Thursday, 12 September 2013

Perspectives on History: September 2013

The September 2013 issue of the AHA's Perspectives on History is available. I found two articles in the magazine very interesting.

The first is entitled, "The Next Big Thing: Supporting the Second Book," by Kenneth Pomeranz, the current present of the AHA. In his essay, Pomeranz seeks to answer the question: "are there ways to make things easier for people who have trouble finishing a second book?"

Here is a sample of his comments on this topic:

Given my own story, I'm particularly interested in cases where family responsibilities make it hard to get enough time at archives—something that I suspect has become more common since so many more academics are now part of two-career couples than used to be the case, more academics are women (who still bear more than half of care responsibilities in most families), and the average age at first tenure-track appointment has climbed slowly but steadily over the last 20 years. But the problems can take other forms as well, and we know they are common. On average, historians now at full professor took longer to get from associate to full than from assistant to associate, and some never advance at all. 

From some perspectives, this might seem to be an oddly narrow approach to the problem of slow promotion. One could ask why we should weight research so heavily in the first place, rather than giving more equal weight to the various ways that people can contribute to their institutions? Some places do put greater weight on teaching than research, and perhaps more should do so; certainly teaching should count for more than most people think it currently does at research universities. But for current purposes, what matters is that most of the more desirable tenure-granting institutions (including good baccalaureate colleges) do insist on a vigorous, ongoing research program for promotion... And it does no historian any good—as a teacher or otherwise—to feel stalled as a researcher, whether or not their other efforts get recognized. 

One of Pomeranz's suggestions is to pair junior faculty members with senior scholars in order to encourage productivity.

After thinking about Pomeranz's thoughts on this subject, I wondered what should count as a scholarly second project. Should co-edited volumes, for instance, be given the same weight as a monograph? I was pleased to see another helpful piece addressing some of my questions. Paula Findlen offers her thoughts on this topic in her essay, "What Counts: On Books, Articles, and Productivity."

Below is a sample:

Last year I actually finished three different books but none of them is a monograph. One is the outcome of a workshop that required substantial editing, thinking, and an introduction to become the book it deserved to be. Another is an English translation of a book by a distinguished Roman colleague with a foreword, the result of a very enjoyable collaboration between me, the author, and two former doctoral students. Finally, I am one of several authors of a catalogue raisonné, a multi-pronged project that offers the opportunity to work with a wonderful team of curators and access to two decades of accumulated research materials.

I wrote a number of scholarly articles that I owed to other people's projects, gave some papers, turned a lecture for an annual society meeting into the publication required immediately after the event, and made decent progress on two long-term book projects. I did review essays for the Nation and I am also in the midst of a group project, Mapping the Republic of Letters, that emphasizes digital presentation of data, visualizations, and preliminary findings. Partway through sabbatical, I became a historical consultant for a television series. Lots of fun but definitely not a book.

In short, it was a great sabbatical, productive by almost any standard except one: if I were going up for tenure or even promotion to full professor with this profile, my colleagues might wring their hands in utter consternation at my puzzling career choices. Virtually none of my output is refereed, nothing is monographic, and it appears scattered and diffuse. Speaking as a former department chair who has overseen many tenure and promotion cases and served on the university appointments and promotions committee, I am not alone in lamenting the ways in which we are trapped in obsessions with genre when reviewing the work of our colleagues and constrained, as a result, in the advice that we offer.

Findlen goes on to champion non-traditional projects that make valuable contributions to the study of history, even though they are not monographs.

Both articles force junior scholars, such as myself, to evaluate their publication goals. While I am drawn to the monograph, I should be open to exploring other non-traditional projects, if it is something that I am passionate about producing, and would make a significant contribution to the field in which I am working.

No comments: