restricted access The Future of the Profession
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12 Historically Speaking · September/October 2004 The American Historical Profession INTHE 2 1 st Century: An Exchange ONE OF THE MANY HIGHLIGHTS ofthe HistoricalSoci-sion with his paper, after which Leo Ribuffo and Marc Trachtety 's 2004 conference, "Reflections on the Current State ofHistor-enberg offeredtheir responses. The exchange wasprovocative, canical Inquiry, " was a lively session on "The American Historicaldid, andfrequently hilarious. Wesupply our readers with lightly Profession in the 21st Century. " Bruce Kuklick launchedtheses-editedversions ofthe threepapers. The Future of the Profession Bruce Kuklick There are several reasons why I was a bad choice to make this presentation. I have an ambivalent connection to the profession, disliking meetings and networking and thereby losing sustained intellectual contact with peers. In many ways I am barely professionally active. My interests lie in two peripheral fields, intellectual and diplomatic history, that are usually counted as retrograde. Moreover, although I am convinced (unlike many of my colleagues) that we know at least a little bit about the past, I also believe that we know very little about the future, and should not get into the game of being futurologists. I am under an illusion that I read widely but when, in preparation for the talk, I looked at theJournal ofAmerican History's recent symposium on the topic, I noted that there were many "seminal," "pathbreaking," and "paradigm"-shattering or -creating books, not just that I had not read but that / had not heard of. Thus, readers are encouraged—as were the commentators —to be very critical of my views. Readers are also reminded that for the most part, I am noting what I think are trends, and not endorsing them. What will shape the future of the profession is a phenomenon that I call "mass professionalization"—a very large number ofpeople trained to be professional historians , to publish in ever more specialized journals, to try to avoid undergraduate teaching, and to engage in their own research agendas. This phenomenon has diverse consequences. In our era, the large number is too high—too many people trained with a Ph.D. degree to be historians, so that even in the enormous system of higher education , there are too few jobs for these individuals . This may be an issue of under demand rather than oversupply, but the consequences are the same, especially in the fields of American history that I know best. The first significant problem of mass professionalization is that there is a growing helot class of non-standing faculty, exploited and underpaid. To presume that the tenure-track job at a major university represents the norm is like presuming that Ozzie and Harriet represent the typical American family. But the power of the tenure system to distort market forces is extraordinary. In ordinary circumstances, with such an enormous supply of faculty in comparison to a relative small demand, one would draw the inference that faculty with jobs would be teaching more and being paid less; but for standing faculty the reverse actually often occurs. Thus, two likely results of mass professionalization in the 2 1st century are, on the one hand, increasing attacks on tenure and, on the other, increasing pressure for unionization . Both the attacks and the pressure seem to me to be justified. My heart tells me that we ought to try to maintain the older dignified notion of a profession, and I don't like the idea of unions for graduate students. But I have a hard time coming up with good reasons to fight unions, and I can't think ofmany to retain the tenure system . I would settle for a system of the old crafts union, like carpenters but not like autoworkers. We will probably get the latter . Even for those on the lowest rungs of the professional ladder, the ideology of graduate school professors, which emphasizes publication, more than usually holds sway. Even schools that have long served certain regional, vocational, or ethno-cultural needs have often given in to this ideology . This means that most of us value scholarship, and promote it, more than we promote teaching or service to an institution . A second significant problem of mass professionalization stems from this scholarly emphasis—the exponential growth...


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