From the News column of the October 2004 Perspectives
AHA Opens Pilot Web Pages on History Doctoral Programs
Patrick Manning, October 2004
We recommend that the American Historical Association create a uniform and digitalized departmental checklist of "vital statistics" pertaining to doctoral education in the form of a Web-based template available to all history departments offering doctoral degrees. . . . The AHA should inform undergraduate advisors of the Web site and more generally advertise its availability. The data that we propose to make available are substantial, but the value of systematically collecting and posting such data is also substantial.
— Committee on Graduate Education1
The AHA's new web pages on history doctoral programs respond to this call for action from its Committee on Graduate Education (CGE). The committee, in the report published and adopted by the AHA, made recommendations in 18 topical areas.2 Most of the recommendations address departments directly, but two are steps for the AHA to take toward strengthening the resources of doctoral programs. These call for creation of an AHA web site with "vital statistics" on doctoral programs and workshops for directors of graduate studies (DGS) and departmental chairs.
The AHA Council, at its June 2004 meeting, resolved to begin work immediately in implementing these recommendations. The first of the web pages appeared online at the beginning of October 2004, and the first set of workshops for DGSs and chairs begins at the Seattle annual meeting in January 2005. Creating the web pages has been the most complex step, so it is being implemented in a process that will involve several phases.
Doctoral Programs' Web Pages
As a first step, the AHA launched a new web page in October 2004—"History Doctoral Programs in the United States, 2004." This page provides profiles of 159 departments and specialized programs, using data collected over the past 15 years for the annual Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians. In addition to the standard information like addresses, deadlines, and fields of specialization, the new web pages also include essential demographic information on the departments, such as when the department first began conferring PhDs, how many they have conferred, the mix of faculty and students, and the relative size of the programs.
The principal audience is applicants for PhD programs. The objective is to encourage prospective doctoral candidates to start with the AHA web pages to locate PhD programs to which they may wish to apply. In subsequent years the web pages are expected to add additional data on the fields, processes, and outcomes of PhD programs. This overview of doctoral programs should assist applicants in identifying those programs they wish to investigate in more detail. The web pages also include advice to students on what questions to ask in evaluating programs of interest to them and a model for doctoral departments that should aid them in developing their web pages.
Further audiences for the web pages on History Doctoral Programs are graduate students and practicing members of the history profession. An opportunity to review the status and progress of doctoral programs gives a sense of the level of organization and rate of advance of historical studies generally.
Attached to the departmental profiles, you will find a complete list of the dissertations in progress submitted by the departments as of this past summer (over 3,200 in all), and a database of all the history PhDs reported to the Directory over the past 15 years. In addition to the PhDs reported to the Directory, 44 departments submitted extensive information about the PhDs produced in their programs. Yale and Vanderbilt universities, for instance, provided a complete list of their PhDs back to the 1880s along with the advisors for those dissertations. This database provides access to over 16,000 PhDs in the discipline. We are grateful to the departments that took the time to assist in this endeavor, and hope other departments will assist in the future.
In another dimension of implementing the CGE report, AHA staff and officers consulted with ten departments that participate in the Carnegie Initiative for the Doctorate.3 In an August 2004 meeting at the Stanford headquarters of the Carnegie Foundation, departmental leaders discussed possible sets of statistics that might be placed on the AHA web site, and the balance of AHA and departmental web pages on graduate education.
Evaluation of the first year's web pages will take place in early 2005, drawing on the perspectives of applicants, departments, and the AHA. The template will then be adjusted, and all doctoral programs will then be requested to submit information. It is planned that, in October 2005, new and expanded AHA doctoral programs web pages will provide equivalent information on all history PhD programs in the U.S. and Canada. The web pages should enable users to compare any two programs in detail, and to search the site for particular characteristics.
Workshops for Chairs and DGSs
A second area of implementation of the CGE report is the development of workshops for department chairs and especially for directors of graduate studies. Workshops for DGSs will begin at the AHA annual meeting in Seattle, and will continue thereafter with a mix of workshops in the summer and at annual meetings. The workshops will emphasize such issues as record-keeping (on admissions, student progress, teaching activity, postgraduate experience), periodic evaluation of doctoral students, and dissertation workshops. The position of DGS is central to the operation of any doctoral program; these workshops are intended to enable departments to give adequate support to their DGS.
These are two big steps in the implementation of the report on graduate education. It is hoped that these steps by the AHA, in cooperation with the doctoral programs, will attract fine applicants, draw attention to the sophisticated and innovative scholarship of doctoral programs in history, and encourage departments to review and implement other recommendations of the report.
Patrick Manning (Northeastern Univ.) is vice president of the AHA's Teaching Division.
3. The departments include those at Arizona State University, Duke University, Texas A&M University, Ohio State University, University of Connecticut, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Kansas, University of Minnesota, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Texas at Austin.