AHA Activities

New AHA Initiatives Will Examine Teaching and Learning, Career Paths

Julia Brookins, January 2013

Two recently funded proposals will address questions and concerns at the heart of the discipline—how students and future historians learn, and what career paths they take after earning their doctorates.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association grants to support initiatives to broaden the career employment options that students commonly imagine for themselves and aspire to. The AHA is especially–but not exclusively–interested in careers that enable historians to mobilize their graduate training for jobs that do not necessarily involve history work per se.

This project will consist of several related and mutually reinforcing components. AHA Deputy Director Robert Townsend and MLA Director of Research David Laurence will begin with in-depth quantitative and qualitative research on the career paths of PhDs to date, including alumni of programs that had attempted earlier to broaden career options for graduate students in the humanities. The AHA will also organize systematic efforts to gather the perspectives of key groups within and beyond our memberships on the obstacles and opportunities involved in moving beyond conceptions of non-academic careers as merely "Plan B." With the help of Robert Weisbuch, former president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (the originator of an earlier initiative addressing comparable issues), the AHA will follow up on this research by organizing a series of high-level discussions with employers in a spectrum of non-profit, for-profit, and government organizations; the MLA will conduct similar research, enabling the two disciplinary societies to learn from each other's conversations, and create possibilities for comparison.

While exploring the possibilities of widening career choices beyond the academy, the AHA is also working on projects that enhance our PhD recipients' qualifications for employment within the academy. With the help of a grant from the Teagle Foundation, the American Histor ical Association will assemble a team of leading experts in history teaching and historical thinking, and explore ways to more effectively integrate the scholarship on teaching and learning into graduate history education.

The project will start with a look at the required pedagogy course for history doctoral students at the University of California, Berkeley. An advisory panel with expertise in the scholarship of teaching and learning will assist the Berkeley history faculty in focusing their course on giving graduate students a deeper understanding of how undergraduates learn history.

The project will continue with the AHA's Teaching Division developing relevant activities for our 2014 and 2015 annual meetings in Washington, D.C., and New York with the help of an expert advisory panel. We aim to create and implement a coherent and concentrated series of annual meeting sessions—presentations and hands-on workshops—that demonstrate the utility and benefits of teaching and learning research for graduate training, and subsequently for undergraduate teaching. These sessions will be geared toward directors of graduate study and future faculty, with at least one joint session.

In the work both at Berkeley and at the annual meeting, participants and advisers will focus on instilling in graduate students an openness to developing their full potential as teachers through engagement with scholarship on teaching and learning history.

Teagle Foundation

The Teagle Foundation provides leadership for liberal education, mobilizing the intellectual and financial resources that are necessary if today's students are to have access to a challenging and transformative liberal education. The foundation's commitment to such education includes its grantmaking to institutions of higher education across the country, its long-established scholarship program for the children of employees of ExxonMobil, and its work helping economically disadvantaged young people in New York City—where the Foundation is based—gain admission to college and succeed once there.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that makes grants in five core program areas–higher education and scholarship; scholarly communications and information technology; art history, conservation, and museums; performing arts; and conservation and the environment.

Julia Brookins is the AHA's special projects coordinator.