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Employing HISTORY – A Guide to Graduate School and Navigating the Job Market

By Carly Ciufo, Jenny Ellison and Andrew Johnston

EHThe CHA is please to announce the release of the third edition of its career manual. Employing History (EH): A Guide to Graduate School and Navigating the Job Market is a handbook for graduate students and early career historians. It contains experiential advice and guidance on navigating post-graduate study, sharing academic research and finding work.

Previously known as Becoming a Historian, Employing History (EH*) is the product of a multi-year review, consultation and edit that began in 2017. That year marked the 10-year anniversary of the last edition edited by Franca Iacovetta and Molly Ladd-Taylor, which was itself an update of their original 1999 edition. Much of what was said in the 2007 edition rings true today: be collegial, approach your work with ambition, meet deadlines, network. In 2007, Iacovetta and Taylor told readers that they “updated the original CHA manual in response to changes in graduate student funding, the job market, scholarly publishing, and other academic practices across North America since 1999.” As editors, it was humbling to realize this edition would address similar concerns.

Our retrofit of the 2007 guide includes minor edits to chapters on life in graduate school and funding. Sections related to finding work and publishing were changed more significantly. We added information on online publishing options – blogs, op-eds, writing for non-academic audiences, and social media. Data tells us that far more graduates find careers outside of universities than in them. The expanded careers section reflects this reality and shares the stories of historians having an impact on many sectors, including universities, museums, government departments and in consulting work, among many sectors. The CHA’s new title for the manual also reflects this subtle shift, to point to the multiple ways history is “employed” and used by graduates.

In 2007, the editors could not have anticipated these changes. Since graduate school and job opportunities are rapidly changing, we know that whoever edits the next edition will similarly edit, add, and remove!

This guide won’t resolve big picture questions facing universities, however.

In our consultations, CHA graduate student members expressed frustration about PhD enrolments, precarity and the concept of work outside academia. We don’t address these issues directly in the manual because they speak to larger structural questions that are out of our purview. We do, however, try to reflect a reality with which graduate students and new graduates face: shrinking funding, changing job opportunities, and new approaches to funding and public engagement.

While addressing challenges, we also hope the guide sparks excitement about becoming a historian and the range of ways people use their academic training. Teachers, civil servants, museum workers, public historians, journalists, and more, all need to have the same broad learning, methodological training, and research skills of a historian. And the world, in any job, certainly needs a better understanding of history.

As we finalize this manual in 2020, history is at the forefront of public debate on several intersecting issues. History is always relevant, of course. But, at this moment there is a demand for historians to offer context on issues including anti-racism, a global pandemic, police brutality, and settler colonialism. Societies all over the world argue about their shared pasts, about monuments and school textbooks, about collective guilt and modern accountability. Everywhere we see one side accuse another of lying or distorting or “editing” history. What these struggles over the past confirm is that historical memory is a serious part of contemporary life. The public sphere is filled with calls for more historical understanding, even while universities, governments, and students opt for other fields of study. We can’t solve that dilemma here. But what we’re trying to do is move past a hierarchical understanding of what being a historian means, to provide a guide to navigating the training process in ways that maximize your career flexibility. (And hopefully bring more “history” to the world.)

Employing History deliberately uses the term historian broadly, to describe people who use history as a lens through which to analyze problems, teach, interpret the world, pursue social justice, uncover secrets, and tell stories. History is still, however, a discipline. It is neither a vocation nor a specific career path. Most history degrees will prepare you to study and interpret the past. Beyond that, history can involve different methods (oral history, documentary analysis, data mining) and can include any time period. Likewise, a history degree can have diverse outcomes and equip you to do different jobs, teach in other disciplines, or simply satisfy your curiosity, among many other things. For faculty, our hope is that EH is a tool you can use in mentoring younger historians and talking to them about their goals. For graduate students and early career professionals, we hope EH answers questions that graduate students and early career professionals were afraid to ask (or didn’t know to ask). Everyone’s motivations for doing history can be very different. Working collaboratively, our conclusion is that within the “discipline” of history, there are many different ways of being a historian.

*In English our new acronym looks the same as a (supposed) Canadianism intended to elicit agreement. Sorry.