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A WPA For History


The highly respected historian and radical Jesse Lemisch has taken the American Historical Association to task for its unwillingness to deal with the field’s employment crisis. Lemisch compares the AHA’s milquetoast market-speak to the lameness of Democratic Party solutions to the modern economic crisis. Both institutions have become infected with centrist market-oriented solutions to problems, a business model that has failed the country, leading to determined unemployment levels, millions of Americans giving up trying to look for work, and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Lemisch has a particular idea in mind that the AHA and other academic institutions like the Modern Language Association should promote–a WPA for academics. How do you put thousands of unemployed historians and others to work? You create work for them, a la the New Deal. Lemisch provides concrete examples of creating digital archives, bringing obscure primary sources to public light, compiling important demographic information from public records, writing biographies, and any number of other interesting projects.

If historians need work, the AHA should promote the creation of work.

Alas, the AHA has done a pathetic job of serving a useful purpose in guiding its unemployed members to a job. The ideas AHA leaders have created–more archivists, more public historians–are almost without value. All are being destroyed by the same broken model of government disinvestment and corporate profiteering that torpedoed the rest of the profession and much of the economy. Several AHA leaders have scoffed at Lemisch’s WPA for historians model, saying that the market will take care of it. Not only does the insistence of smart people to argue that “the market” is an independent entity uncontrolled by human actions bug the living heck out of me, it’s just not true. The market is not an invisible hand, it’s a series of decisions of governments, economists, everyday people, and employers that create policies by which a nation guides its economy. This rhetoric just obscures who is shifting the levers of the economy.

The other problem with promoting the WPA idea is inherent within the AHA. It is an organization of the elite historians, by the elite historians, for the elite historians. The rest of us just pay dues, or not. Leadership within the AHA is controlled by the most senior and respected academic historians at the most elite schools. They see the ultimate goal of a history Ph.D. as one thing only–an academic job. Those who don’t get that job must not be worthy. Those who are getting Ph.Ds at a school like the University of New Mexico are too lowly to count. This elitism is evident:

After the above was completed, new information came in that the reader should have in hand, since it calls into question the whole position that the AHA has taken previously. At the heart of what Grafton and Grossman have been seeking is a claim of anti-hierarchalism: in order to deal with the job crisis, they want to change the culture of the profession so that non-academic work will no longer be seen as “plan B,” but will rather be given dignity and respect equal to that of traditional scholarship and teaching. But in fact, the argument is a stalking horse for a new hierarchy in which PhDs from elite institutions will get what will still be seen as the real jobs as scholars, and the academic proletariat will have to settle for non-academic jobs.

Grafton (University of Chicago AB 1971, AM 1972, PhD 1975) is one of four contributors (three of whom, including Grafton, hold named chairs) to “How Can We Better Prepare PhD Students for Nonacademic Careers?” University of Chicago Magazine, January-February 2012. Grafton argues, as he has previously, for preparing history graduate students for careers outside academe. But he also stresses his agreement with Chicago sociology professor Andrew Abbott, who believes that “we should not at all modify our teaching, our aspirations, and our emphases. We are in the business of perpetuating critical scholarship… we should teach to the top of the market.” Grafton states in response: “I agree with Andy that we have to keep the knowledge machine rolling, and that elite departments should be teaching people to join that machine at the top… [emphasis added].

This is not surprising–top 20 institution historians want to perpetuate their own control of academic knowledge, setting everyone else adrift. That might be slightly more defensible if it was even clear that historians from those schools were doing that much better finding academic positions than those of us who excelled at less prestigious schools. Of course, like law schools, history PhD programs do a terrible job of tracking and publicizing information on the success of their students after they leave the program. You might know of the big star who got the Duke or Brown job, but what about the other 10 students of x professor whom you have never heard of? What are they doing? Who knows.

It’s probably true that a WPA for historians isn’t going to happen. We have to think realistically, we are told. But there are no good easy policy options without a radical change in how we allocate resources. Of course, the WPA isn’t even radical, but a proven success. And even if it’s not going to happen tomorrow, the leading organization of historians needs to commit itself to being a lobbying force to find members jobs. If it doesn’t do that, what good is it? Not much.

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  • Murc

    It’s probably true that a WPA for historians isn’t going to happen. We have to think realistically, we are told.

    I actually don’t think this is true. People who actually govern have to think realistically. People who are advocates have both the ability and the responsibility to think radically, and to smash at the people who govern with (metaphorical) hammers until suddenly what was radical becomes realistic.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    I think a WPA historians is a wonderful idea. However it won’t happen…and it relies on the actions of people outside our profession. Moreover, I don’t think we as historians (or the AHA as an organization) has anything like the political capital necessary to lobby for it seriously.

    So while I agree with you about the inadequacy of the AHA’s response to our ongoing employment crisis, I think the question needs to be reframed: what can we, as historians, do to change matters?

    I continue to feel that part of the solution is reducing the number of PhDs we produce…and doing so in a way that is equitable, rather than simply making the PhD even more the province of the academic and social elite.

    • Certainly part of the question is what the AHA is going to become. Does it remain the staid organization whose major purpose is putting on a conference everybody hates once a year? Or does it become what it needs to become–our lobbying organization. Obviously, we don’t have that much political capital right now, but we need to build that political capital. The only organization that can do this is the AHA. We may need to reduce numbers of Ph.Ds, but that’s only part of the problem and part of the solution.

      • tpb

        I agree with the criticism of the AHA and would add various employed historians who tout the “serious students” from their home institution who have jobs as semi-evidence of the non-job holding historians being non-serious students instead of victims of a horrid job market getting worse each year.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I have nothing against the AHA lobbying for this. It’s a good idea. It’s also not going to happen for the foreseeable future.

        So the AHA should also work on more practical solutions that might actually have an impact sometime in the next decade.

        There are many things the AHA can be besides what it is today and a lobbying organization (which it actually already is).

  • Of course, the WPA isn’t even a radical, but a proven success.

    It’s surprising how many ideas fall into both those categories.

  • Mudge

    History is wonderful and fun. BUT it can be done (whatever done means) by a moderately intelligent layman, unlike, for example, physics. David McCullough had a degree in English literature. He did fine writing history. Ken Burns, for all his faults, does history and makes a living. It doesn’t take a historian to digitize Civil War records, but it makes it available to everyone.

    I think it sad that history is now tied to employment potential. Lawyers are trained to enter a well defined workforce, historians are not. Unless, of course, you are hired to be the historain for Freddie Mac.

    • Well, I’m not one to draw sharp boundaries around what “history” is, but there is a difference between David McCullough and what professional historians do. If we as a culture what big narrative stories about a few people, that’s fine. If we want to think about how race, gender, class, sexuality, etc., shaped how a particular group of people changed our history, the average person can’t really do that without historical training.

      • Mudge

        When all the subjects you cite lead to employable jobs outside of academia, we’ll talk. They aren’t. Historians do history because they love it, and they need to realize that few jobs exist outside of academia. If they are capable of writing popular treatises, good for them. Most histoy majors become lawyers, see Paul Campos.

        Academic research is largely egocentric (there are exceptions). Work is done that is extraordinarily self satisfying. You revel in the self-cleverness. You go to meetings and your cohorts in the same miniscule sub-area extol your contributions, as you compliment theirs. Once in a great while, someone busts free and become known to those outside the meetings, which is a goal. But that is rare.

        I have been an academic, an underlying requirement is justifying your own importance. Historians have fewer options than most. There is no Nobel Prize in history.

        • I think you are being really condescending toward what historians do. I’m sorry you have a giant chip on your shoulder about your time in academia. But I think you are being ridiculous.

          • Mudge

            lol..I have no chip. I recognize. It is the way it is. I always did , and still do, feel I made some useful contributions to a very small subset of my field. But it is a very self-centered business. I have no negative feelings about what historians do, but I also have no recognition that a job as historian exists to a great extent outside of academia. I minored in Medieval history in college. I loved every minute and reveled in learning about palimpsests, my professor’s area of specialty. Not many palimpsest jobs out there.

            You may disagree with me, fine, but to say I am being ridiculous shows your immaturity. I do admire your dedication and energy to your profession, of course.

            • It may show many things, to say it shows immaturity makes absolutely no sense. You could have picked another random word and the sentence would have been more coherent.

              • Mudge

                You are new to both academia and the working world. You are in your 20s and I am not. You have little life’s experience and little academic experience. I have been on university faculties. I have been a member of the Steelworkers and Teamsters, to tie into your union interests. I have consulted for Greenpeace, to tie into your environmental interests. yet you choose to say that my use of immature is “random”. And, incoherent.

                Perhaps you should consider not being so defensive and impudent in your replies.

                • “You are in your 20s and I am not.”

                  Ha ha ha ha.

                • Even though you are way, way off on my age, the “I’m older than you so shut up” argument is about the weakest argument ever devised.

                • Mudge

                  Interesting..I have given you every opportunity to prove you are not an asshole. You have resisted at every chance, and proven otherwise. I see you have even eliminated my chances for reply.

                  You are imminently qualified to be an academic

                • Shorter Anonymous Dude on the Internet: I am totes a professor lol

                • Murc

                  I see you have even eliminated my chances for reply.

                  This is manifestly untrue. The presence of the post in which you type it proves you haven’t been banned.

                  You are imminently qualified to be an academic

                  Eminently. EMINENTLY qualified.

                  Homophones. Respect them!

                • The site doesn’t put a “Reply” button after a certain level of the thread, Anonymous Internet Totes-a-Professor-lol Dude. Just click the most recent Reply button in this string of replies, and you can post a new reply. Maybe you’ll tell us about how you are totes the best professor, with a special best-professor-ever prize from the International Professor Committee.

                • Furious Jorge

                  I have given you every opportunity to prove you are not an asshole.

                  Actually, you seem to have taken every opportunity to prove that you are one yourself.

      • Lee

        There is also a differnce between popular history written by professional historians and popular history written by non-historians. Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 is popular history, it was written with a general audience in mind. However, it was definetly a work that could only be written by professional historian because of the depth of research and reliance on primary sources.

    • Eh. I became a history major the same year that Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose got pinched for plagiarism. If we accept these amateur historians’ explanations, it largely came down to basic methodological ignorance – failure to distinguish between one’s own writing and quotations of secondary sources, allowing research assistance to do archival work instead of doing it yourself, etc.

      Not that professional historians are immune from this, but we actually are trained.

      And Ken Burns’ work hews much closer to hagiography than history in many areas.

      • * assistants. Stupid autocorrect.

      • John

        Ambrose was certainly a professional historian. He had a PhD from the University of Wisconsin and was a professor at New Orleans for many decades.

  • Historically, the WPA’s white collar divisions, like the CWA’s Civil Works Service, included many different kinds of academics, creative workers, and professionals.

    If we’re to build a new one, I think step one has to be building an alliance of all unemployed/underemployed intellectual workers.

    Historians are worthy, but so are our brothers and sisters throughout and beyond academe.

    • Well, sure. Neither Lemisch nor myself would say otherwise.

      • Didn’t think otherwise. I was more emphasizing a political strategy.

        And one other thing – I think a potential player would be TA/grad student unions, who have just as much reason to be concerned about the changes being made in the academic marketplace.

        • No question about the potential of TA/grad student unions.

    • JoyfulA

      On request, my mother (a lifelong Republican until Santorum) will give a speech on the wonders of WPA intellectual workers, who translated German-language church records from the early 1700s to enable 21st-century genealogists to trace births, marriages, and deaths for which, at that time, there were no civil records. They also tracked down and sometimes restored historical sites.

      Which makes me think that there must be careers for historians in genealogy, beyond the by-the-hour research services. Amateur genealogists keep expanding their numbers and their wants.

  • LarryPiltz

    Historians employed as you describe would be making history, which the AHA seems to think is beneath its lofty status. Historians making history would remake the AHA into a relevant organization. That doesn’t seem so heretical or minor to me.

  • elm

    APSA has a hard enough time fighting a rear-guard action to prevent the cutting of NSF funding for political science. I doubt in the current political climate, APSA, AHA, MLA, or even a coalition of all the A’s could successfully lobby for a works program. Laying the groundwork to improve the political climate so that a WPA is more possible during the next recession? Perhaps. But if you want to address the issues of currently unemployed/underemployed academics, then a WPA isn’t realistic.

    • Probably true, but also no less unrealistic than anything the AHA is doing right now.

    • The problem with the “rear guard action” taking up the time of the professional associations is that it assumes we can only fight on one front at a time, and that minimizing cuts is a victory. Instead of “please cut less” we should be arguing for vastly increased funding from multiple agencies on stimulative, cultural and pragmatic grounds. There is a massive amount of work to be done in archives and online and in the parks and museums and schools, which would make us a richer, more thoughtful, and better organized society.

      • elm

        My argument wasn’t that the associations don’t have time to do both but that given that what little government funding is already given to the social sciences is under threat one should not expect to have much (or, indeed, any) success asking for a giant new program, regardless of its value.

        • That’s because academics negotiate like Democrats: start from a reasonable, realistic place and ask for something you need. We should be negotiating like Republicans: ask for everything, and accuse the other side of threatening the fabric of civilization if you don’t get it.

          • elm

            Like IB, I have no problem with the AHA and other academic associations trying to get a WPA-style program. I just don’t think it’s likely in the short term. Erik seems to want to come up with a solution to the current academic jobs crisis: lobbying for unwinnable policies isn’t a solution. Lobbying now might make it more winnable in the future, so I’m all for it, but if we want to solve the current problem, we need something else as well.

  • zolltan

    To quote Les McCann and Eddie Harris, compared to what? Obviously it’s better that someone is a historian than them being unemployed. But should the goal be to incentivise employment as historians in particular? All I want to do is to say what Steven Attewell was saying in a slightly more broad (and less friendly) fashion. Is there something historian-specific about this? Is there a temporary external disincentive to becoming a historian about to be followed by a need for many more historians in the future?

    Maybe I’m being somewhat obtuse about this because I have a hard time envisioning a lot of non-academic historian employment. What do you think it would look like? The “historians as repositories of historical information” model must be on its way out, and “historians as grand-scale cultural critics” is, however necessary, also necessarily a very niche position.

    I guess the counterargument here is the AHA is all about historians and non-historian employment is not in its purview. But still, if the problem here is “lots of people don’t have jobs” that isn’t particularly historian-specific, why should the solution be?

    • No, nothing historian-specific. Lemisch say this explicitly. He is talking about the AHA needing to take the lead in saving the profession, but it should clearly be broader than this.

      Historians can do many things, but people have trouble understanding this. For one thing, historians have skills of writing, speaking, and judging evidence that any company could use. However, even beyond that, theoretically a government interested in education would recreate a university system that actually employs people in full-time jobs. This is not anything radical, but rather the academy of 1990 or even 2000.

      • Hmmmmm.

        For one thing, historians have skills of writing, speaking, and judging evidence that any company could use.

        This strikes me as just the standard liberal arts wishful thinking that fed poly sci and philosophy majors into Law School. A PhD in history is typically highly trained to write for and speak to other very highly trained historians. It’s not clear that any company has much, if any, use for that skill. It’s not clear that, in general, that that skill either predicts or supports other relevant writing and speaking skills.

        As for judging (historical) evidence, again, it’s unclear how much call there is for that in a general way, nor is it clear that it’s readily transferable to other sorts of evidence judging. (Quantitative skills may be transferable, but there’s really a ton of domain specific background needed even there.)

        Many people with a PhD (in anything) are bright and hardworking and thus rather prima facie employable. It’s not clear the value add a PhD per se brings (in many fields! Computer science is not hugely better for sure) to that for non-academic or academicesque/research jobs.

        • John

          I’d say that, of academic disciplines, historians are among the most likely to be interested in writing for a larger audience than other academics. There is actually something of an audience in the general public for history, and there are many academic historians who have written for that audience, although typically the ones that do are already tenured. History is also probably one of the least technical and theoretical academic fields — you certainly can find theory and jargon, but it seems like it’s considerably less predominant than in a lot of other fields.

          Finally, it’s surely wrong to say that historians only write and speak to other highly trained historians. The vast majority of historians spend most of their time speaking about history to slack-jawed undergraduates. And, even taking aside the popular history market, many history books are also aimed at the undergraduate textbook market – and not only obvious textbooks, but a fair number of monographs, are written that way.

          • Not that I have data, but is it really the case that history writing is all that popular? As practiced by PhDs in history? There’s quite an audience for computer science stuff (at least, tutorials about HTML, etc.) Similarly medicine. Physics seems perennially popular.

            But, ok, let me grant your contention, does it really spread to a significant fraction of PhDs in history? I’d be surprised.

            Finally, it’s surely wrong to say that historians only write and speak to other highly trained historians.

            Thank goodness I didn’t say that! I said that they are typically trained to do so. While I’ll bet that most PhD students get some very minimal training in lecturing, it’s completely dwarfed by their training in research.

            C’mon. It’s not even close. And…textbook market? Really? This is where you’re going? What’s the percentage of people with a PhD who write a textbook?

            If you are going to make such claims at least some sort of stab at data would be nice.

            I maintain that history PhDs, like just about every sort of PhD, is typically primarily trained to write and speak with other highly trained people in their field in an academic context. I’m agog that this would be disputed.

            • Hogan

              I have no idea how to track the data, but one metric might be how many books by academics in various fields are published by commercial presses. I suspect historians would rate fairly high.

              • Yes, I started trying to think about where to get that. Actually, the NYT bestseller lists might not be so bad a starting place.

                Even so, how many historians write popular history? How relevant is popular historyesque writing to “any company”? How much popular history (esp. recent history) is written by journalists?

                I’m afraid this sounds very much like “With a JD you can have all sorts of careers! We teach you how to think!”

                (I remember believing that in philosophy.) We need real evidence, eh? I mean, surplus physics and math PhDs become Wall St. quants. Is there any evidence that History PhDs are in in sort of corporate demand?

                (Note this should not be taken as denigrating history PhDs! But we do need to 1) establish the phenomenon and 2) disentangle possible causes.)

                • Hogan

                  I wouldn’t begin to defend the claim that academic historians are highly likely to write for a general audience; I would begin to defend the claim that they are more likely to do so than academics in most other fields. Or at least gesture toward beginning to defend the claim, which is about all I’m doing here.

            • Lee

              Its not really that hard to find people with PhDs in history writting popular history. I’ve earlier mentioned Gotham: A History of New York. Cambridge University also publishes a series of concise histories of modern nations written for a general audience by professional historians. Professional historians are much more likely than other academics to write at least some books for a general audience.

              • It not being hard to find some and it being more likely than others are quite different claims. Furthermore, it doesn’t help the main claim that, roughly, a random (or median) history PhD is likely to be writing such, good at it, good (or significantly better) at it as a result of their PhD training, and that that skill is widely useful to companies.

  • Matt

    Tennessee’s teahadis apparently are already trying something like this:


    After all, rewriting every reference to the slave trade to “Atlantic triangular trade” and fabricating new sections on the benefits of slavery should keep *quite* a few wingnut “historians” busy…

  • John

    It seems to me that the shortage of teaching jobs for people with social science and humanities PhD’s is largely an artifact of the way universities structure themselves. As it stands, most of the larger schools structure themselves so that most of the history classes (I’m less familiar with other fields) are large lectures taught by, if possible, big name senior faculty, with much of the actual teaching work done in sections by TA’s. Beyond that, an extensive amount of teaching is done by adjuncts.

    If you put in enough money to restructure the system to make for smaller classes and more tenure track (or at least long-term semi-permanent type) positions, wouldn’t that, by itself, create more jobs? It’s not like having 300 person lectures is some kind of inevitable necessity or a desirable thing. Cap all classes at 25 and suddenly there’s a lot more demand for people to teach those classes.

    • Yes. Marc Bousquet makes the same analysis for English, and it’s probably true right across the rest of the humanities and social sciences: http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/

      • John

        I may have stolen my argument from him, admittedly. But it’s a good one. We assume that the number of academic jobs is fixed, but it’s certainly not fixed by the academic needs of students. It would be better for both students and academics if there were more jobs for professors in the humanities and social sciences.

  • Emigration is always an option. Although most educated Americans seem to have an irrational prejudice against unless it is to Europe or Canada. It is amazing how many ‘liberal’ and ‘leftist’ Americans have an aversion to being around people who are not white.

    • John

      Is “irrational” really the right word? Most American academics, shockingly, want to get a job in the country where they were born and grew up, where their families are, and so forth. We’re already supposed to be not just willing, but grateful, to move to whatever mediocre college in the middle of nowhere deigns to offer us a job. Is it really irrational that Africa or East Asia is a step too far?

      • To be fair, it has to be compared to going to Canada or Europe.

        Having moved from the US to the UK, I’ll say that Canada would have probably been easier (esp. if it were East Coasty) just for proximity to family. Similarly, Australia is much less attractive than the UK just because of the distance. France, Germany, or Italy (etc.) are less attractive because of the language (in spite of their many attractions). I spent 2.5 months in Japan and loved it but would have trouble convincing my beloved to live there permanently (even given her love of it). (Language differences are obviously way easier for me since most top places do most everything in English. Not so true for everything else!) Even the UK is stressful (and the immigration stuff, while superduper easy for us, was still annoying and nontrivial).

        And I went to a top dept (both in computer science and in my specific field) where I knew and adored lots of the people already. I would have been much less enthusiastic at going to a top dept that wasn’t strong in my area.

        OTOH, I didn’t have a huge amount of choice…I was just lucky that my limited choice was so excellent.

        • John

          Canada hardly counts, though – it’s no further from home, and, for the most part, not really more culturally unfamiliar than some parts of the US. I doubt there’s really any American academic who’d rather go to Mississippi State than any good Canadian school.

          As to Europe, how many American academics get jobs in continental Europe? I can’t imagine there’s a huge number. And, of all non-North American places, the UK is obviously going to be the one that is most attractive for American.

          It’s just ridiculous to impute to racism the fact that most Americans don’t want to get jobs in the Third World.

          • I’m not disagreeing, just pointing out that Pohl’s line wasn’t “US vs. elsewhere” but “US or Canada or Eu vs. elsewhere”. (Mexico would be worth including, though language barrier. I’d find that less daunting than, say, Australia.)

          • And, of all non-North American places, the UK is obviously going to be the one that is most attractive for American.

            Note that there are many programs taught in English across Europe and elsewhere, in part to gather up those wonderful foreign-student fees.

            • As I pointed out earlier, language (if you speak English) often isn’t a barrier to teaching and research, but it can be a pretty big barrier for moving. My beloved was once fluent in French, but convincing her to move to France or Belgium would be a hard slog and involve for both of us considerable alienation and difficulty (perhaps she could get gigs on the continent, but oy). (Of course, depending on the job and location, it could have loads of awesomeness.)

      • Why is Africa too far, but not the UK or Australia? The difference between Ghana and England is not language. There is some difference in standards of living, but given the high cost of living in London and low cost in Accra it is not anywhere what people imagine it to be. The health care systems are almost identical in the two countries if you are working as a lecturer. Crime is much lower here than in the UK. So what is the real reason someone would prefer unemployment to working in Africa, but not to working in England?

        • Sorry, where did I say that all parts of Africa are too far? And I said that Australia is too far (to be an easy choice).

          The UK is around a 7-8 hour flight from my family (East Coast) and I can get direct flights of varying cheapness (quick search, around $738 which seems not atypical). I was unable to find a nonstop flight between Accra and Philly and even for the multi-leg the cost was $1330 with travel times between 18 and 24hrs.

          Of course, I know very little about Ghana per se, but let me compare with Japan where 1) I know and like the computer science scene (though it’s nowhere as nice for my field as the Eu) and 2) I know and like the culture. A lot. It’d still be a hard sell based on travel home time & expense. And culture, much less language.

          Obviously, if it were that or unemployment in my field, I’d give it a look. But I might change fields or careers, esp. if the opportunities weren’t great (i.e., research opportunities, route back to my home country).

          I’m not saying various aspects of racism and cultural “otherness” are not a factor, but there are plenty of other prima facie reasons for a US academic to end up in the UK or Canada. Ties between universities are another. Number of co-expats are another.

          • I am having trouble generating stats about US academic expatriates. However, this 1997 article does discuss the UScentrism, unto parochialism, of US academia.

            Which again, puts constraints on where to go abroad. One thing that made it easier to go to the UK for me was thinking it wouldn’t shut me out of the US market (if I wanted to re-enter). This was certainly something important to my beloved it since she certain has a strong bent toward repatriation. Indeed, it helps make some of the alienation she feels toward British society more bearable.

          • You can fly Delta directly to Ghana from Atlanta or DC. This does not take much longer than going to London. But, the cheapest and best way to go is Emirates through Dubai. Yes, the flight is long. But, I only need to make it once every couple of years.

            African universities have lots of connections with US universities. We have I think over 1000 exchange students from the US every semester. Maybe we are not as connected to the US as UK institutions. But, we are far less isolated than some other areas of the world. We also have close ties with institutions in the UK, Denmark, and other European states.

            But, my question is not aimed at somebody who gets a job offer in the UK so much. It is aimed at people who would rather remain unemployed in the US or work as adjuncts in the US rather than take a permanent job at an African R 1 university. Especially since such people would undoubtedly move to any European country to take an equivalent job. Even though culturally due to British influence Ghana is a lot less alien to Americans than say Italy. I think the continued negative stereotypes of Africa and Africans in the US play a big role in such decision making.

            • The ones from Delta from DC that I found cost $1000, route through JFK and thus take around 15 hrs. As I said, I can get direct flights to pretty much any major East Coast city from Manchester. So not really comparable.

              Sure, if I were to go once every couple of years, the calculus changes a little, but is that most people? I go back at least once a year and would like to do twice and my beloved goes 3-4 times (she’s a touring musician).

              I don’t understand how being far less isolated than many parts of the world makes you comparably much more isolated from the US than Canada or the UK.

              I’ve no idea how many US academics would “undoubtably” uproot for EU. It really was a close to a no brainer for me as one could possibly get and it was still a brainer.

              I agree that ignorance (to say the least) almost certainly plays a large factor, but that’s a little different than “not wanting to teach black people”. Which does play a role in some significant set of cases, I’m sure.

              But I suspect it’s a critical straw rather than the main brick.

              • If the alternative is unemployment I am guessing almost all US citizens with a PhD in history would prefer working at a EU R1 type research university than remain unemployed in the US. This is not true for Africa. It is not the language. I don’t think an extra 7 hours flight time is a make or break deal on this either. So what is different about Ghana from Europe that ‘liberal’ academics with history degrees in the US would rather be unemployed in the US than work here? I think you are seriously underplaying the negative and largely untrue stereotypes that Americans including those with PhDs in the history of other regions of the world have of Africa. Negative stereotypes that are so great they would rather be without work in the US than go live in Africa. You can tell yourself this isn’t racism, but it looks real similar.

                • Well, you might want to check out the article about US parochialism I posted earlier.

                  I rather suspect you overstate the willingness to go to EU, but whatever. I don’t see you supplying any data at all, so I don’t see we’ll make any progress here.

                  (I mean, the least you could do is provide some evidence that there are loads of jobs available in Ghana and that they are well advertized in typical US history job venues. That would be at least a start.

                  I’m not inherently adverse to a charge of racism or at least afro-ignorance/phobia. But make a reasonable case.)

    • Furious Jorge

      Not wanting to live in Ghana or Uzbekistan could be the result of other factors beyond “an aversion to being around people who are not white.”

      To quote every New Yorker cartoon ever, “Christ, what an asshole.”

  • Anderson

    This is a funny post. “Job stimulus for history professors” (who by definition are presumptive liberal Marxist enemies of our sacred patriotic traditions and brainwashers of innocent children) is a good candidate for a list of the Ten Least Likely GOP Legislative Proposals, right up there with requiring the House chaplain to be a Satanist.

    • Walt

      So what?

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        So if the question is what the largest professional organization of historians should see as a likely solution to the ongoing job crisis in the profession, a WPA for historians, while a worthy idea, is no more pragmatic than Grafton’s pretty empty invocations of opportunities outside of academia which Lemisch (and Erik) rightly complain about.

    • witless chum

      So, it’s not just a good idea, it’s a great idea.

    • John

      Is anyone suggesting that this is an idea that would be passed by the GOP?

      • Tcaalaw

        Unless the GOP loses control of the House and is reduced to 39 or fewer members of the Senate in the next election (and I think the latter is a mathematical impossibility in this particular election cycle), a plan will need at least some Republican votes to pass.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks


          This of course doesn’t mean that the AHA shouldn’t get behind this idea.

          But it does mean that it’s not a very practical solution, at least for the foreseeable future, to what ails our profession.

      • People said for 30 years public power would never pass. Then it did. This is how change works. You don’t create ideas on whether they could pass a present Congress. You push the ideas that are right and force politicians to come to your side.

        • Tcaalaw

          Except that you specifically criticized the AHA for failing to help unemployed historians find work. Striving to create a climate in which, decades down the road, historians can find work doesn’t really do much to meet the needs of the presently unemployed and soon-to-be unemployed.

  • JoyfulA

    What would be the equivalent for historians to the Full Employment for Anthropologists Act of a couple of decades ago that required hiring an archaeology firm to verify that new construction projects would not destroy previously unknown artifacts? Like the remains of George Washington’s slave quarters near Independence Hall.

    When I was reading to edit or proofread “New Visions for Anthropologists” or somesuch long ago, I gathered that the job opps mostly applied to archaeologists, but as part of a focus group last year, I was twice interviewed in my home by a PhD cultural anthropologist flown in from halfway across the country to interview people. She wouldn’t tell me, of course, who was funding the study. She did say other cultural anthropologists worked in her field, and, indeed, who would be better suited to scope out my “culture”?

    • Now we are talking. Of course, the anthropology job market is probably worse than history. But without the laws tying anthropological surveys to some construction projects, compliance with the Antiquities Act, etc., there would be a lot more unemployed anthropologists. There are a few jobs for historians in this kind of work. I put myself through my last couple of years of graduate school working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in historic preservation, making sure the Lab complied with the National Historic Preservation Act. We were but an appendage of the anthropologists.

      • JoyfulA

        Long ago, when my late husband was majoring in anthropology, we went to a party thrown by one of his professors to celebrate a former grad student’s first job. She was a PhD who beat out dozens of other applicants for this plum museum job, and most of her peers were unemployed. Her salary was the same I was making as an insurance clerk.

        Now that’s a bad anthropology job market.

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