History as a profession

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History as a profession

Post by Ace Pace » 2018-12-10 04:33pm

I'd like to hear some thoughts by people here who are more versed in academic history than I am, what do you think of the following article
War on the Rocks wrote: A recent study confirms a disturbing trend: American college students are abandoning the study of history. Since 2008, the number of students majoring in history in U.S. universities has dropped 30 percent, and history now accounts for a smaller share of all U.S. bachelor’s degrees than at any time since 1950. Although all humanities disciplines have suffered declining enrollments since 2008, none has fallen as far as history. And this decline in majors has been even steeper at elite, private universities — the very institutions that act as standard bearers and gate-keepers for the discipline. The study of history, it seems, is itself becoming a relic of the past.

It is tempting to blame this decline on relatively recent factors from outside the historical profession. There are more majors to choose from than in the past. As a broader segment of American society has pursued higher education, promising job prospects offered by other fields, from engineering to business, has no doubt played a role in history’s decline. Women have moved in disproportionate numbers away from the humanities and towards the social sciences. The lingering consequences of the Great Recession and the growing emphasis on STEM education have had their effects, as well.

Yet a deeper dive into the statistics reveals that history’s fortunes have worsened not over a period of years, but over decades. In the late 1960s, over six percent of male undergraduates and almost five percent of female undergraduates majored in history. Today, those numbers are less than 2 percent and 1 percent. History’s collapse began well before the financial crash.

This fact underscores the sad truth of history’s predicament: The discipline mostly has itself to blame for its current woes. In recent decades, the academic historical profession has become steadily less accessible to students and the general public — and steadily less relevant to addressing critical matters of politics, diplomacy, and war and peace. It is not surprising that students are fleeing history, for the historical discipline has long been fleeing its twin responsibilities to interact with the outside world and engage some of the most fundamental issues confronting the United States.

Consider the first of these issues: the retreat of scholarly history from the public square. There was a time when academic historians actively engaged in shaping policy on the critical issues of the day, and when the top academic historians wrote for a larger public audience. Woodrow Wilson engaged the country’s leading diplomatic historians to help him prepare for the Versailles Peace conference. Eminent scholars such as William Langer, Arthur Schlesinger, Ernest May, and Richard Pipes served in or consulted with government while retaining their academic positions during the Cold War. Schlesinger, Daniel Boorstin, C. Vann Woodward, and Richard Hofstadter wrote widely read books that drove public debate on issues such as political reform, populism, McCarthyism, and the broader American political tradition.

Yet as the historical discipline (like much of the American academy) became more professionalized, especially after World War II, it also became more specialized and inward-looking. Historical scholarship focused on increasingly arcane subjects; a fascination with innovative methodologies overtook an emphasis on clear, intelligible prose. Academic historians began writing largely for themselves. “Popularizer” — someone who writes for the wider world — became a term of derision within the profession.

Similarly, after the Vietnam War drove a wedge between government and the academy, historians tended to shun constructive engagement with policymakers in favor of a more confrontational approach premised on “speaking truth to power.” They came to regard “presentism” — using the past as a way of addressing the challenges of the present — as a distortion of the historian’s task. “History,” wrote one prominent historian in a stinging indictment of the relationship of an earlier generation of intellectuals to the federal government, “cannot in the first instance be concerned with navigating the ship of state.”

The result of these changes is a discipline that feels remarkably parochial to students or anyone outside the ivory tower. As Harvard’s Jill Lepore, the profession’s leading exception to these trends, recently pointed out, “The academy is largely itself responsible for its own peril. The retreat of humanists from public life has had enormous consequences for the prestige of humanistic ways of knowing and understanding the world.”

The second issue, closely related to the first, is the hostility toward certain kinds of historical inquiry. Decades ago, the subfields of political history, diplomatic history, and military history dominated the discipline. That focus had its costs: Issues of race, gender, and class were often deemphasized, and the perspectives of the powerless were frequently ignored in favor of the perspectives of the powerful. During the 1960s and after, the discipline was therefore swept by new approaches that emphasized cultural, social, and gender history, and that paid greater attention to the experiences of underrepresented and oppressed groups. This was initially a very healthy impulse, meant to broaden the field. Yet what was initially a very healthy impulse to broaden the field ultimately became decidedly unhealthy, because it went so far as to push the more traditional subfields to the margins.

Two historians, Fredrik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, have noted that “American political history as a field of study has cratered … What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.” Political history, however, is a growth industry compared to diplomatic history and military history. Scholars who study strategy and statecraft, diplomacy and policymaking, and the causes and consequences of war are often labeled as old-fashioned, methodologically unimaginative, and ideologically conservative. As a recent chair of a prominent history department recently explained to us, the discipline of history does not consider exploring and understanding the decisions of state leaders or military officials to be interesting, important, or innovative. Not surprisingly, those who study these subjects are a dying breed within major American history departments.

According to the American Historical Association, only three percent of practicing historians self-identified as diplomatic historians in 2015, as compared to seven percent in 1975. Only 44 percent of all history departments employed a diplomatic historian in 2015, compared to 85 percent four decades earlier. During the 2014–15 academic year, only nine out of 587 history jobs advertised with the American Historical Association were for positions in diplomatic or international history. During the 2015–16 academic year, the tally was three out of 572 — around one half of one percent. If anything, these dire numbers actually understate the problem. In an understandable effort at self-preservation within an inhospitable field, many self-identified diplomatic and military historians study questions far removed from the exercise of state power or the causes of war and peace. They are more likely to focus on the role of sports, gender, or culture in international and military affairs than on traditional aspects of statecraft.

Meanwhile, the number of military and diplomatic history courses taught in leading departments of history has plummeted. According to statistics compiled by one historian, in the fall of 1966 the Harvard history department offered numerous courses dealing with issues such as the world wars, the Cold War, and the history of the British empire. In 2016, the department had only one course addressing any of these subjects. While direct causation is difficult to prove here, it hardly seems a coincidence that undergraduate interest in history has plummeted just as the discipline has stopped emphasizing subjects that are central to understanding national and international politics alike. And it is probably no accident that in those relatively few elite universities where diplomatic, military, and political history are still respected and taught — Yale University comes to mind — enrollments in history departments remain relatively stable.

There is irony and tragedy aplenty in this situation. The first two classic works of history — the Histories of Herodotus and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War — were efforts to understand the sources of war and peace. At Johns Hopkins, America’s first modern research university, the seminar room in the History Department was once emblazoned with the motto, “History is past politics and politics present history.” Given the tragedy and suffering generated by conflict, given the centrality of politics and political power to every aspect of human life, historians until recent times understood the fundamental importance of political, diplomatic, and military history. The present marginalization of those fields is not simply hurting history enrollments. It is hurting the country’s ability to cope with pressing problems.

At a time when international tensions are rising, rivalry among the great powers is sharpening, and the prospect of major international war no longer seems so remote, the historical discipline is devoting scant effort to generating the knowledge that might equip the United States to deal effectively with these challenges. And at a time when the nation’s democratic norms and institutions are under significant strain, academic historians are paying comparatively little attention to how political power is gained and wielded in the American system.

Few historians would quarrel with the notion that more historical knowledge makes for smarter public policy. Few would contest the idea that a historically uninformed population is more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking and an inability to differentiate “fake news” from the real thing. Yet academic historians simply are not focusing their efforts on some of the issues that matter most to the fate of the United States and the international system today. Instead of possessing deep historical knowledge that serves as the intellectual foundation for effective policy and informed debate, the nation risks worsening historical ignorance with all its attendant dangers.

To be clear, we are not advocating “court history” or approaches that ignore the importance of cultural, technological, demographic, or socio-economic variables. Quite the contrary — great historians like William McNeil demonstrated that history was the one discipline that could effectively meld these perspectives to better understand a complex, uncertain world. To do so, however, scholars must actually engage questions that interest those beyond the dwindling, self-enclosed population of ivory tower historians.

Indeed, the pity of the present situation is that rigorous scholarship does not have to be antithetical to public engagement or relevance to current debates. Consider two other disciplines: Economics and the international relations sub-field of political science. Similar to history, both have become specialized and reward methodological innovation. Both, however, have managed to contribute to public debate and even policy without sacrificing their intellectual integrity. Top academic economists frequently serve in national and global institutions. The political science discipline promotes a variety of programs for its scholars to “bridge the gap” to the policy world. Yet because the historical profession tends to penalize rather than reward such efforts, it is marginalizing itself at the worst possible time.

Fortunately, other institutions have recognized — and sought to compensate for — academic history’s failures. Schools of international affairs, public policy, business, and law, and even political science departments, have hired leading historians working on political, military, and diplomatic issues. Scholars working in think tanks and interdisciplinary centers — such as the Brookings Institution and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Public Affairs — have produced outstanding works of history that have reached a broader popular audience.

There is a limit to what these institutions can do, because many of them are not involved either in educating undergraduates or in training the PhD students who will be the next generation of academic historians. But these efforts nonetheless deserve to be applauded and supported. History, after all, is too important to be left to the academic historians. And if the United States does not reinvest in the traditions that academic history departments have left behind, declining undergrad enrollments will be the least of the country’s problems.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the historian Fredrik Logevall.

Hal Brands, a historian trained at Yale University, is the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies in Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order, with Charles Edel.

Francis J. Gavin, a historian trained at the University of Pennsylvania, is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and Director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at the School of Advanced International Studies in Johns Hopkins University.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Avrjoe » 2018-12-10 08:07pm

My roommate is a history teacher. Children are getting to highschool with a horrid grasp of history. This has a severe impact on their ability to think critically about the context of modern problems.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Gandalf » 2018-12-10 11:13pm

I've worked in this field, albeit in Australia, so some of this rings true. Though I've some questions.

When they mention things like military histories, does that include specific examination of unpleasant things done by said militaries?

Also, because this is taken as a percentage of overall enrolments, how much of that is because universities have become in some way slightly fancier vocational schools, necessary if one wants a good shot at a job?
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Ace Pace » 2018-12-11 04:47am

Gandalf wrote:
2018-12-10 11:13pm
I've worked in this field, albeit in Australia, so some of this rings true. Though I've some questions.

When they mention things like military histories, does that include specific examination of unpleasant things done by said militaries?

Also, because this is taken as a percentage of overall enrolments, how much of that is because universities have become in some way slightly fancier vocational schools, necessary if one wants a good shot at a job?
So the latter part sounds like a huge percentage. Very few people would enroll in history in hopes of finding a policy job when Political Science and International Relations degrees exist.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Gandalf » 2018-12-11 05:20am

Ace Pace wrote:
2018-12-11 04:47am
So the latter part sounds like a huge percentage. Very few people would enroll in history in hopes of finding a policy job when Political Science and International Relations degrees exist.
Not to mention law and economics.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Ace Pace » 2018-12-11 06:15am

Gandalf wrote:
2018-12-11 05:20am
Ace Pace wrote:
2018-12-11 04:47am
So the latter part sounds like a huge percentage. Very few people would enroll in history in hopes of finding a policy job when Political Science and International Relations degrees exist.
Not to mention law and economics.
Those always existed and I don't know if they're also growing. They could also be faced with the growing decline of university humanities education and movement to STEM.

But the core thesis of History not engaging with popular audience or policy, reads reasonable to my layman eyes.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by ray245 » 2018-12-11 07:02am

I'm a post-grad in History. One issue I find with the article is the assumption that the point of doing a history degree is to shape public policy (especially in regards to foreign affairs and diplomatic matters).

This feels more like one sub-field of history complaining about their branch being marginalised. It's a very limited perspective if you assume military/diplomantic history should be the primarily focus of history. There's a section of people who assumes this is sufficient to allow us to develop a good understanding of the past.

There are many other aspect of history that is valuable for our understanding of society and science. Take history of medicine. New medicial breakthroughs were made by studying the history of medicine and allow someone to win a nobel prize as a reward.

I'm not sure if this is more of a US thing than a UK thing. History education is still highly valued over here. A number of historians from top universities are very much public figures over here.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Gandalf » 2018-12-11 03:17pm

Ace Pace wrote:
2018-12-11 06:15am
Gandalf wrote:
2018-12-11 05:20am
Ace Pace wrote:
2018-12-11 04:47am
So the latter part sounds like a huge percentage. Very few people would enroll in history in hopes of finding a policy job when Political Science and International Relations degrees exist.
Not to mention law and economics.
Those always existed and I don't know if they're also growing. They could also be faced with the growing decline of university humanities education and movement to STEM.
Over here they're going up, because they're seen as valuable degrees in the job market. Lots of people applying for government work have those degrees specifically.
But the core thesis of History not engaging with popular audience or policy, reads reasonable to my layman eyes.
I see it as an issue where people no longer want to hear from historians because they went from telling stories about the Great White Men who founded Australia, to stories about their victims. John Howard (back when he was PM) railed against it, calling it "black armband history."
"Oh no, oh yeah, tell me how can it be so fair
That we dying younger hiding from the police man over there
Just for breathing in the air they wanna leave me in the chair
Electric shocking body rocking beat streeting me to death"

- A.B. Original, Report to the Mist

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Re: History as a profession

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-12-11 04:12pm

I can see how it would be declining; along with the other 'liberal arts' it's simply not a good bet career-wise. About the only things you can do with history are teach it or write it, and if it's dry scholastic writing, nobody is going to want to read it but other scholars. Not a great market. So if you want to make any money with it, either you have to get lucky and finagle yourself some kind of position where you can advise people for pay, or write some kind of pop-history book that tells the REAL STORY about whatever happened.

And yeah, pop history has two sides of the coin. That's illustrated every time I walk into the local Books-a-Million and there's half a dozen books out about How Democrats Doomed America and The Real Story of the Seventies (Hippies Didn't Exist or Do Anything) on the "here we want you to buy these" displays.

To a large degree pop history and the Internet are, I think, what's hurt history as a profession. That and long careers; it's not a particularly active job, and even if one quits teaching, they can still write, so people trying to break into it have to fight incumbents who started in the 50s, 60s, 70s etc... I mean, shit, Henry Kissinger is still kicking around. The more old and gnarly you look in the slipcover photo, the more legitimacy you get (popularly anyway).
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Re: History as a profession

Post by ray245 » 2018-12-11 04:26pm

Elheru Aran wrote:
2018-12-11 04:12pm
I can see how it would be declining; along with the other 'liberal arts' it's simply not a good bet career-wise. About the only things you can do with history are teach it or write it, and if it's dry scholastic writing, nobody is going to want to read it but other scholars. Not a great market. So if you want to make any money with it, either you have to get lucky and finagle yourself some kind of position where you can advise people for pay, or write some kind of pop-history book that tells the REAL STORY about whatever happened.

And yeah, pop history has two sides of the coin. That's illustrated every time I walk into the local Books-a-Million and there's half a dozen books out about How Democrats Doomed America and The Real Story of the Seventies (Hippies Didn't Exist or Do Anything) on the "here we want you to buy these" displays.

To a large degree pop history and the Internet are, I think, what's hurt history as a profession. That and long careers; it's not a particularly active job, and even if one quits teaching, they can still write, so people trying to break into it have to fight incumbents who started in the 50s, 60s, 70s etc... I mean, shit, Henry Kissinger is still kicking around. The more old and gnarly you look in the slipcover photo, the more legitimacy you get (popularly anyway).
The problem is academics doesn't benefit from writing a pop history books. They are required to produce academic monographs because that's how they are assessed and judged if they are worthy of receiving tenure, promotions and etc.

I don't have very good opinion of most pop history books because there are many that aren't well researched or simply repeat the exact same old arguments as older works.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-12-11 04:43pm

ray245 wrote:
2018-12-11 04:26pm
The problem is academics doesn't benefit from writing a pop history books. They are required to produce academic monographs because that's how they are assessed and judged if they are worthy of receiving tenure, promotions and etc.

I don't have very good opinion of most pop history books because there are many that aren't well researched or simply repeat the exact same old arguments as older works.
Right... but on the other hand, if pop history books sell, they can make the author and publisher a lot of money. So that becomes part of the equation. The general public honestly doesn't care that much about how precisely accurate most history books are. Monographs on the other hand don't do anything for people who aren't already interested in the subject.

It also doesn't help, academically, that there are vast volumes of material already written about most of the interesting times of history. So to do anything new, you have to venture into the less interesting times, or less well known times, and make them interesting somehow. Means a lot of time and effort, for uncertain results; you may be utterly enthusiastic about 8th Century Cuman yogurt making, but is anybody going to care about it besides you and the subset of academics who are interested in Central Asian tribes?
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Re: History as a profession

Post by ray245 » 2018-12-11 05:14pm

Elheru Aran wrote:
2018-12-11 04:43pm
ray245 wrote:
2018-12-11 04:26pm
The problem is academics doesn't benefit from writing a pop history books. They are required to produce academic monographs because that's how they are assessed and judged if they are worthy of receiving tenure, promotions and etc.

I don't have very good opinion of most pop history books because there are many that aren't well researched or simply repeat the exact same old arguments as older works.
Right... but on the other hand, if pop history books sell, they can make the author and publisher a lot of money. So that becomes part of the equation. The general public honestly doesn't care that much about how precisely accurate most history books are. Monographs on the other hand don't do anything for people who aren't already interested in the subject.

It also doesn't help, academically, that there are vast volumes of material already written about most of the interesting times of history. So to do anything new, you have to venture into the less interesting times, or less well known times, and make them interesting somehow. Means a lot of time and effort, for uncertain results; you may be utterly enthusiastic about 8th Century Cuman yogurt making, but is anybody going to care about it besides you and the subset of academics who are interested in Central Asian tribes?
True, but is there a point to writing history if all you can do is to offer repackaged ideas done by people before you? That's not really doing anything to educate people.

I'm one of those people studying the more obscure periods and the point of doing so is to try and broaden people's undestanding of the past. A failure to do so is to keep people trapped within the same old narrative that's been told to them before.

It's easy to make people believe in the "benefits of imperialism" if all the history they read is the same old narrative of how glorious it was for the X empire at the height of their power and etc. That and having an unhealthy focus on military/diplomatic history in schools. I think what needs to be taught in school should be less about historical information but teaching students how to engage with historical works and narratives.

The problem lies less with the academic historians but the way the general public is taught history in schools.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-12-11 05:39pm

ray245 wrote:
2018-12-11 05:14pm
True, but is there a point to writing history if all you can do is to offer repackaged ideas done by people before you? That's not really doing anything to educate people.

I'm one of those people studying the more obscure periods and the point of doing so is to try and broaden people's undestanding of the past. A failure to do so is to keep people trapped within the same old narrative that's been told to them before.

It's easy to make people believe in the "benefits of imperialism" if all the history they read is the same old narrative of how glorious it was for the X empire at the height of their power and etc. That and having an unhealthy focus on military/diplomatic history in schools. I think what needs to be taught in school should be less about historical information but teaching students how to engage with historical works and narratives.

The problem lies less with the academic historians but the way the general public is taught history in schools.
One of the benefits of the modern period is that there's at least two narratives ongoing, if not more, in the popular consciousness. You have the conservative narrative of the 'good old times' where imperialism benefitted the West and all that, the liberal narrative of how this was actually terrible for everybody else, and perhaps some more specific narratives within those such as Black and Civil Rights history in the USA. So there is that at least-- we aren't restricted (at least in my experience) to just the one conventional popular account of history.

But I do agree though that the fundamental problem is education in general. Not so much the focus on STEM, but I'd say as much as anything else the highly flawed approaches being adopted in the US over the past twenty-odd, if not thirty-odd, years. I can't say for any other countries.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Civil War Man » 2018-12-13 08:44am

Elheru Aran wrote:
2018-12-11 04:43pm
It also doesn't help, academically, that there are vast volumes of material already written about most of the interesting times of history. So to do anything new, you have to venture into the less interesting times, or less well known times, and make them interesting somehow. Means a lot of time and effort, for uncertain results; you may be utterly enthusiastic about 8th Century Cuman yogurt making, but is anybody going to care about it besides you and the subset of academics who are interested in Central Asian tribes?
I think the problem is less that vast volumes have already been written on all of the most interesting times of history, and more that vast volumes have already been written on the best documented aspects of history. It's hard to explore a certain aspect of history if there are few sources to draw on, regardless of whether it's due to destruction of records, low literacy rates in the people being studied, biases in what sources do exist, etc.

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Re: History as a profession

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-12-27 03:09am

Most people studying history in my experience are people who simply don't know what else they want to do, and are generally incapable of actually doing anything useful in the field in terms of creating new documents. Basically its a place a lot of people go who are being forced into the college system. So at that point I don't think its a bad thing if the system has less people doing this, and if we've returned to 1950 levels of history study I'm not sure why I should be alarmed. WW2 wasn't caused by a lack of historians, if anything it was caused by them.

Meanwhile in the classes I took, I recall waaay too many cases of people complaining that the assigned reading was 'too dense' or 'I'm a generalist' to be dismissed, these people were on a track to accomplish nothing. Being a serious historian takes attention to detail and a willingness to go through huge amounts of material to extract what is actually relevant and interesting to make new conclusions or produce some kind of book or paper that anyone else might actually read. And if that process doesn't happen, then its very unlikely that either the person getting the degree, or society as a whole, is benefiting in any way. If they aren't good at what they do they and society won't learn from history. They'll generate new falsehoods they think are verified by the past, which is way more dangerous in my opinion then simply coming up with a new idea that maybe isn't new, but which the person using it has no expectation of being 'proven' either.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by ray245 » 2018-12-28 10:36am

Sea Skimmer wrote:
2018-12-27 03:09am
Most people studying history in my experience are people who simply don't know what else they want to do, and are generally incapable of actually doing anything useful in the field in terms of creating new documents. Basically its a place a lot of people go who are being forced into the college system. So at that point I don't think its a bad thing if the system has less people doing this, and if we've returned to 1950 levels of history study I'm not sure why I should be alarmed. WW2 wasn't caused by a lack of historians, if anything it was caused by them.

Meanwhile in the classes I took, I recall waaay too many cases of people complaining that the assigned reading was 'too dense' or 'I'm a generalist' to be dismissed, these people were on a track to accomplish nothing. Being a serious historian takes attention to detail and a willingness to go through huge amounts of material to extract what is actually relevant and interesting to make new conclusions or produce some kind of book or paper that anyone else might actually read. And if that process doesn't happen, then its very unlikely that either the person getting the degree, or society as a whole, is benefiting in any way. If they aren't good at what they do they and society won't learn from history. They'll generate new falsehoods they think are verified by the past, which is way more dangerous in my opinion then simply coming up with a new idea that maybe isn't new, but which the person using it has no expectation of being 'proven' either.
Are you talking about it at postgrad level or at undergrad level?
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Tsyroc » 2019-01-01 06:08am

ray245 wrote:
2018-12-28 10:36am
Sea Skimmer wrote:
2018-12-27 03:09am
Most people studying history in my experience are people who simply don't know what else they want to do, and are generally incapable of actually doing anything useful in the field in terms of creating new documents. Basically its a place a lot of people go who are being forced into the college system. So at that point I don't think its a bad thing if the system has less people doing this, and if we've returned to 1950 levels of history study I'm not sure why I should be alarmed. WW2 wasn't caused by a lack of historians, if anything it was caused by them.

Meanwhile in the classes I took, I recall waaay too many cases of people complaining that the assigned reading was 'too dense' or 'I'm a generalist' to be dismissed, these people were on a track to accomplish nothing. Being a serious historian takes attention to detail and a willingness to go through huge amounts of material to extract what is actually relevant and interesting to make new conclusions or produce some kind of book or paper that anyone else might actually read. And if that process doesn't happen, then its very unlikely that either the person getting the degree, or society as a whole, is benefiting in any way. If they aren't good at what they do they and society won't learn from history. They'll generate new falsehoods they think are verified by the past, which is way more dangerous in my opinion then simply coming up with a new idea that maybe isn't new, but which the person using it has no expectation of being 'proven' either.
Are you talking about it at postgrad level or at undergrad level?
I got a undergrad degree in history in 1998 and I think Skimmer's post probably reflected me at the time and the discipline fairly well. I didn't get to doing much in the way of research or interpreting original documents until the end of my degree. For the most part it wasn't much of an upgrade from the "memorize this, it's what happened that we've deemed important" show that makes up history class in the US prior to university. I did get to choose from a wider variety of subjects and some interpretation was involved but it was more second hand and not from original documents. Maybe it was more than I'm remembering but I mostly remember my final project paper being the thing where we were actually being historians.

For the record, I've never used my degree other than to occasionally impress my parents while watching Jeopardy and my minor in the humanities probably works better for that anyway. I had intended to continue to postgraduate work but I was tired of writing papers all the time and the sort of history I was most interested in would have required some semblance of fluency in at least one or two languages other than English. These days I could probably go back and find sufficient interest in US history but at the time it was not my thing. In hindsight I should have gone into pharmacy. I've been working as a pharmacy technician since 1999 so I'm familiar enough with the occupation to know that I could have done it if I had been determined to do so at the time.

I came out with a degree and no debt so I consider it a bit of wash since I liked a lot of what I was learning about. It just wasn't something I could make a profession of without doing some things that I didn't have the will to do. The pharmacy tech thing has worked out okay, and I got that training on the job. :)
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Re: History as a profession

Post by ray245 » 2019-01-01 06:31am

Tsyroc wrote:
2019-01-01 06:08am
I got a undergrad degree in history in 1998 and I think Skimmer's post probably reflected me at the time and the discipline fairly well. I didn't get to doing much in the way of research or interpreting original documents until the end of my degree. For the most part it wasn't much of an upgrade from the "memorize this, it's what happened that we've deemed important" show that makes up history class in the US prior to university. I did get to choose from a wider variety of subjects and some interpretation was involved but it was more second hand and not from original documents. Maybe it was more than I'm remembering but I mostly remember my final project paper being the thing where we were actually being historians.

For the record, I've never used my degree other than to occasionally impress my parents while watching Jeopardy and my minor in the humanities probably works better for that anyway. I had intended to continue to postgraduate work but I was tired of writing papers all the time and the sort of history I was most interested in would have required some semblance of fluency in at least one or two languages other than English. These days I could probably go back and find sufficient interest in US history but at the time it was not my thing. In hindsight I should have gone into pharmacy. I've been working as a pharmacy technician since 1999 so I'm familiar enough with the occupation to know that I could have done it if I had been determined to do so at the time.

I came out with a degree and no debt so I consider it a bit of wash since I liked a lot of what I was learning about. It just wasn't something I could make a profession of without doing some things that I didn't have the will to do. The pharmacy tech thing has worked out okay, and I got that training on the job. :)
Hmm, that seems quite different from how I was trained as an undergraduate. I remember I was heavily penalised in one of my essay for not using any primary sources. What you are describing would be the case for first year history undergraduates, as they will be taking introduction history lectures to familiarise themselves with the basic overview of the time period and regions they are focusing on.

By the time you are in your second year, you are expected to do analysis and interpretation of the primary sources, and the onus is on you to find those sources. It is extremely rare for us to have a written examination as most of our assessment is done by producing an original research paper and you have to come up with the research question yourself.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Tsyroc » 2019-01-01 06:51am

Based on your description I think my undergraduate would be more of a general studies with an emphasis in history where it sounds like yours is more like mine was the last semester. I think there were probably more primary sources required than I'm recalling but I definitely felt that when I finished I hadn't had to use primary sources all that often until my final paper.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by ray245 » 2019-01-01 07:29am

Tsyroc wrote:
2019-01-01 06:51am
Based on your description I think my undergraduate would be more of a general studies with an emphasis in history where it sounds like yours is more like mine was the last semester. I think there were probably more primary sources required than I'm recalling but I definitely felt that when I finished I hadn't had to use primary sources all that often until my final paper.
Things might have changed over the years? I think there used to be more emphasis on written examinations and it has shifted to more research focus over the years. My professors who might have started uni in the same years as you told me they have definetly changed how they examine their students. With online resources and database, you have far less excuses not to be using primary sources.
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Re: History as a profession

Post by Tsyroc » 2019-01-01 09:37am

Yeah, I was still using microfiche, microfilm, physical copies and I think we had a newish small computer database for some types of documents that I can't recall other than it was something new we had to learn to use and were required to have at least one item from it as one of our sources. :D
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