History and Historians, Ivory Towers

Enthusiasm, Not Acrimony

Or, Thoughts?

Tony Grafton’s recent review of Louis Menand’s book The Marketplace of Ideas has caused a bit of a stir among the lumpen intelligensia, or at least it has within my very small circle of it.

While I can’t count myself among Prof. Grafton’s detractors — I found his takedown of Menand’s narrow and vapid pendantry useful, and if it was a bit florid in it’s defense of humanistic knowledge, well, then I’m more than ready to excuse a bit of overwrought prose and unfortunately romantic metaphor by a historian who has done so much to put the profession’s decline (as a job) in the limelight — I do certainly feel the frustration that accompanies incredibly limited job prospects.

Wasting years of one’s life in the pursuit of something no one values has a way of leaving a bitter taste, I suppose.

The several discussions I’ve had about Prof. Grafton’s piece, both on- and off-line — notable only in the lack of good-will, candor, and valid information coming from all sides — seem to bear that bitterness out. My hope is that with this post we might begin a new conversation, something more productive than the foaming wrath that Grafton’s and Menand’s overperformed erudition seem to have elicited.

That is, I want to talk about concrete resources for figuring out how to do something else beyond these damn three-letter degrees in futility, maybe even in a line of work with less pathological tendencies.

So, three sites to start us off:

  • Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo appear to have abandoned Beyond Academe, but it’s still offers some good primers.
  • Mark Johnson’s Sellout is of similar vintage, but with much more (and better organized) content; focuses on what humanities PhDs in general can do beyond the seminar room.
  • Finally, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes’s In the Service of Clio, updated regularly, offers non-depressing first-person profiles of historians working outside of universities.
  • I would also link to the Chronicle’s pieces on this topic, but as we all know, that newspaper is frakking depression itself.

That’s just a start. It’s a big internet, and all suggestions are welcome.

However, further commentary on Grafton, Menand, the horribleness of grad programs and/or humanities fields in general, etc will be immediately deleted.

Tyleringram, “Cute anyone?” Flickr, CC License