I’ll blog about another terrific roundtable I saw last weekend at the Society for French Historical Studies later this week, but in the meantime, I wanted to wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day and leave you with this thought:
In spite of the vicious political attacks on the humanities going back at leastto Lynne Cheney’s leadership of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the budgetary pressures that threaten our work and even in some institutions and programs our very existence, I think in some respects we might be living in a Golden Age for humanities scholarship. (Whuuut?? Is Historiann taking Professor’s Little Helpers again,I can hear you all wondering?) Largely because of the market forces that have relentlessly shaped our professional lives, people who manage to get tenure-track jobs nowadays are and will overwhelmingly remain active scholars, whereas in the past it seems like it was a rare humanities faculty member at SLACs, Aggie schools, or public directionals who remained active scholars through their careers. Scholarship was for the Big Thinkers at R-1s, not for the rest of us, but now even departments like mine rarely hire ABDs or people who haven’t yet published at least a few articles, and many of our tenure candidates in recent years have had books in print in addition to a list of articles as long as my arm.
In this respect, it seems like we have been a force for democratizing higher education.* I believe that the undergraduate students I train now are better trained for advanced work in history by my colleagues and me than I was twenty years ago at a supposedly highly selective SLAC. I was well-educated for the times–but I had several professors (tenured, full professors, that is) who had never published a book, and many who published just their dissertations back before I was born and so weren’t exactly terribly active as scholars by the time I got to college. But everyone in my department who is tenured is by definition an active and productive scholar.
(Does anyone want to guess who were the better and more challenging teachers, back in my day? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)
Therefore, I don’t believe there’s ever been a stronger or readier generation to defend scholarship. It’s the water we’re all swimming in, not just the lucky duckies who have the plum positions at the fancypants private unis, the Big Ten powerhouse grad departments, or the tony SLACs.
*Yes, I understand the irony of making this claim against the backdrop of the precarious academic job market, which as Tom pointed out in the comments on yesterday’s post, is sorting out regular from “special” faculty and permitting only the former to be producers of knowledge and insisting that the latter be strictly teachers. To be clear: I’m suggesting that the brutal job market has had a democratizing effect on the quality of educations we now offer most American college and university students compared to the quality of educations they were offered forty years ago. This ratcheting up of expectations has put the same pressure on adjunct faculty as well: in my department for example, all of our adjunct faculty hold Ph.D.s now (except for one ABD, I believe), and many of them remain active scholars in spite of their heavy teaching loads.