From the Vice Presidents column of the September 2005 Perspectives
History Doctoral Programs Web Site Updated to Provide Improved Information for Applicants
Patrick Manning, September 2005
The History Doctoral Programs section of the AHA web site now enters its second year. This major database, easily accessible from the home page of the AHA, responds to a major recommendation of the AHA's study of doctoral education in history.1 The site lists 158 PhD programs in the United States, providing comparable information on many aspects of their activity, based on materials provided by departments to the AHA staff. In addition to these data sets, the AHA site includes clear links to each departmental web page and, where available, its doctoral program web pages.
The intended viewers of the site—those who will most benefit from the information—are applicants for admission to PhD programs.
To PhD applicants and their mentors
The AHA web site on doctoral programs enables applicants to locate the full range of programs in each field of history: the structures of alternative programs, their geographical location, program size, financial aid, recent dissertations and dissertations in progress, and access to detailed information about the specifics of each program.
The site lists questions every applicant should ask. It will help applicants apply to appropriate programs, present themselves well, ask relevant questions before accepting admission, and prepare themselves for the realities of doctoral study.
Faculty mentors will find the History Doctoral Programs site to be an excellent resource for guiding students who are considering doctoral study in history. Mentors at both undergraduate institutions and MA-granting institutions will each find the web site to be an invaluable aid for advising students. While most applicants move from BA degrees in history to PhD programs, many other applicants have MA degrees in history; a smaller number enter PhD programs with degrees outside of history.
To leaders of history PhD programs
The department chair and the director of graduate study (DGS) for each PhD-granting institution, on scanning the site, will see the importance and utility of having a full and clear record of their department's program available online. Comparison of sites should encourage each department to strengthen its representation on the AHA site, and to strengthen its own site's representation of its PhD program. Of particular importance, for both AHA and departmental web sites, is identifying the DGS and the governance of the doctoral program, to enable potential applicants to pose questions and to give recognition to the DGS for the importance of his or her function.
To historians in general
PhD programs are the principal structures through which the historical profession renews itself. While the History Doctoral Programs web site provides views of individual departmental programs permitting their comparison, it also provides an aggregate impression of doctoral study in history. Historians should visit the site to gain an impression of the changing strengths and emphases of doctoral study, with an emphasis on overall patterns and not just on competition among programs. Through description of fields of study, curricula, lists of dissertations, numbers of students, and their record of employment, the web site provides the clearest available hint of what the next generation of historians will be like. It allows comparison of history and its graduate programs with graduate study in other fields of social sciences and humanities.
Future development of the web site
In March 2005, the AHA convened a group of ten to spend a day evaluating the site. Included were PhD applicants, graduate students, faculty members, and AHA staff members. The discussion produced a long list of valuable suggestions on the form and content of the web site, many of which are being implemented for the academic year 2005–06.
It is my hope that the History Doctoral Programs web site will expand and deepen, through increased participation of the departments. I hope we will have further information on applicants, on the composition of current student populations, on the experience of their graduate study (courses, exams, financial aid, living conditions), and more detailed follow-up of graduates and of those who drop out. By making sure to supplement the rules for graduate study with descriptions of the experience of graduate study, history programs will be able to attract strong students, well prepared for the study and research they are undertaking. With more fully prepared students, more clearly articulated programs, and a better fit between the two, the field of history will be able to meet the challenges of the next generation in both teaching and research.
—Patrick Manning (Northeastern Univ.) is vice president of the AHA's Teaching Division.
1. “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. Departments would be strongly urged—but not required—to participate by supplying this information in common form.” Thomas Bender, Philip M. Katz, and Colin Palmer, The Education of Historians for the Twenty-first Century (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2003).