The AHA begins on Thursday, and it’s likely to be a bleak, long weekend in San Diego. While the rich and well-funded among us will enjoy a respite in the expensive southern California city, a storm is brewing on the Pacific coast that may well wash over the nation’s most venerable historical association like a tsunami. To start, GLBTQ activists are boycotting the convention’s main hotel, despite the AHA’s best efforts to fashion a compromise rather than walking away from its contract with the Hyatt and losing at least $750,000. Add to that the effects of cutbacks in travel budgets nearly everywhere and the high cost of holiday season airfares to warm climes like Southern California. The real gathering storm cloud is the job market. There’s really no other reason to go to the AHA other than interview or be interviewed. And that means there's no good reason for hundreds of people to go to San Diego this coming weekend.
It’s a grim job market out there despite the best efforts of Hopkins and a handful of other departments. Sure a few lucky senior people are packing their bags and moving to greener pastures: David Bell from Hopkins to Princeton, Naomi Lamoreaux from UCLA to Yale, Nancy Maclean from Northwestern to Duke. A yet-to-be-substantiated rumor has arrived in my inbox that despite its now legendary budget crisis, Harvard is recruiting two senior American historians from an east coast state university with a first-rate history department (more soon, I hope). But this is deck shuffling. Usually, the departure of a senior historian sets off a chain reaction in the job market, opening up jobs as people pick up and move (even if it's not the most efficient or just way to allocate academic positions). Not this year. Most departments, even those at the top of the food chain, are leaving empty chairs unfilled. Hell, they are even slowing or halting their hiring of adjuncts, who already compose a majority of university teachers. It’s really bad.
For a sobering glimpse at statistics on hiring (and these are from 2008-09), check this out. For those of you who have jobs, hold on. For those of you looking, if I believed in any God other than myself, I'd pray for you.