A relatively new reader who is currently a college undergraduate recently asked for my advice regarding graduate programs in Civil War/Southern History. I blogged about this before and in addition to my own suggestions a number of readers offered their own recommendations. I was struck by one particular section of the email and want to share it since there may be others out there who are dealing with this important question:
I e-mailed my university’s resident 19th Century American/Southern history professor – a young guy, not fresh out of his PHD research but not a grizzled vet quite – asking about advice and recommendations of schools. The gist of the e-mail I got back was: Consider not going at all, the field is unfashionable, the jobs market is terrible, avoid American Studies like the plague specifically, good teachers are not rewarded, and to reiterate, STRONGLY consider not going.
Since I am not working at the college level there isn’t much that I can offer as a response. There is information on the job market and recent trends that the American Historical Association tracks which may be available on their website. I have friends and acquaintances in the field of Civil War/Southern History – many of them graduates of the University of Virginia’s program – that have done quite well in securing positions.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I have any intention of moving on to the Ph.D and a college teaching position. The question is usually asked with an air of curiosity as to why I have not already done so as if I have not quite completed the journey. While I would love to have the time to write a dissertation under the direction of one of the many talented scholars currently working in the field I have very little interest in teaching on the college level. In fact, I am willing to wager that if I did go on the market I would take both a serious pay cut as well as have to teach students that are not as skilled as my current crop.
For any of you who are considering a career in education please consider teaching high school. We desperately need good teachers.