A Profession, If You Can Keep It

At the 2023 meeting of the American Historical Association, I was part of a roundtable entitled “Labor and Compensation in the Historical Profession.” These are the brief remarks I delivered at the beginning of the conversation.

When their jobs were threatened in a new and acute way in the first few months of the pandemic, many tenured and tenure-track historians were able to recognize themselves as workers, sometimes for the first time. The specter of higher ed’s imminent collapse prompted many of them to ask for solidarity and support from the colleagues they have long refused to fully acknowledge as colleagues.

Even as they saw themselves as exploited laborers, few were able to acknowledge—or even seemed aware—that these conditions predated the pandemic for adjuncts. Fewer still were ready to reckon with the ways that their employment was dependent on the continuation of those conditions.

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