Jobs in Digital History

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.”

8 replies on “Jobs in Digital History”

  1. I don’t understand why other are feeling the resistance in accepting the new technology. The fact is now the world is changing so fast that if you don’t board on the technology wave, you will be lost far behind. I support your argument 100%.

  2. Some of us aquire digital skills independently of our graduate programs. We didn’t need our graduate program to impart writing and research skills either. Heck, I don’t recall my deparment providing me with foreign language skills or an ability to read old German handwriting. So how is this situation different?

  3. Having many years of experience as an “IT” professional, I cringe at the thought of a professional historian thinking that he or she is a web programmer or a database expert. It’s like trying to be your own accountant; it’s the twenty percent that you don’t know that will burn you. The term, “digital skills,” seems to be thrown about as if everyone knows what that means. I sure don’t – it can mean about anything, thus mean nothing. Being intensely interested in the history field and in the potential for applying computer and web technologies to it, I am developing a website much like, but my website is being developed on a shoestring unfortunately. A huge problem with such websites is providing information that has been validated by true experts and keeping information up-to-date (and also obtaining permission to use content). The search tools and data mining tools are there, but the immense amount of labor needed for complete and accurate information is not available. An example is: Wikipedia has tons of information, but can you believe it?

Comments are closed.