Career Diversity for Historians

The AHA seeks to expand the occupational presence of humanists beyond the academy by broadening the professional options that students commonly imagine for themselves and aspire to. Broadening employment prospects for holders of doctorates in history will at once enhance the employment opportunities of PhD historians and expand the influence of historical thinking across society. 

In December 2012, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a grant to the AHA to explore employment opportunities for humanities PhDs beyond the professoriate. The early stages of this project have unfolded alongside a related project at the Modern Language Association (MLA). The American Council of Learned Societies runs a prestigious Public Fellows Program, also funded by the Mellon Foundation, that shares many of the goals of the AHA initiative.

At the AHA, the Career Diversity initiative consists of several components. It has convened discussions of how doctoral study in history currently prepares students to pursue a variety of intellectual interests through a range of professional choices. So far this project has convened meetings with a range of groups who have an interest in the employability of history PhDs-including graduate students, contingent faculty, other faculty, directors of graduate study, university administrators, and employers in the business, non-profit, and government sectors. 

Through the AHA's existing publications, the project has also been working to document the kinds of individualized choices that history PhD holders have made in pursuing careers beyond the professoriate. This effort has produced What I Do, a series of video profiles, as well as Career Paths essays in Perspectives in print and online. Both of these series are ongoing.

With the publication of the report by L. Maren Wood and Robert B. Townsend in December 2013, we have completed the first stage of our research to discover what work historians already do in our society. Upcoming stages in the research agenda will help us to understand how the different components of doctoral curricula-including coursework, teaching, and the dissertation-relate to work that PhDs beyond the professoriate, as well as what aspects of existing curricula should be strengthened.

In keeping with existing AHA policies in favor of transparency among PhD programs, we have launched a new service to assist program administrators in providing appropriate, comparable data on alumni career paths.  

The Many Careers of History PhDs: A Study of Job Outcomes, Spring 2013

Career PathsEarning a doctoral degree in history presents a range of choices, starting with questions about where and what to study, and how to pay for the effort. Too often those choices have to be made with a significant amount of guesswork as to their potential outcomes. As part of the American Historical Association's assessment of careers for history PhDs, the authors of this study undertook a detailed analysis of the current employment held by 2,500 history PhDs, all of whom earned their degrees between 1998 and 2009.

The Many Careers of History PhDs

More On This Initiative

"Career Diversity's Time Has Come: Mellon Foundation Awards AHA $1.6 Million to Expand Historians' Options," Perspectives, May 2014

"New AHA Initiatives Will Examine Teaching and Learning, Career Paths," Perspectives, January 2013

"Broadening the Horizon for Humanities PhDs: Mellon Grant Meetings in New Orleans," Perspectives, May 2013

"The AHA-Mellon Career Diversity Project: Recent Accomplishments and Next Steps," Perspectives, September 2013

Other Suggested Readings

Anthony Grafton and James Grossman, "No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History," Perspectives on History (October 2011)

Anthony Grafton and James Grossman, "Plan C," Perspectives on History (November 2011)

Thomas Bender, "What's Been Lost in History," Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) (February 12, 2012)

Megan Doherty, "The Humanities PhD at Work," CHE (February 20, 2013)

Leonard Cassuto, "What if We Made Fewer Ph.D.'s?", CHE (December 12, 2012)

Peter Coclanis, "Wanted: Dedicated Deep Thinkers," CHE (March 18, 2012)

Leonard Cassuto, "Keyword: Placement," CHE (April 9, 2012)

Maren Wood, "What Doors Does a Ph.D. in History Open?," CHE (October 30, 2012)