seminar meeting time on 11/24

Just a quick reminder – we voted unanimously to hold class at 9:30am on Tuesday, 11/24. See then with archive stories.

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The Never-Ending Quest: Reforming the Humanities PHD

There is an interesting article on the 10/12 edition of Inside Higher Ed about a forthcoming book from Princeton University Press related to reform and PhD programs in the Humanities. I swear, in the 15 or so years I’ve been involved with graduate education (in one form or another), it seems there has been a constant stream of reportage, programatic suggestions, and general anxiety over the state of graduate education in the Humanities. And not without reason. There is little too suggest that the merits of pursuing PhD work in the Humanities extends beyond that of preparation for academic employment. That’s not to say there are no transferable skills accumulated during the many years attending to a PhD. But still, the amount of time it takes to finish does suggest that a Humanities PhD is probably not the most efficient means for acquiring those skills.

Much of the energy behind reform has come from foundation initiatives, most particularly those led by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and also the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate.  The book referenced in the article, Ehrenberg, et. al.’s Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities analyzes the Mellon Foundation data produced by their Graduate Education Initiative, and particularly some of the reasons Humanities PhDs take so long. Generally speaking, coursework is the lesser element in the production of humanities temporality. Surprise, surprise, the data suggests that appropriately allocated resources seem to be among the most important elements in getting students through quicker– particularly making available summer research monies.

One observation that did stand out, if only because of its reinforcement that notions of the gendered division of household labor are very hard to break, was that while married men are likely to finish quickest, married women gain no such advantage. From the IHE write-up:

Men who are married when they start graduate school are more likely than single men to graduate and to graduate more quickly. Married women, on the other hand, had no advantage over single women, so whatever the married men are getting in support from their spouses is not apparently duplicated.

The implication, quipped Ehrenberg, is that “everyone should have a wife.”

Even as just a quip, I find the comment simply offensive. I also wonder what the impact of other family arrangements beside heterosexual marriage has on time to degree.

It’s completely imaginable that with the current state of the job market, time to degree and exit stats will be moving in the wrong direction through at least 2011/2012, and maybe longer. There will be such a backlog of people putting off going on the market or putting time in the adjunct ranks, that I fear the result for people just now entering ABD ranks will be rough even once the market begins to rebound. How many students will fall into the equivalent ranks of “unemployed” no longer counted because they’re no longer looking?

One final note– as one commenter stated, its interesting that the monographic dissertation remains fundamentally beyond conversation. The commenter snarked that the problem with the monographic dissertation is that too many graduate students in the humanities are simply not prepared to write something of that scope, and thus many dissertations are pretty worthless. I’m not sure to what extent I can agree with that observation, but I will say that the nature of knowledge production and consumption is changing rapidly, and as the university press market shows, there is a real crisis in academic publishing. Will the monographic dissertation cede ground as the market for revised dissertations evaporates?

Can Google Books serve Scholars Better…?

YES!! Of course. And this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed identifies some of the key problems the current search model of Google Books poses for scholars. (Since it’s a Chronicle article, it’ll probably be moved behind their wall in a few days.) Geoffrey Nunberg points to the real mess that Google has made of metadata for the scanned works. 

I love Google Books– Yes, there are real and important legal questions about access, copyright, the danger of monopoly, and the like. No, Google is not engaged in scanning the world’s cumulative knowledge for altruistic reasons, but rather to enhance their algorithmic access to the accumulated information beyond, or rather before the information age. 

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Will You Be a Splitter or a Lumper?

David Meskill argues here that the historical profession needs more lumpers than splitters, a call for a revival of grand narrative. Or, at least, he calls for a return of historical research that is generalizable. Meskill also argues that, in good scientific fashion, historical writing should search for the simplest explanation for historical phenomena. He believes that splitters (ie, social and cultural historians) don’t do this, and rather unnecessarily complicate historical narrative by driving wedges in broad explanations. Finally, Meskill suggests that if historical knowledge is just a set of unending redactions and redefinitions (ie, that the truth of history is that there is no truth), then historians should simply stop writing. It is a simple restatement of one of the major arguments in historiography that we will be analyzing this semester.

What is your reaction, now, at the beginning? Are you a splitter or a lumper? Are those characterizations useful? If not, why?

Too early to think in terms of the job market?

No!.  In fact, I encourage all of you to think in terms of the job market from day one of your graduate school career.  Your task for the next 5-10 years is to apprentice yourself as a professional historian.  Tenured Radical has an excellent post on constructing a job letter that can be useful for you all in thinking through and approaching your apprenticeship. The elements that are necessary for a convincing job letter point to experiences you need to pursue. Before you an write that perfect job letter, you need to have the credentials that perfect letter will reference. So check out Tenured Radical’s post, and start planning your graduate school experience strategically.