During this year’s job search season it has been gratifying to see some advertisements specifying digital history experience. There were tenure-track jobs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (public history), the University of South Carolina (public history), California State-San Marcos (digital humanities) and at the University of Western Ontario (Canadian/US history) that explicitly stated a desire for candidates with digital skills. And the University of Chicago has begun advertising a postdoctoral fellowship in digital history.
As more and more of our work as historians moves into the digital realm, history departments around the world are going to have to take into account the fact that they are not capable of training their PhD students for the historical profession that the PhD students (as opposed to their mentors) will live in. It’s amazing to me that our PhD program is still the only one in the country that requires students to develop significant digital skills. I know historians are a conservative tribe (when it comes to how we define professional competency, that is), but it is time–really time–for the major departments to get on the digital bandwagon.
If they don’t, then how much longer will they be “major departments”? Of the history majors enrolled in our programs right now, how many of them are going to consider enrolling in a PhD program at a place that offers not one single digital history course? And for how much longer are history departments going to wait before they start begging and pleading for recent PhDs with significant digital skills? Fewer and fewer is my answer to the first question and not much longer is my answer to the second.
One of the major insurance carriers here in the US has been running a series of advertisements with the tag line “Life Comes at You Fast.” For history departments, that tag line could be “Digital History Comes at You Fast.”