Two Thoughts on 24 October Readings

1. First, in Writing a Digital History Journal Article from Scratch: An Account I wonder if one of the bigger issues for many historians is the perceived loss of control. By that I mean exposing more of the nuts and bolts of your scholarship to the world online. In a paper journal it certainly takes a lot of time and effort for readers to examine the primary sources of your article and thus analyze your reasoning and arguments. In a digital format many of the sources used in your article can be quickly and easily accessed, sometimes from hyperlinks you supply! Of course no honest historian should fear the ability of readers to examine and judge sources, but the fear is that they will take one or just a few pieces of historical data out of context without the background knowledge the historian has gained over years of work. This certainly isn’t a reason to not write a digital history journal article. Individuals were selectively picking data and taking things of context long before digital publishing. Now they can just do it faster!

2. The white paper Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Academic Historian was particularly interesting to me because I am a public historian. Of course I have not worked in academia so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the perception of academic public historians. It was surprising to me that, according to the paper, many academic historians, hired in part to teach public history courses, don’t have their tenure requirements adjusted to what they are hired to do in the first place. Shouldn’t it be common sense to set the expectations right at the beginning so that all parties know what is going to happen (or should happen)? It seems very bureaucratic to determine tenure for every historian based on the “three distinct spheres of scholarship, teaching, and service” especially when it seems to me the only sphere that is actually important (at least at large research universities) is scholarship. I’m sure we all remember professors that couldn’t teach their way out of a wet paper bag and certainly weren’t out partaking in service activities yet are tenured. If the three spheres were truly equal, and you failed two out of three, should you really get tenure? Would a student pass a class if he/she only got a 33.3% on a final? Hopefully adjustments can be made in academia to break out of this outdated mode of evaluation. I think efforts like the increasing emphasis on digital history will (hopefully) force many to rethink what it means to be a professor.

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One response to “Two Thoughts on 24 October Readings

  1. I agree that a 33% success rate does not instill much confidence, but perhaps the weight of each part is greater than the sum total of all the parts? I also wonder if the three components are stressed more during the hunt for tenure rather than as an educational philosophy. Then again, professional historians who have a passion for their topic, might be more inclined to share this passion through service to the community or to students regardless of compensation and acclaim. You have to wonder if academics who focus solely on scholarship really have the innate (or acquired) skills for community service or teaching. The concentration in teaching history would supply you with some methods courses, preparing the history student with basic skills for teaching history in the high schools, but the high school environment is different from typical university mass class settings. I should think the leap from the academic focus to teaching at the university level would be intense without some practical experience or pedagogical training built into the program or the hiring process. I wonder how academics prepare for a career as a professor other than proving oneself in a particular minor field or specialty topic. Yes, I’d agree that if scholarship, teaching, and service are the three key pillars of importance, than working with individuals and with hiring and tenure committees to set standards does seem the way to make changes. Perhaps by rewriting the rules of the game, more people will be able to play and play well in multiple aspects of the historical scholarship community, but individualization is also important or we marginalize scholars that excel in certain areas while promoting those that might cover all aspects, but at minimal standards.

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