New graduate students file in. They're nervous, they're eager, they don't know quite what to expect. If the director of graduate studies does the job well, the annual orientation ritual will nourish their anticipation while allaying their anxieties. Still, out of a sense of responsibility, faculty members should keep one source of reasonable trepidation on the table: the job market. It is what it is, and new students need to enter with their eyes open to it.
But open to what? And what is the "it" that is the job market for historians? Academe alone? That is what we say when we offer statistics on placement. That is what we say when the department placement officer proffers the annual warning that ye who enter here do so at your own peril. Most orientations include a reference-in the best cases even some focus-on "alternative" careers. But the default, the hope, the gold ring, is the tenure-track position.
A curious irony. On the one hand, the intellectual experience that awaits our students is probably richer now than it has ever been. Traditional core fields like political and diplomatic history are experiencing revivals, new fields like transnational history are expanding, and new methods are being forged and honed. The old economy of scarcity that limited research in the early years of graduate school to the stacks of one's own university library has made way for a digital Land of Cockaigne. Verbal, visual, and aural sources from dozens of cultures crowd the screen of anyone enrolled at a university.
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photo of Henry Ford Museum by David Schalliol