Current events and History hiring trends

hourglass.jpgBack in 1998 or 1999 as the end of the twentieth-century approached, all of a sudden Perspectives and the H-Net Job Guide were chocablock with advertisements for twentieth-century historians, particularly U.S. historians.  Beginning in the fall of 2002, in response to the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, it seemed like most departments with open lines were looking to hire historians of the modern Middle East or of U.S.-Middle East relations.  And, there are still a large number of medieval history job descriptions that state a preference for medieval Europe and Islam in a comparative framework, or medieval Mediterranean history.  Sadly for Historiann’s Russian history friends in graduate school in the early 1990s, interest in that field took a nosedive after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the events in Russia in the summer of 1991.  This influence of current events is hardly surprising, and I think reflects a (mostly) admirable commitment to using the past to open new perspectives on the present. 

In the event of a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton presidency, what will its effects be on History hiring in the fall of 2009 and for the next few years?  Will we see a renewed interest in hiring African American historians and women’s historians, particularly those whose work is in political history?  The rise of the history of the 1960s and 1970s in recent years, which will be big at the Berkshire Conference this year, may mean that historians of very recent U.S. history will be beneficiaries of a Clinton or Obama presidency, too.  Would a John McCain presidency mean a renaissance in military history (or even naval history?)  I can think of a group of people who may be rooting for a  Mike Huckabee presidency, even if mostly for the job, publishing, and punditry opportunities. 

Historiann has already been interviewed by a college journalist in Michigan about this historic election year–and bear in mind that it’s February, and she’s a colonial historian, not a modern U.S. women’s historian or African Americanist, so it strikes me that 2008 will be a historic election if only because it’s generating very strong interest in, well, American history.  Do you think it will influence History department hiring trends in the next few years, depending on the outcome of the November election?  Do you approve or disapprove of current events influencing History hires?  What fields do you think your department needs to hire in?  (And if you’re among’s wide interdisciplinary readership, please chime in from your own perspectives on current events and hiring in your fields.)  Inquiring graduate student lurkers want to know…

0 thoughts on “Current events and History hiring trends

  1. Hi Historiann. Thank you for the grant and fellowship writing advice.

    Current events do not appear to drive my department’s — in a large, public research university — hiring practices. The two searches — 20th-century U.S. public policy and Modern China — the department is finishing were designed to replace professors who left at the end of last year.

    I’m not sure who the department wishes to hire next. Early rumors suggest early-national U.S. in an Atlantic context, African diaspora in the Atlantic (could be combined with early-national U.S.), modern European intellectual history, or Islamic world are possibilities. But, what do I know? I’m only a graduate student.


  2. Hi Historiann,

    Our current search for an expert in modern German history was prompted by state history teaching standards requiring curriculum on the Holocaust. We would like the person to teach world history, since this is also the trend in public schools in the state, i.e. teach world history instead of western civilization.


  3. Heather–thanks for bringing up state teaching standards–a totally different kind of current event than the one I had in mind, but one that probably drives a lot of hires too! And Ortho–it sounds like your department might be relatively flush–it’s good to hear that there’s one of them around in these lean times.


  4. I definitely think that history hiring trends reflect current events, but probably not when it comes to individual personalities. Since 9/11, it seems that certainly Islamic World studies has become more popular, but I would also add that certain theoretical fields, such as the study of violence and torture, gained in popularity as well. In our department, the hiring trends seem to be most related to internal dynamics of who leaves the department and therefore what gaps need to be filled.

    Actually, thinking about it now, I just wonder if an Obama or Clinton presidency might deemphasize those fields, if their presidencies might make African-American history or women’s history more “mainstream” and therefore, less “cutting edge.”

    I don’t know. Like Ortho said, I’m just a graduate student.


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