This very neat article by Robert Townshend presents interesting empirical data on the history job market. One thing I noticed was that the recent downturn followed two years during which the number of jobs was higher than the number of new PhD recipients. To be sure, this does not mean that everybody who graduated got a job by any means, since the market remained heavily glutted with job seekers from previously meager years. That said, perhaps the recent economic downturn masks a structural recovery in the job market overall? As Townshend notes, the recent downturn has produced a nasty job market not just in history, but all over. Perhaps there’s reason for cautious optimism for historians.
One thing that is pretty clear, though, is that the market seems quite robust for historians and humanities scholars who are interested in digital humanities. I have only been watching twitter for this over the last few days, but in that short time I have seen many many postings for digital humanities jobs and postdocs at different research centers and at different universities– South Carolina, Washington St. Louis, etc. And if jobs seem plentiful, there also seem to be many funding opportunities for this right now. This too is good reason for grad students to be cautiously optimistic.
One last point about this: Townshend points out that history salaries have suffered a “humanities effect” over the past generation, as many universities have shifted their history departments out of social sciences and into the humanities division. With this shift came lower salaries, and historians now evidently make less than average among professors. I would be interested to see whether the funding opportunities for young digital humanities will eventually reverse this trend. Will the best digital humanists, competing for well-funded jobs, begin to see a “social science effect” on their salaries, or even, in rare cases, a “computer science effect?” Again, just one more reason to encourage graduate students to remain confident, to develop digital approaches in their toolkit and, above all, to keep considering opportunities in “plan B,” including these well-funded digital humanities initiatives and centers.