academic jobs

Clio and me have been getting along pretty well lately, but you wouldn’t know it from this neglected blog. Much of my silence has had to do with the nature of my editing job. I edit a lot of interesting work that teaches me new things and occasionally leads me to related ideas of my own, but I’m not usually free to talk about those things. Either the material is not in print yet, or I’d betray the trust of authors with whom I have spoken in confidence about work in progress. Describing the things I’m learning about this side of academia and publishing would also make interesting blogging, but writing about them would mean injuring both confidentiality and collegiality, no matter how good a face I put on any given story. So I’m generally quiet here, unless I can comment on how the history I’m learning might be relevant in work outside the institute.

On the other hand, the small graduate course I taught this summer, War and Society in Modern Europe, gave me a chance to think more about my earlier research and how I might do something with it in the future. I’m planning to take the spring 2012 semester off from part-time teaching, so that I can do a little writing. It’s time to start thinking about the Groener project again. In particular, I want to move past the inevitably narrower set of specialized questions that have framed it to consider in what ways some of it might be relevant to a broader academic audience.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I should do some of that thinking on this blog. I began this blog after I had already completed my dissertation, and I have never much used it as a research blog. I’m wondering what the advantages and disadvantages of such might be. I am concerned mainly with thought, research, and communication; however, I don’t have to worry about a non-existent tenure-track position. The main advantage, it seems to me, is that it would afford a chance to discuss ideas in their nascency that I otherwise have little opportunity to talk about, unless I am teaching a related graduate course, which has only happened once so far. Sure, I work at a historical institute, but my (interesting) job there is to work with others on their ideas.

I’m thinking about this in the context of other changing habits. I have also been neglecting my other blog, Language for You, and there’s that whole twitter thing. Perhaps it’s time to conceptualize a single blog that would work for my current portfolio of jobs and projects?

I enjoy teaching and doing research; however, as an adjunct professor, there is usually only ever time to do the former. There is honor in that, and teaching is fun, but this kind of life also entails serious pecuniary worries that are not conducive to the life of the mind that we academics so value. Thus, I was thinking about what I could do outside the university.

Now I have found one surprising answer. Pleasantly, I can continue working with historians, and, at the same time, I am able to combine history with another strand in my biography, working with English. And I can do these things in an environment where a lot of German is spoken, integrating yet another element of my life into my current position. I feel very fortunate to have begun working as an editor at the prestigious German Historical Institute (GHI) in Washington, DC, whose many activities include academic publishing. The job is officially only 30 hours per week, so I shall also continue to teach, but on a much reduced scale. Having the ability to continue doing so also makes me feel fortunate.

With this new employment situation, it is quite possible that I will be able to talk once again about a little research in my free time later this year, but that remains to be seen. First things first—doing good work for the GHI and doing justice to my students, of whom I have many, since I began another Western Civ. section before being offered the new position.

The AHA meeting is on, and, as usual, I am not there. The reason is money. Even when this meeting has been local, I have been unable to afford the fees. I mention this on a history blog, because tight pecuniary circumstances affect a lot of historians who are adjunct professors or are in other poorly paid temporary positions. Brian Croxall teaches English, and his paper delivered in absentia at the recent MLA conference speaks to many of us. He not only highlights the money problems, but he also describes the adverse impact that this has on the scholarship and teaching of adjunct faculty, who can find themselves out of the loop.

Yes, there are social media and the internet, but occasional face-to-face contact is also necessary. The low status of blogging and social media in the academy place severe limits on the internet’s ability to compensate for insufficient face-to-face contact. Not enough work or ideas ever make it onto the open web. Of course, new media and email offer more opportunities to communicate, but even historians are human and thrive on the serendipitous and productive moments that arise through informal gatherings at academic conferences between panels and papers.

I usually avoid talking about my pecuniary circumstances, but the current economic climate combined with trends towards increasing reliance on temporary faculty makes the public relevance of my private situation clear. Indeed, sometimes I wonder at just how much in the mainstream of American economic thinking I was, when I set out to become a historian. Sure, doing a Ph.D. set me apart from those who focussed their efforts on maximizing income. But my decision was informed by the same boundless optimism that fed the housing bubble. The biggest difference? The law does not allow one to walk away from student loans when the thing one obtained through them has less value than the original purchase amount.

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