What makes an historian?… A collection of advanced degrees? The ability to thoroughly explain research? Published writing in a peer reviewed journal? Teaching eager young minds about the past? Could any combination of these qualify a person as an “historian?”
The narrow parameters of academic discipline… create the appearance of rigid professionalism, but in effect, provide only compartmentalized confusion. The specialization that permeates the digital age seems to have influenced all reaches of academia. People no long study history, but must focus on some minute period of it. The requisite for title of ‘historian’ is now a Doctor of Philosophy degree in some purposely narrowed time period, often accompanied by an equally specific cultural scope. (PhD in 19th Century Female Labor Patterns-with a focus on the American Northeastern Corridor.) Shouldn’t “historians” be able to speak intelligently and passionately about a variety of historical issues, similarly, as we expect auto mechanics to be able to repair all types of cars?
The academic job market is shrinking… yet PhD’s are being handed out at record levels. There is legitimate doubt as to the true economic value of such an advanced degree. If the requisite skills can be acquired without the crippling debt and limited prospects- shouldn’t there be a reevaluation of professional guidelines? The field of history is changing at rapid pace- the professionals taking it on need to adjust to the race.