A Student of History

March 1, 2007

Too many history Ph.D. programs?

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 9:10 pm

If you are really into history and want to get a Ph.D. in it to someday–maybe–teach history at the college level, you should be allowed to do so, right?  Well, no surprise to many folks now on the job market or those who have been in the past (on the hiring or applicant side of things, or both), that question is not answered easily.

One would think that if you wish to get a Ph.D., you ought to be able to have the chance.  That would be a fair and logical conclusion, assuming one would be qualified to gain admittance to a program, and that sort of thing.  The problem comes, however, when one realizes that at the end of years of hard work and student loans, that there are few or even NO jobs for which one can apply, or even if there are, the number of others also applying is so great that the odds of getting interviewed are very slim. 

For me the question has always been–given these practicalities of the job scene, should universities stop admitting so many people to their programs?

Ralph Luker has an interesting column at HNN on this very idea.  He says:

It’s no secret that there are more doctoral programs in history than we need. No department wants to be told that, but it’s true. It’s true, even if their degree recipients don’t all intend to teach in a college or university classroom. Some years ago, I think, the AHA considered the possibility of credentialing or licensing graduate programs in history. But, with characteristic courage, it backed down from that, just as it backed away from adjudicating instances of professional malpractice. Credentialing doctoral programs, like adjudicating malpractice, was too hot to handle. I’m at a point in my career where I have nothing to lose, however, so I’ll step into this minefield.

This is followed by some very keen observations, so I recommend a glance at the piece.


  1. I fully agree that there are too many programs in the U.S. If a program is mediocre at best, perhaps it should be cut, and the best of those students could be funneled into other programs.

    Comment by Kristen — March 4, 2007 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

  2. When one is on the job market, it is very easy to see how many is too many when it comes to the # of history Ph.D.’s!

    Comment by John Maass — March 14, 2007 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

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