Last summer, when a flurry of reports and commentaries declared a material crisis for the humanities, many commentators denied the claim, for instance, this statement entitled “The Humanities Aren’t Really in ‘Crisis'” (note the gratuitous sneer-quotes).
But the bad news keeps coming. Last week, Inside Higher Ed reported, “History Jobs Down 7.3%.” Data from the American Historical Association show only 686 openings, a reversal of the small increases posted from the previous two years and far below the pre-recession tally of 1,064 jobs.
The trend matches that of the Modern Language Association, the story notes, which recorded a significant drop in job openings in English after three years of gains. While tenure-track openings rose 101 slots to 729 in 2010-11 and another 28 slots in 2011-12, for 2012-13 they slipped down to 713, way below the 1,244 openings in 2007-08.
Nevertheless, programs continue to churn out several hundred more PhDs than the academic job market can take. To ameliorate the problem, the MLA and the AHA have devised an initiative to develop alternative job markets for PhDs, funded by the Mellon Foundation. Cynics might regard this project as simply a way to keep unnecessary graduate programs afloat, but there may be an interesting consequence to them. If, over time, an alternative job market is created, researchers might examine which candidates landed those jobs. What knowledge and skills did they possess? In which subfields did they specialize? Were race-class-gender-sexuality expertises favored, or more traditional foci? It could be an experiment in off-campus interest in historical and literary studies.