. The rest of the positions went unfilled either because the budget line was cancelled (10 percent) or because of some sort of department or university-level "politics."

Of those positions that went unfilled, 86 percent of the departments planned to reopen the search, most in the current academic year. Thus, the year that just ended has not only been good for the job seeker of the moment, but its legacy also seems to promise more opportunities for 2001.

—Robert B. Townsend is assistant director of publications, information systems, and research at the American Historical Association. 


1. Survey sent to all 897 advertisers who listed a position in the Employment Information section of Perspectives. The Association received responses from 451 search committees or departments--this includes an additional 35 responses that were received after the deadline (and hence not included in the preliminary tabulation reported in last month's job market survey) to boost the response rate above 50 percent. The additional data did not change the findings reported in that report. [back to text]

2. See Robert B. Townsend, "Job Market Report 2000: Job Openings Continue to Surge," Perspectives (December 2000): 5. [back to text]