U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading: The Happy New Year Odds and Ends Edition

Happy New Year’s to all the S-USIHers out there! I hope you had a restful holiday and mid-academic-year break, even if your break isn’t quite over. Since your attention span is probably as short as mine, as you adjust to getting back in front of the computer—or as you hurriedly put the final touches on that article you stupidly said you’d write over the holidays—I’m offering an assortment of odds and ends for your light and happy reading pleasure.

1. More Bad News on the History Job Market, Especially for Americanists

The Chronicle and the AHA politely waited until your holidays were over (or until your ticket to the AHA’s job fest were paid) to inform aspirants in the history profession that their dreams are as likely to blow away as your New England hat in the Nor’easter currently underway. Here are some numbers from the Chronicle piece:

After two years of gains, the number of positions, both academic and nonacademic, advertised with the association fell 7.3 percent, from 740 to 686.
Like some other scholarly associations, the group has yet to see its job advertisements rebound to prerecession levels. In 2007-8, employers listed 1,064 jobs.
But the combined data sets [from the AHA and H-Net] didn’t hold much good news for those who recently earned Ph.D.’s in history—1,066 in 2011-12, according to the latest federal data available. The association projects that 1,112 history Ph.D.’s were awarded in the 2012-13 academic year. Yet there were only 654 jobs in the sample open to assistant professors. “This suggests a ratio of 1.7 new Ph.D.’s for every new assistant professor job—and that includes temporary, visiting, and other non-tenure-track positions at that academic rank,” Mr. Mikaelian said in an interview.
Geographic specialty could also worsen a job seeker’s chances of success. Specialists in North America who earned a Ph.D. in 2012-13 faced a ratio of 2.2 new Ph.D.’s for every advertised entry-level job, while the ratio for Middle Eastern specialists was 1.5 to one.

And from an astute commenter at the Chronicle: Ratios of new PhD’s to job openings only tell part of the story. We should bear in mind the large backlog of PhD’s who have not been able to find positions, or at least constitute the “long-term underemployed.” According to statistics in this article, the number of positions is decreasing while the number of new PhD’s is increasing.

2. Electronic Research Serendipity

Over at The Historical Society blog, Elliot Brandow praises the serendipity of electronic stumbling and bumbling (not to be confused with directed searching) even as we codexophiles lament the diminishing shelves of love objects. Prompted by some musings from Roger Schonfeld, Brandow offers the following (bolds mine):

Electronic browsing doesn’t have to mean print-directory surrogates. There are many examples of innovative electronic discovery design that can help you stumble upon something you didn’t know you needed. You don’t have to start with a search term at Zappos, for instance. Just select your foot size and it will present you with a list of what’s available, then narrow by facet (those clickable categories on the left). The interface allows you to imagine a shoe store organized in any number of schemes: by designer, by season, by color, by price. You are no longer limited to one main organizational structure.

Multiple organizational schemes are a key advantage of electronic serendipity. The browsing we enjoy in physical libraries is primarily based on subject categorization of the material. But electronic browsing isn’t restricted to this single attribute, it offers many new possible ways to organize and reorganize a collection. We could browse by book jacket color (don’t laugh, many librarians have heard that request at the reference desk from time to time). We could browse by frequency of use, as Harvard’s Stack View does. The newly formed Digital Public Library of America has not only been creating an interface that unifies many U.S. digital collections, but also encouraging the creation of new ways to explore those collections, including browsing geographically, temporally, and even by matching collections against any text of your choice–witness the Serendip-o-matic.

Some might argue that serendipity implies more chance, a more random process than this type of computer-driven or human-curated selection. But there really is nothing random about the way library stacks are organized. They are designed according to a clear set of rules to facilitate this type of browsing. The truth is, serendipitous browsing has always been by design.

FYI: Ben Alpers has been our unofficial USIH monitor of all things DPLA. Check out all of his past posts on the topic.

3. Ralph McInerny (1929-2010)

Do you know who Ralph McInerny is? The famous Catholic intellectual, philosopher, Jacques Maritain scholar, and Notre Dame University faculty member died just under three years ago, but we neglected to take note here. If you are not aware of McInerny’s academic work, you might know him as the inspiration for the television series The Father Dowling Mysteries (1989-1991) which starred Tom Bosley. Here’s an excerpt from the NYT obit:

Mr. McInerny, who taught philosophy and medieval studies at Notre Dame, was an expert on Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Catholic theologian and philosopher; much of his published scholarship included biographical and exegetical texts on Aquinas, and he edited a volume of Aquinas translations for Penguin Classics. He also wrote on the sixth-century philosopher Boethius, the 12th-century Spanish Arabic scholar Averroes and later thinkers and theologians, including Cardinal Newman, Kierkegaard, Pascal and Descartes.

He was far better known, however, as a novelist, and especially as the creator of Roger Dowling, a former canon lawyer whose career was derailed by drink and who has become, in his rehabilitation, a parish priest in a Midwestern town called Fox River, where he runs across an inordinate number of murders and shows an unusual gift for solving them. Known for their clever plotting, the clarity of their writing and Father Dowling’s perspicacity and moral rigor, the series grew to more than two dozen books after the character was introduced in “Her Death of Cold” in 1977.

McInerny was no stranger to the Culture Wars, as the obit notes: Mr. McInerny was also a frequent commentator on contemporary issues involving the Catholic Church. He was a founder and editor of Crisis magazine, a journal of lay Catholic opinion, now online as Inside Catholic. In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, he found much to criticize in the acceptance, by some theologians and Catholic educators, of secular modifications — on issues like homosexuality and abortion — in established Catholic principles. He delineated his views in a 1998 book, “What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained.” In 2009, after Notre Dame invited President Obama to speak at commencement, Mr. McInerny was an especially angry objector, criticizing both the president and his own university. “Barack Hussein Obama, enabler in chief of abortion, has agreed to speak at the 2009 commencement and to receive an honorary doctorate of law,” he wrote on the Web site of the conservative magazine National Review.

I ran across this news about McInerny while researching the religious conversions of Mortimer J. Adler (gathered for a preview in this RiAH post). McInerny had written positively about Adler’s philosophic work on several occasions, the last time being at Adler’s death.

4. American Exceptionalism: In Decline or Triumphant?

I’m working my way through this exceptionally long review of Josef Joffe’s The Myth of America’s Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies. I got intrigued because, based on the first page, it’s a kind of history of the idea of American decline v. triumphalism. The review is authored by Michael Lind. Lind argues that Joffe’s book is something of a rehash of Samuel P. Huntington’s essay “Declinism,” which appeared in Foreign Affairs in 1988. Interestingly enough, the Huntington piece was also a kind of book review.

One Thought on this Post

  1. to inform aspirants in the history profession that their dreams are as likely to blow away as your New England hat in the Nor’easter currently underway

    Heh. Good stuff, Tim. But it’s an equal opportunity ill wind: “Hissy fits,” PhDs on food stamps, and of course a microcosm of race & class


    “Post-Academic in NYC” weighed in on the debate, on her blog, on the subject of civility. What is this “profession,” she asks, about which we are to be so civil, when “there are 1.5 million college teachers in the United States, and 1 million of them are contingent”?

    “What is stoking the rage of adjuncts and graduate students is not the ability to lob 140 character rage bombs into the ether. Rather, it’s that people like Tenured Radical still get to frame the operative questions, even though they don’t know much about the reality on the ground because they don’t have to know.”

    The tenured do not know because they do not have to know.

    Which led one righty wag to note, no wonder so many academics have such a dim view of labor in the “free market,” if the academic world is all they know of it.

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