One more post on the academic job market, from a slightly broader perspective. I was going to follow up my post on the careers of Cambridge medievalists with something similar for those who got PhDs in medieval history from any UK university in a recent year, but when I went to the obvious starting point, the IHR’s List of theses completed, I realised that wasn’t feasible. There are just too many people who’ve done PhDs in medieval history in any year to be able to trace easily. That immediately got me thinking about the possible over-production of medievalists. If there are eighty odd students getting PhDs every year in medieval history, then clearly there won’t be enough jobs for the majority of them. The obvious question then arises: ‘how long has this been going on for?’ (Obvious for a historian, that is: an economist would immediately consider how to reduce the supply of medieval historians, a lawyer would first contemplate whether the owner of a useless PhD in medieval history can sue someone).
While I was thinking about this, I stumbled on another bit of the IHR’s site: Making History, which discusses the ‘changing face of the profession in Britain’ and helpfully has various data-sets on the number of theses produced in Britain in the last century, as well as statistics on the numbers of history teachers in higher education.
What I have therefore done is a bit of crude data crunching on these two sets, to get some sense of trends. (Those who use statistics professionally should probably look away now). I started by working out the mean numbers of theses per year for various periods from 1901 onwards (a lot of the early data provided by the IHR is clumped together). I did this for Medieval Europe, Medieval British Isles and all history theses. To compare the trends better I then indexed them all to 1971-1980 (because I always find it hard to estimate relative changes in charts where every dataset is going up). Finally, I added in an index of the number of history teachers at the end of each period, to give an idea of comparative changes in these figures. And the result is:
Surprisingly, the overall supply of history PhDs doesn’t look to be out of balance with the number of teaching jobs (or at least no more out of balance than it has been for the last 30 odd years). On the other hand, the last 10 years has seen a definite surge of medieval doctorates, and in particular the chart suggests that medieval European historians (like me) are now being produced at a rate far greater than the teaching system is able to absorb them. What the IHR figures don’t show (and would probably depress us all even further if they did) is how the growth in the number of teachers breaks down by specialism. I suspect the growth has been in non-medieval periods, and so the relative chances for medievalists have actually got worse. It’s of course, entirely possible that there will be another slump in interest in medieval history (as there was in the 1980s) which might restore the balance, but that isn’t necessarily going to happen soon, not when we’re all doing our best to make medieval history seem really interesting.
[UPDATE: I mucked up one statistics (for numbers of teachers in 1980), so have replaced this and redone the graph.]