Piled Higher, Deeper

What makes an historian?… A collection of advanced degrees? The ability to thoroughly explain research? Published writing in a peer reviewed journal? Teaching eager young minds about the past? Could any combination of these qualify a person as an “historian?”

Tell us Mr. McCullough, what do you specialize in?

Tell us Mr. McCullough, what do you specialize in?

The narrow parameters of academic discipline… create the appearance of rigid professionalism, but in effect, provide only  compartmentalized confusion.  The specialization that permeates the digital age seems to have influenced all reaches of academia.  People no long study history, but must focus on some minute period of it.  The requisite for title of ‘historian’ is now a Doctor of Philosophy degree in some purposely narrowed time period, often accompanied by an equally specific cultural scope.  (PhD in 19th Century Female Labor Patterns-with a focus on the American Northeastern Corridor.)  Shouldn’t “historians” be able to speak intelligently and passionately about a variety of historical issues, similarly, as we expect  auto mechanics to be able to repair all types of cars?

Lawyers can be historians too...if they write the appropriate books...

Lawyers can be historians too…if they write the appropriate books…

The academic job market is shrinking… yet PhD’s are being handed out at record levels.  There is legitimate doubt as to the true economic value of such an advanced degree.  If the requisite skills can be acquired without the crippling debt and limited prospects- shouldn’t there be a reevaluation of  professional guidelines?  The field of history is changing at rapid pace- the professionals taking it on need to adjust to the race.



Filed under Ephemera, News

4 responses to “Piled Higher, Deeper

  1. I think having a specialization isn’t entirely horrible, there are benefits to focuses on sections of history, where one dedicates oodles of time on research and writing. I do not think this means we neglect the many other areas or topics of history; a historian, especially one who teaches, ought to have a wide reach on their vocation. With that said, too much breath and not enough depth can be damaging to academia. Sure, just like mechanics, we should have the ability to teach various areas of history; however, are there not mechanics who specialize with certain automobiles? For me, interest comes from a breath of history; passion illuminates from an focused place and time that an historian feels called to study, research, and write.

  2. You’re raising some good questions.

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