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Danger Signs for the Academic Job Market in Humanities?

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Each year, PhD candidates and others interested in the academic job market closely examine the employment ads posted with the scholarly societies to assess job prospects and draw broader implications about the health of the disciplines.1 Since the reports are published serially throughout the year by the disciplinary societies, the annual studies by the societies (along with secondary reports in the media) tend to offer little analysis of the relationship between the job ads posted in one humanities discipline and trends among the other disciplines.

In an effort to place the job advertisements in the broader context of the humanities field, staff members at the Humanities Indicators gathered up the numbers reported by the larger societies back to 2001. The following chart summarizes data reported by the largest disciplinary societies in the humanities and highlights a pattern of decline among the disciplines that began with the recession and continued through the most recent reports. Job ads for each of the disciplines peaked in the 2007–2008 academic year (2007 for philosophy, which reports by calendar year only). As of the most recent reports from each society, the number of positions advertised was at least 30% lower in every discipline except classical studies (which was down 14% from the peak).

Humanities Job Advertisements
Humanities Job Advertisements, 2000-01 - 2013-14
Sources: Information drawn from published data from the national scholarly society for each field. (See endnote below for complete list of sources.) Counts represent the total de-duplicated number of positions advertised in the previous year. Philosophy counts are for the previous calendar year, while counts for all other disciplines are for previous academic year.

Are these declines an indication of trouble for the disciplines and the field as a whole? And do they capture the whole picture of the state of demand in the humanities at large and in these disciplines in particular? The numbers need to be read with considerable caution.

Viewed simply as data, for instance, the numbers reported by each discipline are contingent on a variety of factors that are lost in a simple view of the time series. In every case, the job advertisements do not represent a systematic annual collection of every job opening in the field. They are gathered from individual advertisers who have made a decision about where (and if) they will advertise. Placing an advertisement for a position comes with a cost, and often a decision about where to publish the advertisement is made among an array of alternative outlets for the discipline. In philosophy, the PhilJobs web site was created in 2011–2012 as an alternative to the job listings at the American Philosophical Association. (The two job listings merged in 2013.) Likewise, H-Net has provided an alternative venue for job advertisements in history since 1993.

To assess the merits of the society job advertisements as data for measuring trends in academic employment for the humanities, we invited an authority on employment issues and higher education. In his essay, Ronald Ehrenberg (Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics at Cornell University and a director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute), discusses the risks and challenges of using the job ads as trend data, and offers some guidance on how they should be read.

Read Ronald Ehrenberg's essay, The Usefulness of Societies’ Job Listings Data

Endnotes

  • 1For examples of recent reports for particular disciplines, see: Classical Studies: Classical Studies Association, “Joint APA/AIA Placement Service Participation Statistics, 2003-2014;” History: Allen Mikaelian, “The Academic Job Market's Jagged Line: Number of Ads Placed Drops for Second Year,” Perspectives on History (September 2014); Languages: MLA Office of Research, “Report on the MLA Job Information List, 2013–14;” Philosophy: American Philosophical Association, “Number of Jobs Published in JFP by Year;” Religion: Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion, “Job Advertisement Data 2013-2014.”
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Humanities Indicators

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Norman M. Bradburn