Where Historians Work: The View from Early America — Welcome to the Series!

PhD graphicIn February 2017, The Junto sent out a call to historians working outside the professoriate to join us in a conversation about career diversity for early American history PhDs.[1] The response was exciting and full of interesting conversations with curators, scholars, archivists, librarians, and public historians who have chosen to pursue their passion for research, writing, and teaching in a variety of settings and occupations.

Starting tomorrow, and over the coming weeks, The Junto will feature Q&A’s between Columbia University PhD candidate and Public Historian Katy Lasdow, and a range of participants.

  • Margaret Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library & Archives
  • Stephanie Gamble, Librarian for History & Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries
  • David Gary, Curator of Printed Materials at the American Philosophical Society
  • Alea Henle, Head of Public Services Librarian at Western New Mexico University’s J. Cloyd Miller Library
  • Kenneth Minkema, Executive Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University
  • Valerie Paley, Vice President, Chief Historian and Director of the Center for the Study of Women’s History at the New-York Historical Society
  • Anne Peterson, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Emily Swafford, Manager of Academic Affairs for the American Historical Association

The participants take us across the country, from New England, to Philadelphia, to New Mexico, to California, to places in between. Their stories offer glimpses of the ways early American history has shaped their careers, both through choices made in graduate school, and as opportunities arose later in new places and settings.

As the series will show, early American history has played a vibrant and varied role in their careers. Some participants studied it in graduate school, producing dissertations and scholarship, or leading archives and libraries, that kept them right at home “in the field.” Others came to the field as they assumed leadership positions at institutions located in centuries-old buildings or sites, or took on museum exhibitions and research projects encompassing the historical content of earlier eras. Though these participants might not self-identify as “early Americanists” in the formal academic sense, their stories demonstrate the shared importance—and welcome challenge!—of stepping outside their scholarly comfort zones.

Participants’ experiences are unique, but their stories share common themes—from the broader philosophical principles that guide professional choices, to the ordinary realities of daily life. Many of these themes will resonate with readers across the profession. They show that a desire for a robust intellectual and interpersonal career is not simply the purview of those who choose, or do not choose, the academy. Participants touched upon the need to “know your audience,” to speak and write with concise language and content objectives, and to understand how the every-day experiences of readers, visitors, and students intersect with the past in obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

Participants also discussed how their choices were guided not so much by the “job market,” but rather by a realization that factors beyond the university had become a priority, including raising families and finding a place to call home. Many spoke of mentors—advisors, dissertation committee members, and professional colleagues—who supported and advocated for their career decisions. Others spoke of the self-directed nature of “alternative career” choices, and offered suggestions to Junto readers looking to begin the job search process.

Though this series focuses on the experiences of history professionals with doctoral degrees, it does not intend to ignore or dismiss the important and ongoing contributions of colleagues with master’s degrees and other accolades in higher education. We know that these individuals have much professional wisdom to share, and we look forward to featuring their work in the future. With that in mind, we hope that readers will consider the Q&As that follow to be an introduction to a much bigger conversation. We should all feel empowered and welcome to take part in the discussion.

We invite you to read the series and share your thoughts in the comments. The Junto hopes that this series will spark many conversations, both on and off the blog. Please reach out to us if you have a career story you would like to share.

Thank you to all Career Series participants for offering your time to answer emails, to speak with Katy on the phone or meet in person, and to write thoughtful responses to questions that emerged from those conversations. It was a pleasure speaking and meeting with all of you. There is no doubt that the history profession is stronger and more impactful because of the work you do.

We will begin the series tomorrow with a Q&A featuring Dr. Emily Swafford, Manager of Academic Affairs for the American Historical Association. She will introduce us to the array of Career Diversity initiatives currently implemented and underway with the AHA.


[1] Though this series is inspired by ongoing efforts at the American Historical Association, it is produced independently by The Junto.

5 responses

  1. I’m really excited to see this project in the works. More than 20 years ago, I earned degrees in history and political science, but chose not to go the professorial route. It will be very interesting to get to know the experiences of others who also chose a different path. Thanks for putting this together!

    • Thanks for posting, Michelle! We hope you keep reading in the days and weeks ahead as we get the series up and running. I think many readers will find themes and stories that resonate with them.

  2. Pingback: The Junto’s ‘Where Historians Work’ – a blog series to follow | Jennifer McLaren

  3. Pingback: Where Historians Work: Q&A with Emily Swafford of the AHA « The Junto

  4. Pingback: Where Historians Work: Q&A with Dr. Stephanie Gamble, Johns Hopkins University « The Junto


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